I’ve been reading The Words That Made Us, a magisterial history of the origins of the Constitution, written by Yale Constitutional Law professor Akil Amar. Amar’s previous books include The Bill of Rights and America’s Constitution: A Biography, both of which I read and found enlightening. (For example, in the latter book, Amar documents the extent to which the Amendments passed after the Civil War–especially the 14th–represented a significant reconstruction of the nation’s legal framework.)
This new book is also copiously and carefully documented, and as a consequence, it can be a bit of a slog; on the other hand, I’m encountering a number of heretofore unknown (by me, at least) details about the process that produced our Constitution, and the personal characteristics of the men who fought over it, theorized about it, and negotiated it.
Which brings me to a point on which most of those Founders apparently agreed–sovereignty in the U.S. rests with “We the People.” Not with the individual states, certainly not with Kings or Presidents–but with the people. We can now be critical of the worldview that confined definition of “the people” to free White males, and we should celebrate the later expansion of “the people” to include women and people of color–but we shouldn’t minimize the importance of what was then a truly revolutionary concept of sovereignty.
Interestingly, Amar points out that after the “constitutional conversation” over ratification took place, most colonies eliminated property ownership requirements for voting on the new charter. (Something else I’d previously not known.)
“The people” was–for that time–an inclusive concept.
America today faces a very dangerous tipping point–brought to us by a party, really a cult or cabal–that wants to change the concept of sovereignty and the definition of “people.”
We talk and write a lot about democracy, but what we mean by that term varies. As a number of pundits have pointed out, autocrats around the globe often claim to be “democratically” empowered, because their countries hold “elections.” (Note quotation marks.)
The men who crafted America’s Constitution broadened the then-definition of People, and saw democracy as the authority of those people. Today, faux patriots are engaged in narrowing it.
Gerrymandering carves out particular “people,” whose votes will outnumber and void the voices of others. The Electoral College–which Amar reminds us was an unwise concession to the slave states–operates to nullify the votes of a majority of the people who cast Presidential ballots. And as the Committee investigating the January 6th insurrection is discovering, a not-insignificant number of elected and appointed Republicans–including Trump– fully intended to mount a coup and overturn an election decided by the people that numerous investigations (and Trump’s own dishonorable Attorney General) confirmed was free and fair.
The introduction to the U.S. Constitution doesn’t say “We (some of) the People.” It doesn’t say–as far too many of today’s faux patriots evidently believe– “We the (White Christian) People.” It says “We the People.”
If sovereignty is to be vested in We the People, all people’s votes must be counted and all people’s voices must be heard. That isn’t happening. (Okay, it’s never really happened, but we have previously moved in that direction.) To the contrary, we’re moving backward, thanks to a well-organized effort to subvert democratic equality and the very idea of “one person, one vote.”
As Barton Gellman reports in the linked article,
For more than a year now, with tacit and explicit support from their party’s national leaders, state Republican operatives have been building an apparatus of election theft. Elected officials in Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and other states have studied Donald Trump’s crusade to overturn the 2020 election. They have noted the points of failure and have taken concrete steps to avoid failure next time. Some of them have rewritten statutes to seize partisan control of decisions about which ballots to count and which to discard, which results to certify and which to reject. They are driving out or stripping power from election officials who refused to go along with the plot last November, aiming to replace them with exponents of the Big Lie. They are fine-tuning a legal argument that purports to allow state legislators to override the choice of the voters.
It is past time to reassert the sovereignty of ALL of We the People, and take back the country we thought we inhabited.
16 thoughts on “(Some Of) We The People”
I would imagine the “slog” to be quite tricky if Amar honestly thinks that “we the people” literally meant “we the people.”
There is no evidence that such a broad definition of “people” was represented at our founding. There were slave owners and wealthy male white oligarchs, but who represented the peasants and serfs?
It’s obvious those “people” didn’t represent women or slaves, but what about the common white man that didn’t own land? Who represented that poor soul or the immigrant worker? What about the Chinese and Jews?
It was a group of white patriarchal oligarchs who drafted that document. If you have to write a bunch of “sloggish” words to justify our oligarchic beginnings, you are covering up the bare facts.
I even read that down South the marshes were so difficult to break down into Plantations, they couldn’t find white people to do the work, so that’s what started the slave trade. We stole Africans from their lands to till our soil and farms and made them do it for free because the poor whites wouldn’t even do it.
Hmm, kind of sounds familiar to our food industry. Maybe landscaping and construction? 😉
Careful now…do we really mean all “people” or the white privileged “people?”
Isn’t it funny that when we start looking at ourselves honestly, just how uncomfortable the truth really is?
Have you read Amar’s book, Todd? I have it but not read it. I imagine my ‘slogish’ brain will have slogush trouble in understanding the book. But thanks to Ms Kennedy who explains every point you address, I think the answers to your ‘but what about this?’ can be debunked quickly. Read the book, Todd.
Put down antivaxer Kennedy’s book and read truth instead.
Well, when today’s Republicans seek office, they do what so many evangelical Christians do: They cherry-pick what they think are the interpretations of the founding document. Today, Republicans everywhere have totally given up on policy that serves “the people”. So, in order to stay/get into power, they must alter the rules. Gerrymandering, originated by Democrats, is now the norm in Republican held state legislatures. Voter suppression and idiotic voter ID laws are designed SPECIFICALLY to disenfranchise Democratic voters of ALL ethnicities.
Perhaps more simply put: Republicans, beginning with the Reagan years, simply must cheat, lie and steal to retain power. Why? Because their corporate/banking donors give not a single damn for the law, the Constitution or the people of the country who have made them rich.
Does anyone expect these “people” to actually read scholarly works?
Step #1 seems to be passing and enforcing NATIONAL right to vote laws. Failing that, saving the republic seems iffy at best. And yet there seems little energy being applied to passing and enforcing those laws. I do not understand it. Where is the urgency?
Definitely will read the book. Thank you.
Then came Mark Twain: “Be truthful. If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything!” Much less what you meant to say. When someone pompously admonishes “we the people” my antlers flare to interpret what was really meant were only self adorned elite some of us folk. 😇 And BTW Vernon, George Washington was quite the iconic ‘cherry picker’ himself, wasn’t he? 😊
Let’s go back a bit further and remember that Machiavelli advised the Prince to have the people on his side, if he wanted to be effective. All of this energy has been brought to you by Koch Industries and their little group of billionaires who give mega-bucks to eliminate all but one function of government, protection of private property. Maybe not my private property or yours, but decidedly theirs must be protected using the taxes paid by everyone else.
Have just seen the evil at first hand. Our group supported a DEM US House candidate in TX21 in 2018 who almost won in a somewhat GOP district. We are again working with a DEM candidate there for 2022.
Our work focuses on Latino and Black voters. In 2018, we carefully researched where those folks live, down to the city neighborhoods in San Antonio and Austin. We compared the new “gerried” TX21 to the 2018 one and guess what, each and every Latino and Black area had been surgically removed…
Is there any room in this authors book a discussion of the Federalist papers and how the states needed a Bill of Rights to keep government corruption and overreach that was common for most governments that predated the constitution. This book to me seems more lacking and opinionated. Thats my opinion without reading it of course.
The constitution is weakest when we dont realize the rights of the minority held within states rights snd the filibuster rule to protect those in the minority.
Just like in Nazi Germany, today in this country many are being shamed and coerced into an existence that to some think is forward moving but is it the right direction?
Most commentators fully understood the January 6th protest to be only a protest. Trump called it a protest and tweeted for people to peacefully protest within in thirty minutes of that day of the breach. Its on record that Pelosi denied him protections of the National Guard that Trump had requested so there wouldn’t be a breach.
Only after Biden took office were there protections added. With new fences and barricades installed our nation began to look more like Soviet Russia. It was sad to see this.
Most commentators knew it was a long shot for Trump to overturn the election. It would have to be done in the courts and the courts responded correctly. There could be no “coup.”
Overturning the electoral college is overturning the rights of the minority.
If you grew up in Indiana and lostened to WIBC and other radio stations you knew Mike Pences conservative view. Even Mike Pence knew that Trump couldn’t stop the proceedings. It was the laws we agreed upon that put Biden in office. Another thought is
Did this author mention the 17th amendment and how the senate is no longer a senate to be run by each state legislatures wishes. This is another reason that I dont agree with this authors suppositions, his opinion. The senate does not represent the states as it once did, but state by state it represents party rule. Both parties not just the Republicsn or Democrat party have a responsibility to listen to yhe people of each state. They instead are in their own extreme elite realities are tellingvyhe states voters what to believe in on a national level. The Senate I will state once again is another form of representation that can be influenced by those with no concern for the individual State with millions being poured in.
At the turn of the 20th century, the breakdown of the state became apparent as those willing to push gor a majority or mob rule existence. This author clearly makes his intentions known. You may have to read between lines
Will we be like the UPenn female swimmers who have worked their lives to personally achieve and in the end find their team winning but have nothing to celebrate?
I have been challenged to ask people, Is it working? Is the new administration working for you? Most people answer no, its a disappointment. Most black coworkers find Biden worse than Trump in many ways.
I don’t even pretend to be an expert in Constitutional law (and most other things) and am very willing to concede expertise to a handful of experts. In fact I am awed by even the thought that 250 years of law and order and aspiration can be built on any choice of 4,543 words. I have said and written millions of words in the last eight decades none of which found much evident lasting power over other people.
That leads me to another thought: Moms for Liberty has found words to other Americans that tell then them that are entitled to expertise without taking the time to learn and develop it.
What’s that about?
John S. – “Most commentators fully understood the January 6th protest to be only a protest. Trump called it a protest and tweeted for people to peacefully protest within in thirty minutes of that day of the breach. Its on record that Pelosi denied him protections of the National Guard that Trump had requested so there wouldn’t be a breach.”
Thanks for reporting this. This is direct evidence that the FDA need to immediately investigate “toxic Kool-Aid”
I’ve been working in politics for at least 35 years. It’s easier to get registered and vote than it ever has been. Voter ID laws, if you look at turnout versus voting age population, has not led to lower turnout. People who make this claim can only point to an anecdote or two. If they try to use turnout data, they use inflated registration figures, (Thanks to the National Voter Registration Act, people can no longer be easily purged from the rolls for a period of non-voting and as a result people end up registered multiple places. As a result, many counties have close to or in excess of 100% registration of voting age population.) If you take the correct approach of comparing turnout to voting age population, you’ll find that states with voter ID laws have not had decreased turnout. Democrats should be haggling over what photo ID is satisfactory, not trying to return us to the silly sign your name and vote system which had no security whatsoever.
There is a real danger out there when it comes to voting and it’s not “voter suppression,” it’s election subversion. The Trump Republicans are laying the groundwork so that it doesn’t matter how many Democrats turn out and vote in 2024. They are angling to use the archaic machinery of the Electoral College (and the poorly written Electoral Count Act) and their control over key state legislatures and Congress (presuming the GOP wins control in 2022 elections) to override the vote of the people in the states and elect their own President. What’s more, it’s now come out the extent that the Trump people were trying to subvert and steal the 2020 election…but they failed because they didn’t have pro-coup Republicans in place to do that. They’re working hard to ensure that next time they have people in place who will be willing to assist in stealing the election.
The quote from the Gellman article Sheila provides is dead on correct. This election subversion planning is going on in the open and Democrats don’t seem that worried about it. It’s baffling.
Our seeming endless diatribe against “others” disgusts me. I must admit to a sense of helplessness about how egregious trump republicans are about destroying my right to vote. “You don’t support what I do therefore your vote doesn’t count.” When trump won in 16 I was pissed. I got out the placards, joined every group involved in writing and supporting candidates I felt supported fair government and marched and yelled and got busy. These trump supporters are sad incomplete human beings.
Todd’s contribution today smacks of “originalist intent” as though the phrase “We the People” is set in concrete, but since slaveholders (among others) of the time gave us a Constitution that excluded women, slaves and non-propertyholders from the vote (all of which have since been corrected) it is clear from the debates and papers of the time that the founding fathers fully expected change in interpretation of such founding document, and I think the phrase “We the People” is one of them. Thus Lincoln was clear that sovereignty rests with “the people” though if original intent is to be the barometer, then his Emancipation Proclamation and the 20th century right of women to the vote would be unconstitutional.
As to other commentary today, the overwhelming and accumulating evidence is that Trump’s 1/6 plan was for a coup and not a mere protest. Case closed. Merry and Happy to all.
You go Una.
and Vernon, what Republicans? There are no republicans anymore, there are Democrats, Lincoln project members, and Fascists who have taken over what used to be the Republican party.
I also read “America’s Constitution, A BIography,” and only this year.
Todd, I do not believe that Amar was trying to “justify” our beginnings, but to explain them, as in “This is what happened.”
Whatever the reason the colonists began importing slave labor, it was “convenient” for the wealthy of the time.
However they founders meant “We the people…,” as in which ever “people” that referenced, the constitution still saw them as
the unit with sovereignty, not corporate people-things, and not parties. It did not take long for the latter to develop, but were, apparently,
not forseen by the founders.
Paul, from what universe did that quote come?
On Sat, Dec 25, 2021 at 12:34 PM wrote:
(Some Of) We The People
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