We the People
The iconic three words We the People may arguably be said to be more remarkable than anything written down by Plato, Freud, Marx, Lincoln, or Churchill. They were written just after thousands of blacksmiths, bakers, and farmers had taken on and defeated the greatest military superpower in the world in the American War of Independence in the late eighteenth century. Well, with a little help from the French navy. That world was dominated by unchallenged kings, nobles, and royal families virtually everywhere, in social and governance systems that admitted of no such bottom-up philosophies as We the People. Yet, the American founding fathers chose these three words as the first in the preamble to their new, written, Constitution, not knowing how influential their Constitution would be for mankind over the next two and a half centuries. Indeed, the author of the Declaration of Independence formally starting the war, Thomas Jefferson, has been viewed by many historians as the greatest statesman ever.
Included in the new constitution was a clause that forbade any American from receiving a social title or title of nobility from any source or any state, ever. There would never be an American lord, an American viscount, or an American sir, let alone an American king. The Founding Fathers chose to eschew all such systems of social elitism and hereditary privilege, viewing them as fundamentally corrupt and irrelevant anachronisms. Two years later, the starving people of Paris, tired of eating dogs, cats, and rats, stormed the Bastille.
Yet, it has been said that what made the United States of America the remarkable country that it has become was not the War of Independence nor indeed the Constitution that followed. Many historians assert that it was the Civil War that galvanised the States and the people and made a nation. At the start of the cessations and civil war that followed Americans hated each other bitterly and had no sense of America. It was a land of autonomous States, north and south. Northern and Southern cultures were so complex that even the author of the words in the Declaration of Independence that “All men are created equal” had owned two hundred slaves and could not set them free as they would have had nowhere to go and he would have become bankrupt had he freed them.
By the end of the most brutal war mankind had ever seen, in 1865, America’s statehood had been purchased with the deaths of 620,000 relatively young men and the death of Abraham Lincoln whom historians say was one of the greatest of all Presidents, alongside Washington and Jefferson. In the civil war, America lost almost as many men as were lost in all other conflicts in which Americans fought, including the First World War, the Second World War, the Korean War, and Vietnam, put together.
One observant historian (Shelby Foote) suggested that the Civil War made America an “is” rather than an “are”. Before the civil war, what was said was that the Unites States “are”. After it, more and more people gradually said that the United States “is”. It was a remarkable transformation in national identity. South and North wept, embraced each other, buried the dead, and became one nation.
We the People is about democracy, the subject matter of this website. The Founding Fathers learned from Plato, Locke, Paine, Hume, Voltaire, Montesquieu, and countless legal authorities such as Coke, and were bold and confident enough to write down new rules for a new world. Not long afterwards, Beethoven was writing down new rules for the symphony as he dominated the transition from the Classical to the Romantic periods. Also at roughly the same time, President Thomas Jefferson was paying a broke Napoleon Bonaparte 15 million US Dollars to buy Louisiana just so that he (Napoleon) could later finance a fight just south of Brussels, in the broad yellow fields adjacent to a small and pretty town called Waterloo. Wellington the Irishman from Dublin triumphed after three days of fighting at Waterloo, as if three days such as were necessary at Gettysburg were somehow a military standard.