In his book A History of Political Theory, George Sabine collected the views of many political theorists on consent of the governed. He notes the idea mentioned in 1433 by Nicholas of Cusa in De Concordantia Catholica. In 1579 Theodore Beza wrote Vindiciae contra Tyrannos which Sabine paraphrases: “The people lay down the conditions which the king is bound to fulfill. Hence they are bound to obedience only conditionally, namely, upon receiving the protection of just and lawful government…the power of the ruler is delegated by the people and continues only with their consent.” In England, the Levellers also held to this principle of government.
John Milton wrote:
The power of kings and magistrates is nothing else, but what is only derivative, transferred and committed to them in trust from the people, to the common good of them all, in whom the power yet remains fundamentally, and cannot be taken from them, without a violation of their natural birthright.
Similarly, Sabine notes the position of John Locke in Essay concerning Human Understanding:
[Civic power] can have no right except as this is derived from the individual right of each man to protect himself and his property. The legislative and executive power used by government to protect property is nothing except the natural power of each man resigned into the hands of the community…and it is justified merely because it is a better way of protecting natural right than the self-help to which each man is naturally entitled.
However, with David Hume a contrary voice is heard. Sabine interprets Hume’s skepticism by noting:
The political world over, absolute governments which do not even do lip-service to the fiction of consent are more common than free governments, and their subjects rarely question their right except when tyranny becomes too oppressive.
The Union government’s actions during the war caused Spooner to espouse individualist anarchism. He published a series of political tracts, No Treason, the most famous of which is No Treason No. VI: The Constitution of No Authority. In this lengthy essay, Spooner argued that the Constitution was a contract of government (see social contract theory) which could not logically apply to anyone other than the individuals who signed it, and was thus void. Furthermore, since the government now existing under the Constitution pursued coercive policies that were contrary to the Natural Law and to the consent of the governed, it had been demonstrated that that document could not adequately stop many abuses against liberty or prevent tyranny. Spooner bolstered his argument by noting that the federal government, as established by a legal contract, could not legally bind all persons living in the nation since none had ever signed their names or given their consent to it – that consent had always been assumed, which fails one of the most basic burdens of proof for a valid contract in the courtroom.