Just Rebellion Principle 4, Competent Authority

Just War, Rebellion, and the American Revolution: John Keown and Modern Critiques on Whether the War of Independence was Just.

Part 27: Just Rebellion Principle 4, Competent Authority

By Leonard O. Goenaga

Regarding the competent authority principle, Keown asks the following in relation to the America Revolution: “Was the decision to resort to arms made not by ‘private groups or individuals’ but by ‘those with responsibility for public order’?”164 Tooley abridges Keown’s response where he writes:

Reluctantly, Keown granted that the Continental Congress may have qualified as a “competent authority” to wage war. The delegates were “moderates,” mostly elected by mass meetings in their respective jurisdictions and they waged war in a “controlled fashion.”165

The words of the Declaration affirm the Continental Congress acting as lower magisterial representatives of all thirteen colonies,166 and not simply as collected private individuals.167 It is hard to image a greater adherence to the principle of competent authority in this scenario outside of a colonies wide public referendum.168 While analyzing examples of competent authorities, Brown lists the examples of Parliament revolting against King Charles I during the English wars of 1642-1651, the Third Estate representing the commoners in the French Revolution, and the Continental Congress led populist rebellion against the British Crown.169 Given the commonalities of such rebelling authorities, and the organized public manner taken by the Colonists, the American Revolution adhered to the competent authority ad bellum principle.


164 John Keown, “America’s War for Independence – Just or Unjust?” 300.

165 Mark Tooley, “Was the American Revolution Just?”

166 The Declaration on Competent Authority: “In Congress, July 4, 1776. The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America”.

167 The Declaration on Competent Authority: “We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States”.

168 Davis Brown, in The Sword, The Cross, and The Eagle, summarizes Suarez’s emphasis on the process of lawfully deposing a sovereign where he writes, “Suarez’s emphasis on the process by which a sovereign is lawfully deposed, tried, and sentenced for crimes against the state implies a requirement of some form of public authority with superior jurisdiction over the sovereign [such as The People]. . . . that public authority is the state itself, taken as a whole, acting ‘in accordance with the public and general deliberations of its communities and leading men.'” (Brown 162)

169 Davis Brown, The Sword, The Cross, and The Eagle, 160. It’s interesting to see whether Keown considers these wars unjust.

Self-Educated American Research Writer, Leonard O. Goenaga
, is a Baptist Associate Pastor (assigned to the Youth) at Glory of God Christian Fellowship, Raleigh, North Carolina; a Mentor (Computer Lab/Technology) at the Wake Forest Boys & Girls Club; a husband (to Katrina); and rugby coach. He holds a B.A. in Political Science (with a specific concentration in Political Theory, Social Contract, and Constitutionalism), a second B.A. in Religious Studies (with a concentration in World Religions and Early Christianity), a Master of Divinity in Christian Ethics, and an A.A. in Entrepreneurship. He has begun Ph.D with a concentration likely centered on an analysis of Locke’s Social Contract, H.L.A. Hart’s Legal System, American Constitutionalism, and Baptist Ecclesiology of Covenant. Visit his website at Leonardooh.com