From January 5, 2011
It is important that we, Americans, never forget the importance and the significance of these three words. We need to remember that these words are written into our Constitution larger and more pronounced than any other words for a reason. We must never forget that we the people are the United States. We the people created this nation. We the people took destiny into our own hands and told the world, we the people will control our own future. We the people will not be denied.
It’s not as if there is even a question really in today’s day and age that the United States is all about the people. It is quite evident that the people when they are denied will stand up and be counted. There are those that when called to serve stand up and sacrifice for our future. When issues abound there are those that politic and lobby for their beliefs and points of view. There are those who are civically minded volunteers, active in their communities, thus making all our lives joyful, secure and free.
But to understand why something is important, I also think it is necessary to understand just how rare it is and just how vulnerable it can be. … we must understand that to enjoy the freedom to make all our own choices mean we must take ownership for our failings as well as our successes.
But first we must also address the issue of what is the Constitution. No not in a specific, article by article, way. Anyone can buy a copy of the Constitution in a bookstore or order it on-line to find out the exact rules under which this government functions. What I would like to discuss is the power of the document. What it has actually accomplished, something that had never ever been accomplished before in history.
What I am talking about is the power of the US Constitution to transform a disparate group of unrelated and unconnected people into the freest nation to have ever existed in the history of humankind. That it took people from across the globe and created what we now call an American. That these same so-called self-styled Americans have even evolved and created a challenging new philosophy of nationhood.
Yes, it took centuries for us to appear, but we had to begin somewhere. As with the development of societal norms, the development of a people, the society in which we live, also thrives on evolution. No I am not just talking about civil rights, suffrage, equal protection or disability rights. I am talking about something much more esoteric, something much more abstract as to who we are. We Americans are the confluence of ideas from around the globe. Not just in food, clothing and language, but in culture and law and relationships. We may have started our nation as an outgrowth of the British Empire, replete with a very British understanding of society, but we made it more than that.
Some do point to the American Revolution as evidence of a break with English tradition, but in truth, it really wasn’t. The American Revolution was fought, because the British government usurped the very English rights of landholding men. The government of George III took from our founding fathers that which they held more dear than their own lives. Lives which they in fact were willing to forfeit in order to retain and that was the very English ideal of individual liberty (of course at the time they were only talking about white, landholding men, but we have thankfully evolved past that) . This concept of liberty is all about the right to direct your present and prepare for a future of your choice. Intrinsic within it is the idea that individuals are entitled to participate in the development of these rights through representative government.
OK, so many say the Congress isn’t representative of the American people today. For that we have no one to blame but ourselves. But we have seen a wellspring of action and the people have demanded to be heard. This has been a raucous election season and it is not over. But this is our Constitution in action. This is the legacy that our forefathers gave us. This is the legacy that our forbearers died for. This is what people around the globe daily die for.This is freedom and it is glorious.
Even the formation of the government in the Constitution is modeled after the English system of parliament. Remember we even had a ruling class, our senators used to be appointed by the governors of the state, not elected by the people. Meanwhile, it was the House of Representatives that was representative of the people. There was also no mention of term limits for a president. It just became de rigueur to serve only two terms to follow in Washington’s footsteps. Not until after FDR, was the Constitution amended to include a two-term limit on a Presidency. Ironically, the founding fathers had even left open the potential for a King, even though they would have all bristled at the thought.
But how did the US Constitution help us to evolve and bring together the confluence of ideas that has made us who we are today? The Constitution holds us all together, by allowing everyone to be who they are, and be Americans. No I am not talking about the hyphenated American, or class warfare. I am talking about the power of the Constitution in our everyday. It is the Constitution that recognizes a human’s need for self- realization. In fact, the power of the Constitution within our society is that you don’t even know it is there unless you need it. The Constitution empowers anyone living within the borders of this nation, citizen or noncitizen, legal alien or illegal alien. All can access its protection. If you are in the purview, and subject to the laws and regulations of the US government (you don’t even have to be in physically within the borders of this country) then you are entitled to the aegis of the US Constitution.
Every American knows that he has rights under the Constitution. Of course, he may not be able to name every right in those first ten amendments, but Americans know the government is hard pressed to really interfere in their lives. Americans understand that the Bill of Rights is not about granting us powers over our day-to-day existence, but it is about the curtailment of the powers of the federal government to interfere in our day-to-day existence. It is us, We the People, who give the government limited powers, and We the People who can take or give power as we see fit. Americans understand that no one, not even the President is above the law. (Presidents can be impeached, they can be forced to resign, and they can be chastised by the Supreme Court, or overridden by Congress). No one and nothing is more important than the people. That is the power of the Constitution and that is why our society grows and changes and evolves almost on a daily basis. Sometimes we evolve in even violent ways (civil war, social unrest, even some types of demonstrations), and sometimes we evolve in nonviolent ways (sit ins, marches, speechifying, townhalls, laws and amendments, lobbying and politics) but our nation evolves.
We change because the Constitution allows us to challenge each other. We challenge each other‘s ideal and thoughts and beliefs. We challenge each other’s ideas and truths. We challenge each other’s concept of government and what role the government will play in our lives. But mostly we challenge each other’s idea as to what kind of America we want our children to inherit. We challenge each other’s idea of legacy. We challenge each other’s idea for the future. We challenge each other’s notion of what is good for posterity. We even challenge each other’s idea of what makes us proud of this country.
So that is how the Constitution creates a people. It takes a disparate band of human beings, who are up for a challenge and it allows them to be challenged. Many around the world do not understand Americans. Many do not understand the individuality and independence that is intrinsic in the American spirit. Many around the world do not understand that our differences are our greatest strength. Many around the world do not understand that our arguments and our fighting and our not always pleasant discourse are the things that make us a people. For as a person grows through trials and tribulations to become much more than they ever thought they could, so does a nation. So does this nation.
So next time when you read the Constitution look for the invitation that reads, come help create a people. Do you see the dare it lays out before you? It is written boldly and plainly so all might see. It invites those who are not afraid. Come help me build a nation it calls. Come stand with me and we shall know what it is to be free.