WHO ARE ‘WE THE PEOPLE?’
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
This brief introduction to the United States Constitution describes the basic aim of the document. The Constitution was drafted in secrecy by 42 delegates from the 13 original states to replace the Articles of Confederation which had proven inadequate to regulate relations between and among such disparate entities.
In this, Constitution Month, it might be useful to analyze what I believe is the most important phrase in this document – “We the People.” This is important for a number of reasons. First, it starts with what the framers thought important, the people. It didn’t say, we the government, or we the politicians, but we the people. The Constitution is a people-centric, people-driven document that is designed to organize government to serve the needs of the people, not the other way around.
Another thing that has to be kept in mind is how “We the People” has changed over the more than two hundred years of this document’s existence. When it was written, “We the People” were white, male, landowners. After a period of time, those white males who were not propertied were included in the power circle, and combined with the original beneficiaries eventually expanded it to include black men, who when it was written were considered only three-fifths a person. Then, many decades later, the rights under the Constitution were expanded to include women. In other words, over time, the power elites saw the benefits in sharing power with others. Not all, one must understand, felt this way. We had to fight a civil war in order for the power circle to include people of color, and the fight over extending rights to women raged on even after blacks were granted rights on paper; an act that took more than a century to be actually implemented in a manner that can almost be called ‘fully.’
Therein, I sincerely believe, lies the real power of our Constitution. It was written in a way that made it possible for changes to be made to reflect changing times. But, more importantly, those who wrote it did not see right and privilege as a zero-sum game. They discovered, and we’re still discovering, that sometimes sharing power actually increases it. In this, there is a lesson for us all.