We the People

Welcome to my post celebrating US Constitution Day, officially September 17, the date the document was signed in 1787.

 

With thanks to AskIdeas.com for this image

Did you even know we had a Constitution Day?  I didn’t.  But we do, so let’s take a look at it; it’s pretty fundamental to our lives, believe it or not.

First, think for a minute what you know about the Constitution (for my foreign readers, you might think about your own for a moment.  Or ours; whatever. There’ll be no pop quiz on this).

Here’s our Preamble

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, 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.

And so it begins. Six promises, six dreams:

1. form a more perfect union
2. establish justice
3. insure domestic tranquility
4. provide for the common defense
5. promote the general welfare
6. secure the blessings of Liberty

Those were the goals. But how to achieve them? Ah, yes; that’s always been the kicker. The HOW.

 

In the broadest terms, our Constitution is divided into seven sections (Seven Articles) plus Amendments.

The first three Articles set out the structure of this experiment, this “more perfect union” and divided it into three branches with very different but equal, powers.  This is called “Separation of Powers.”

  1. The Legislature (Congress: the House and the Senate) is described in Article One. These are the folks who write the laws.
  2. the Executive Branch (the President and the administration), in Article Two. This is the branch that enforces and carries out the laws.
  3. and the Judiciary (the courts) in Article Three. This is the branch that interprets the laws.

Or so it is written.

Article 4 details the specific rights that fall to the States, establishing beyond a doubt the unique (for the times) nature of our Federal system: that powers are not only divided into the three equal branches of government, this same division of power occurs at the various levels of government too: local, county, state, and federal. Picture a 12-cell square, if you will.

Article Five establishes how we might go about making changes to this structure. Article Six details how the transition from the (old) Articles of Confederation would carry over to this new Constitution. And finally, Article Seven establishes how this Constitution would become the law of the land (nine of the 13 states had to ratify it).

Really, the folks who wrote our Constitution never took a “Write for Your Reader” workshop. So, it’s the Preamble I’ve returned to for discussion purposes today.

You’re welcome.

Six promises, six dreams:

1. form a more perfect union
2. establish justice
3. insure domestic tranquility
4. provide for the common defense
5. promote the general welfare
6. secure the blessings of Liberty

 

And wondering how we’ve gotten to this point in time where

  • so many are denied access to true justice,
  • domestic tranquility is not insured,
  • the general welfare has been going downhill for the vast majority of citizens over the past 40 years, but so slowly that many don’t notice.
  • And just what are these “blessings of Liberty,” they wrote so dearly about?

Yes, that’s been on my mind over this 231st anniversary of the signing of our Constitution.

However if you want more, I suggest the following links:

How about you? What stands out for you as you take a look at our/your Constitution? If you live under a different Constitution, will you share with us your preamble?

 

Again, my thanks to Ask Ideas DOT com for this image.

 

Next week: Shall we look at the Amendments?  Though there’ve been 27 changes made to the constitution over those 231 years, of more interest to me are the many (many, many) changes proposed and never adapted.  They’d make a great blog post. However, today I’m driving to Canada to celebrate Woody’s birthday with his family; and next week I’ll be in Ohio for my biannual Grandma Janet road tour. So, come Saturday, I may just write of something closer to home. Time will tell.

 

 

36 Responses

  1. Carol Taylor
    | Reply

    Wow…that was a quick history lesson…For most people, especially abroad, the United Kingdom does not have a constitution at all in the sense most commonly used around the world — but has an unwritten one formed of Acts of Parliament, court judgments and conventions. However, there is talk around this that maybe we should have a written one but the worry is that then some of our ancient constitution may be lost in that process…

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Yes, I knew the UK has no written constitution; I didn’t know they were thinking of creating one. I wonder what ultimate goals they choose. Our countries have such a long history of shared values.
      Janet Givens recently posted…We the PeopleMy Profile

  2. BRIGID GALLAGHER
    | Reply

    Very interesting Janet. I just checked out the Irish constitution. There are 50 articles. The consent of the Irish people is needed to make any amendments. Thus far we have had 35 referendums and 29 amendments.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Brigid, and welcome. I’d love to see your preamble. Can you share it here?
      Janet Givens recently posted…We the PeopleMy Profile

      • watchingthedaisies
        | Reply

        Preamble? On myself or the constitution?

        • Janet Givens
          | Reply

          Ha Ha. The Preamble to Ireland’s Constitution. How does it begin? Yours too, if you have one. 🙂 Wouldn’t that be an idea!
          Janet Givens recently posted…We the PeopleMy Profile

          • Brigid Gallagher
            |

            A short snippet “We, the people of Éire,…do hereby adopt, enact, and give to ourselves this Constitution’.”

  3. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    Good morning, Janet. You may or may not know that the U.S. Constitution was the first written constitution. (Well, major or credited one– apparently Corsica had one before.) But the colonies/states wrote theirs first, and so some of the ideas in the U.S. Constitution come from those state constitutions (and previous charters).
    And of course, some people know the Preamble from this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHp7sMqPL0g
    Merril Smith recently posted…Flying and FallingMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      True, ours pulled from the various state constitutions in existence then; those states behaving as tiny countries onto themselves, hence the Articles of Confederation. Ours was truly an experiment in so many ways. I loved the video; I think I’ll add it to the post for future reblogs. Thanks, Merril.
      Janet Givens recently posted…We the PeopleMy Profile

  4. JENNIFER STONECIPHER BERGERON
    | Reply

    I truly appreciate this article, thank you.

  5. Joan Z. Rough
    | Reply

    It seems our constitution is being shredded by the powers that be, along with kindness, respect, and anything that smacks of the common good. I wish it weren’t so and have a hard time trying to control my anger.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Ah anger. That one we’re taught to keep under tight control. I’ve found it serves me much better to let ‘er rip — just direct it. That’s why boys play baseball, I was taught in sixth grade (we had that 30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary; that was the example for the word “sublimation.” Yes, I guess the message there was girls don’t get angry. Grrrrr.) Go smash some dishes against a concrete wall; it has such a powerful sound. Keep me posted. 🙂
      Janet Givens recently posted…We the PeopleMy Profile

  6. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    What stands out most to me about the US Constitution is that it serves as a check on tyranny and oppression, not only by the state, but by the whims of the majority. I.e., ours is a constitutional democracy, protecting the rights of minorities and minority viewpoints. Some of our best moments have been when we (mostly through the judicial enforcement) have lived up to this ideal, while our worst moments have been when we have not. Of course, majorities often fail to understand or appreciate the beauty and inherent fairness of such a system, or even how their own liberties are guaranteed by and dependent on such. Hence, a constant and inherent tension . . .

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Our foreparents (dare I?) certainly knew tyranny, didn’t they Tim. And wrote it accordingly. The best stories I recall from my early American history days were those of men (it is HIStory after all) who kept the good of the whole at the forefront of their decisions, who could put special interests aside and see the larger picture. Single issue voting has gotten quite a foothold in our psyche since the latest Tea Party saga, seems to me. No one wins then. I may go join Joan and throw some dishes.
      Janet Givens recently posted…We the PeopleMy Profile

  7. Janet Morrison
    | Reply

    The two promises/dreams that jump out at me as I read it today are number 2 (establish justice) and number 5 (promote the general welfare.) I think these are the two promises in the list of six that need the most work today. There are many injustices in our justice system. The rich are favored over the poor, and skin tone too often contributes to a miscarriage of justice. The general welfare is quickly being kicked to the gutter as social programs and environmental safeguards of the past are being cut or discontinued.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Stated very well, Janet. Thank you. It seems those who must have someone, some group, to hate have risen up and taken over whether focused on religion, skin color, or sexual orientation. All out of fear of the ‘other’ — the different other. It may well do us all in if we can’t reach these people. Break the cycle somehow.
      Janet Givens recently posted…We the PeopleMy Profile

  8. Bette Stevens
    | Reply

    Wow! I didn’t know we had a Constitution Day either… Great post! Sharing. 🙂 xo

  9. Amelia
    | Reply

    Reading this I realize I know more about the US constitution than my own. Hmm….. I can see some reading/research in my future.
    Amelia recently posted…Tourist at home – Wine TourMy Profile

  10. Anindya Rakshit
    | Reply

    I guess I will have to give more in depth reading on that one, the subject being new to me to actually give any comment on that 🙂

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Not every country has a written Constitution, Anindya. I’d be interested to know if yours does and how it begins. Do let us know. 🙂
      Janet Givens recently posted…We the PeopleMy Profile

  11. Rachael Stray
    | Reply

    As has already been said we don’t have one over here.

    So interesting to find out about yours though.

    We do have the Magna Carta though which is a really important document.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      It is indeed, Rachael, for all of us. 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping.
      Janet Givens recently posted…We the PeopleMy Profile

  12. Ellen Best
    | Reply

    We have the British style of constitution, it has evolved over a long period of time, reflecting the relative stability of the British polity. It has never been thought necessary to consolidate the gubbins of this order in Britain. What Britain has instead is an accumulation of various statutes, conventions, judicial decisions and treaties which together can be referred to as the British Constitution. It is more accurate to refer to Britain’s constitution as an ‘uncodified’ constitution, rather than an ‘unwritten’ one. 
    But we do not have a day as the USA do for remembering or celebrating our constitution.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Ellen. I’ve long thought that it must be easier to be an attorney in the US than in the UK, with our written constitution, as we do, plus case law on a given issue. I wonder if that is true. We do like to be practical. Thanks for stopping by, Ellen.
      Janet Givens recently posted…We the PeopleMy Profile

  13. Modern Gypsy
    | Reply

    Here’s the preamble from the Indian constitution – copying it over from Wikipedia to save myself tying on a tiny mobile phone screen:
    WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens
    JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
    LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
    EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all
    FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;
    IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this 26th day of November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.

    There’s so much within that preamble that is being pooh-poohed right now – the socialistic ideals, secularism, liberty…these are strange times we live in!
    Modern Gypsy recently posted…#MondayMusings: Emerging from the hermit caveMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thank you so much for sharing this, Shinjini. It’s intriguing to me that the goals our countries set are so similar: justice, liberty, equality, unity … At least in your country the word “socialism” doesn’t send folks into paroxysms of fear as it does here. Yes, we are all going through strange times. Greed seems to be the virus that has impacted us all. Thanks again. And Welcome.
      Janet Givens recently posted…We the PeopleMy Profile

  14. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    Janet — I learned more about the US Constitution in this single blog post then I did in my academic career. Thank you!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Sometimes we just have to live first, hey Laurie? Glad to fill in the gaps.
      Janet Givens recently posted…We the PeopleMy Profile

  15. Amelia
    | Reply

    I was so worried when I saw the start of this post… I thought uh oh, blatant American patriotism, have you seen yourself lately? I avoid that like the plague, just as I avoid nationalism here is Australia. We, too, have gotten into a situation where the ideals our early founders had are not being upheld. It’s a different situation to yours, but it’s extremely disheartening and frankly, embarrassing. To be fair, though, our constitution is much shorter with no bill of rights and really just sets up the three branches of government. The rest is left up to the states.

    It’s a sad day when you see the situation around you and, rather than be proud, you wish you were a citizen of the neighbouring country instead – such as it is for me.

    I’m sorry to bring so much negativity to your post, BUT my hope is this negativity many of us feel creates fires in our bellies and has us actually trying to do something to make it better.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      What neighboring country do you have down there, Amelia? Australians hold the unique position to be their own continent as well as country. It’s a beautiful country too, though so dry. I was privileged to be invited to Melbourne, Adelaide, and Sydney in 1997.

      I’m very glad you didn’t give up. Thanks for joining us.
      Janet Givens recently posted…We the PeopleMy Profile

  16. Our Amendments – Janet Givens
    | Reply

    […] We the People […]

  17. Terri Lyon
    | Reply

    It gives me hope. Otherwise, I might scream!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Screaming has its place though, huh Terri? I know there are times I’ve felt quite relieved after a good loud scream or two (or three). I wonder if, rather than gathering to protest we just held a scream-fest. Could be quite energizing. A fun idea. Thanks for getting me thinking.
      Janet Givens recently posted…The 2019 Sugar Resolution — Part IMy Profile

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