We the People

The first three words in the Constitution are the most powerful: We the People. They declare that the Constitution derives its power not from a king or a Congress, but from the people themselves. This concept of popular sovereignty—power to the people—is the foundation upon which the entire Consti-tution depends.

The framers of the Constitution designed a system of government in 1787 that distributed power among three branches—legislative, executive, and judicial. Having just overthrown a king, the framers did not want to concentrate power in one ruler, whether a president or a Congress. Therefore, they established checks and balances for each branch over the other two. Some modern critics argue that this system creates gridlock and is ill-suited to the demands of the 21st century, where global electronic networks can collapse financial markets and national governments in milliseconds. They advocate creation of a new constitution.

But even the framers themselves did not think the Constitution was perfect. That's why they included an amendment process in Article V, so the people could make changes to the Constitution as they saw fit. Over the past 225 years, the people have added 27 amendments; the most common theme has been expanding the right to vote. In the end, each generation strives to create a “more perfect union” for those yet to come. The Constitution begins and ends with We the People.


We the People content written by Linda R. Monk, Constitutional scholar

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