Principles of American Democracy
The Idea of Self Government

The idea of self-government is in the first three words of the Constitution. What are these words?

"We the People" is a powerful phrase that sets the tone for the entire U.S. Constitution. It embodies the principle of popular sovereignty, meaning that the power of the government is derived from the people. This is a radical shift from earlier forms of governance where power was often derived from divine right or conquest.

The full Preamble reads: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, 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."

This Preamble further elaborates on the purpose of the Constitution, outlining its goals:

  • Form a more perfect Union: Strengthen the relationship among the states as a single nation.

  • Establish Justice: Create a system of laws that are fair and equitable.

  • Insure Domestic Tranquility: Ensure peace and order within the country.

  • Provide for the common defense: Protect the country and its citizens from external threats.

  • Promote the general Welfare: Support the well-being of its citizens.

  • Secure the Blessings of Liberty: Protect the rights and freedoms of its citizens and future generations.

So, in essence, "We the People" signifies that the Constitution and the government it establishes are not imposed by a ruler or external authority, but are instead the collective will of the citizens of the nation. This is the heart of democratic self-government: a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.