Delegated vs. Assumed Authority

“A constitution is not the act of a government, but of a people constituting a government; and government without a constitution is power without a right. All power exercised over a nation, must have some beginning. It must be either delegated, or assumed. There are not other sources. All delegated power is trust, and all assumed power is usurpation. Time does not alter the nature and quality of either.”

 –Thomas Paine

In other words, the government can never be above the law.  When government that operates within its delegated authority (i.e. the law), it is legitimate and enjoys the trust and support of the people.  However, when government assumes authority it does not have by setting itself above the law, then it loses the trust of the people and ceases to be legitimate.  It is at this point that tyranny begins. Furthermore, this principle is eternal: it does not change with time, place or ‘technology.’


So long as it conforms to the principles of the Natural Right to Contract, a ‘constitution’ is the written form of the Social Contract.  As such, it defines the authority that a particular society will grant to its government.  This is called delegated authority.  Inherent in the word delegated is the notion that a person is appointed or elected to act on behalf of others.  In this sense, government is nothing more than the people delegated to exercise and enforce the terms of the Social Contract by exercising the collective authority of every individual they are representing.  So long as the people who are representing us act within the confines of Natural Law, then their actions – and by extension, the government – are considered legitimate.  However, should the representatives of the people step outside of the terms of the Social Contract, they do not change those terms or create a new government; they break the law and destroy the constitution.  If the Peoples’ representatives assume powers that were not delegated to them, or which are in violation of Natural Law, then those representatives have broken the law.  If this state is not corrected by other representatives acting within their properly delegated authority, then the government ceases to exist and the people who have seized the just authority of the State enter into a state of war with the people they were supposed to be representing.  At this point, a state of tyranny exists and the People are justified in claiming their Natural Right of self-defense to alter or abolish the old Social Contract and write a new one.



5 thoughts on “Delegated vs. Assumed Authority

  1. A polite way to say revolution. Jefferson called for one every few decades to flush out the plumbing of government so to speak. What is wrong with Washington now, full of crap.

    1. Not necessarily. This nation has problems, but the rule of law — while dead in Washington — is not dead everywhere. There are still healthy States, and so long as the rule of law remains among these States, Natural Law dictates that we try to operate — through them — to set right what has gone wrong.

      Notice: the American Revolution was NOT a rebellion of the people as we like to think, but of duly elected and legitimate governments (the Colonies) against an illegitimate government that had broken its end of the Social Contract (the Crown). In this sense, the American revolution was legal: it was an act of war. But a revolution like that of France is Anarchy, lawlessness.

      This is NOT what I am calling for. This post is intended merely to define and defend the distinction between justly delegated and unjustly assumed power.

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