Consent of the people, wrote Thomas Jefferson, defines legitimate government. British citizens in America in 1776 withdrew consent (of British rule) when they ratified Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, formally vacating British government throughout the 13 colonies.

Beginning with the words "We the people," writers of the U.S. Constitution acknowledged the requirement of consent when they created, and presented to the people for their consent, the contract that brought into existence the U.S. Government. That contract appeared, at the time, to put a fence around the proposed government. Yet the fence today is around the people. The government runs loose.

In common law your prior consent can bind you to perform a contract. Your consent cannot be presumed; it must be explicit. No other person can consent for you, not even a Founding Father. Yet we are told that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, binding on all.

In common law the Constitution, as a contract, is void. The Constitution is binding, not because of your consent, which was never given, or by any other provision in common law, but because the action taken by your forefathers created, irreversibly, an entity possessed of physical force sufficient to compel your performance.

"Notwithstanding," wrote Lysander Spooner in 1867, "all the proclamations we have made to mankind within the last 90 years, that our government rested on consent, and that was the only rightful basis on which any government could rest, the late war has practically demonstrated that our government rests upon force - as much so as any government that ever existed."

Government actors defer to the Constitution when that serves their purpose. When it does not, they ignore it, just as President Lincoln did in 1861.

Although Congress alone is empowered by the Constitution to make war, President Bush invaded Iraq without Congress declaring war. As Congress looked the other way, we went to war in 2003 the same way Germany went to war in 1939. "Worse than a crime, it was a blunder," for if Hitler had any justification whatever for invading Poland, that justification would be greater than ours for invading Iraq, for we had none.

When the Constitution created an entity empowered to suck law out of its fist and permitted to assume monopoly of legal violence, what were we expecting? That another Thomas Jefferson would come along every few years to restore liberty?

An entity empowered to suck law out of its fist could draw one out that shuts off the president's money. Because Congress controls spending, congressmen could - in theory - stop this illegal war. They won't. War creates profitable opportunities for political entrepreneurs joined with sagacious congressional jobholders able to look the other way in smug awareness that a repeat of 1776 is improbable now that Social Security has bought you out with your own money.

Jack Dennon