The first words of the United States Constitution are “We the
People of the United States”. These words hold a great significance
because of the implications of those words’ inclusion in the Constitution.
While the words of the Preamble do not actually have any innate legal
implications beyond introducing the rest of the Constitution, the meaning of
the Preamble with regard to the Constitution as a whole is quite significant
towards understanding the Constitution. “We the People”, as a phrase,
exhibits this significance, as that one phrase allows the Constitution to be
interpreted in a different light.
To quickly emphasize the importance of “We the People”
in the Preamble of the Constitution, one should examine the Preamble of the
Articles of Confederation. In the Articles of Confederation, the Preamble bears
no such phrase and instead moves quickly into the content of the Articles with
barely any such opening ideas. “We the People” is conspicuously
absent from the Preamble of the Articles.
In the Constitution, on the other hand, by opening up with
“We the People”, it immediately affirms that the Constitution is of
the people, for the people, and by the people of the United States. This
interpretation, which arises most strongly from the presence of “We the
People”, leads to an understanding of the Constitution as affecting the
people directly and not through regulations imposed on the States. In other
words, those words define that the interaction between the Constitution and the
citizens of the United States is direct and immediate, meaning that the
Constitution and the government it creates supersedes any State government.
The words “We the People” in the Preamble are often
considered the strongest links between the Constitution and the Declaration of
Independence, in that the Declaration of Independence was written from the
perspective of the people, not of specific individuals or of government. In
beginning the Preamble of the Constitution with “We the People”, the
Constitution is immediately emphasizing the significance of the people and is
also ensuring an understanding that the people are the ones giving power to the
Government. This is also a critical element to the American Constitution in
that the power of the Government mandated by the Constitution comes not from
God or from itself, but from “We the People.”
Starting off the Preamble in this fashion has influenced
interpretations of the Preamble and of the Constitution as a whole in that the
Preamble is often used as a kind of key for determining understanding of other
parts of the Constitution. Insofar as the Preamble begins with “We the
People”, it clearly emphasized the importance of the people and their role
in validating the Government, as opposed to the Government’s role in having
power over the people.
“We the People” is one of the most often quoted parts of the
Constitution, both because it is at the very beginning of the entire document
and because it significantly determines the nature of the rest of the
Constitution. In making the Constitution a document for the people and by the
people, the words “We the People” at the beginning of the Preamble
very much define the context in which the entire rest of the Constitution can
and should be understood.