We the People are the opening words of the preamble to the Constitution. Many patriots glory in that name, “We the People” holding it aloft as a banner against the encroachments of an ever expanding central government. In the minds of many it is connected somehow to Lincoln’s famous description of America’s government, “Of the People, by the people and for the people.”
Both of these were revolutionary terms when first spoken.
The people of the founding generation did not think of themselves as “Americans,” instead they saw themselves as citizens of their respective States. The thirteen colonies, with the singular exception of North and South Carolina, were each founded as separate entities. Each had its own history and relationship with the crown. They banded together for the Revolution during which they established the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation. This established a confederation composed of thirteen independent States.
When the secretly drafted Constitution was finally revealed to the public many of the leading lights of the Revolution were enraged by what they saw as a counter-revolution seeking to supplant the legally constituted Confederation of States in favor of a consolidated central government. Some of them say the truth was revealed in the first three words, “We the People.”
Every school child can recite the most famous words of Patrick Henry, “Give me liberty or give me death.” You probably said those words in your head before you read them once you saw his name. He is synonymous with America’s defiance to tyranny. While these famous words ring in the heads of all, few know his opinion on the Constitution.
At the Virginia Ratification Convention in 1788, Patrick Henry said,
And here I would make this inquiry of those worthy characters who composed a part of the late federal Convention. I am sure they were fully impressed with the necessity of forming a great consolidated government, instead of a confederation. That this is a consolidated government is demonstrably clear; and the danger of such a government is, to my mind, very striking. I have the highest veneration for those gentlemen; but, sir, give me leave to demand, What right had they to say, We, the people? My political curiosity, exclusive of my anxious solicitude for the public welfare, leads me to ask, Who authorized them to speak the language of, We, the people, instead of, We, the states? States are the characteristics and the soul of a confederation. If the states be not the agents of this compact, it must be one great, consolidated, national government, of the people of all the states.
Ever since the Civil War fatally warped the original federal structure and We the People became a reality the central government of the United States has assumed more and more power until today totalitarianism appears to be within its grasp. I am not referring to the crude overt totalitarianism of a Nazi Germany or a Soviet Russia instead I am referring to a soft totalitarianism, a kind of nanny state smothering of individual freedom, personal liberty and economic opportunity. After the complete subjugation of the States to the central government by the Lincoln administration combined with the increased mobility of the modern era, we the people actually became the way most people think of themselves.
In America today we have a president who in a 2001 interview expressed his inner most thoughts about the Constitution,
If you look at the victories and failures of the civil rights movement and its litigation strategy in the court.