Tuesday, July 05, 2005

We the People...

We the people...

Nobody ever really wonders about who the "we" is in our most famous document, the Constitution of the United States. "We" is every citizen in the newly formed states. Well, almost every citizen. We know now that "we" didn't include slaves, native Indians or women.

I always find it interesting when people point that out, as if, by some strange happenstance, our current liberal ideas should have been transported through time and culture to inhabit the minds of these men. They fail to recognize, in their own radicalism, the radical ideas of the men who wrote and signed such radical documents as a Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

What could be more radical in an age of monarchies than to proclaim that government came from "the people"?

Britain may have had its parliament, but the king was still a power onto himself. Historically, even after centuries of parliament, the kings and queens of Britain could still proclaim "off with his/her head" and almost certainly get their way; judicial processes not withstanding. Parliament really gained its power upon the establishment of the Prince Regent over King George III. Arguably, the Prince Regent was not well versed in politics. Until then, the House of Lords was still the most powerful parlaimentary house in the English government.

The House of Commons really came to power in the 19th century as the English middle class grew in the face of industrialization and expanded trade around the globe. The concept of rule "by the people" and "for the people" alone, without an elite ruling class was the most radical idea of the day and it was taking place in the United States.

I do want to point out an important aspect of these words: "We the people..."

I've always said the founding fathers were brilliant thinkers and always had their eyes on the future. I note they say "we the people" and not "we the men" or "we the elected" or "we the representatives". "People" as a word is fairly inclusive and very open. It doesn't say "protestants" or "whites", it says "people" recognizing that in the future, the country they invisioned would include a huge number of people from diverse backgrounds, countries and religion.

As a matter of fact, one of their chief complaints against King George in the Declaration of Independence was that he had limited immigration.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

I think that they may have even recognized that some where in there, women were important in the make up of American politics, even if that recognition was still limited to the thoughts of what their wives might think about things they said or signed into law. Women might not have voted back then, but they still held power. Particularly in a day and age when sending your laundry out or running down to the local tavern every night for dinner was extremely costly and not very practical.

Thus, the forefathers, the most radical thinkers of the day, chose the opening words of the Constitution to be the most radical statement they could make:

We the people...

1 comment:

Cigarette Smoking Man from the X-Files said...

A Democracy always gets the government it richly deserves.

Here's to hoping we deserve something good.