We does not include all

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July 26, 2009



“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.”

            When you read or hear these words of the Preamble to the Constitution

I am sure your heart fills with patriotism and you stand taller. I know I do. There is something time honored and personal knowing that I am part of the “we” that established the Constitution that still is the heart and soul of our representative democracy -  a unique and experimental endeavor at self-government.

            As lofty as those sentiments are however, we would do ourselves a favor if we took a more careful look at the “we” of that document. There were three major groups excluded from that collective “we”.

Native Americans

            Not only were the native inhabitants of this great land not included in that phrase, they were systematically moved from their lands by agreements and treaties. These treaties were broken when it was to the advantage of the United States. Even after the Native Americans were put on their own reservations they were not safe. When oil was discovered in the Oklahoma Indian Territory, suddenly the white settlers clamored for statehood and won it.

            Today we raise our eyebrows in disdain at the genocide occurring around the world, but we fail to teach to our children the genocide our own government committed over several centuries until there was only a remnant left of the Native Americans in various locations, many times not near their original homelands.


            The first Africans were brought to the colonies as slaves in 1619. There followed a very tragic but thriving slave trade until slavery was forbidden after our Civil War. Not only were these slaves excluded from being part of the “We” they were doubly insulted by being declared property and had no human rights. Adding more insult, they were counted as 3/5ths of a person for Congressional representation. This part of American history is taught but without, I suspect, the shame it should engender. Gouverneur Morris, the “brilliant” (1) author of the Preamble, was ardently opposed to slavery but was unable to convince a majority of the delegates.


            The largest class of people who were not part of the “we” were women. The colonial society was still very much a patriarchal society with remnants of former practice of considering a woman as her husband’s property.  Rachel, the future wife of Andrew Jackson, was not allowed to obtain a divorce from her first husband in the state of Tennessee even though he had abandoned her for years.

We, the people

            55 wealthy landowners signed the Constitution. They wrote it in visionary language but also clearly for the benefit of the wealthy class they represented. And so it has continued to this day with 27 Amendments which limit the power of the few or extend freedom to more people.

Slaves were freed and guaranteed other rights by the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments but were quickly segregated by law and other practices from being part of the “we, the people.” Even now many of the descendants are separated from mainstream American life. The election of Barack Obama, though he is not a descendant of a slave, represents an historic development in making “we the people” more inclusive.

Women gained the right to vote less than one hundred years ago. They continue to struggle in gaining full membership in the “we the people” but have made significant strides. The candidacies of Hillary Clinton for President and Sarah Palin as Vice President were historic and symbolic moments in the equality of women as part of “we the people”.

            Native Americans continue to struggle for equality and inclusion.


            All those mentioned above or their descendants continue to strive for inclusivity. In addition new groups continue to seek inclusion such as gays, immigrants from all over the world who do not fit the mold of white Anglo-Saxon Christian heritage, the poor and the homeless. Let’s try to welcome them all as the message beneath the Statue of Liberty says:

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


(1) Meet the Author of U.S. Constitution's Preamble

Learn about 18th-century statesman patriot Gouverneur Morris

Thomas R. Eddlem



Responses on MDN website, reprinted here with permission

These are two guys responding to each other about this column. Not very interesting or insightful in my opinion.


cliff wrote on Jul 27, 2009 1:02 PM:


" Yes, but we still have to worship every word of that constitution and can never question it, right? "


Jeff Nielsen wrote on Jul 27, 2009 1:35 PM:


" Cliff

Worship it, NO. Abide by it unless an amendment is made, YES. If someone doesn't like the constitution they have four choices:

Suck it up and live with it.

Work and campaign to have an amendment to it enacted

Not follow it and face the consequences, ie jail.

Move to another country.

Take your pick "


cliff wrote on Jul 27, 2009 7:35 PM:


" As I've brought up before on other articles, the constitution is like the bible. You can use it to justify just about anything. Nobody can agree on what it really says on many issues. If it were obvious, we wouldn't need a supreme court. That's why I am annoyed at those who keep shouting about the constitution. They tend to be the same ones who supported Bush, one of the worst violators of supposed constitutional rights this country has ever seen.

By the way, it doesn't take an amendment to change the constitution, it only takes a new interpretation of it by a supreme court decision. "


Jeff Nielsen wrote on Jul 28, 2009 11:55 AM:

" Cliff

For once I agree with you. If the constitution was taken word for word instead of all of the "interpretations" we would be much better off.

I can never understand how lawyers and others can interpret what the constitution and laws state. It is all black and white, how is it open to interpretation? "


cliff wrote on Jul 28, 2009 12:39 PM:

" You've got to be kidding me. Time to grow up. Just look at any conservative vs liberal issue. Both point to the constitution to back their side. Of course whoever doesn't agree with your interpretation, Jeff, is obviously stupid and those that do are obviously brilliant. Same goes for me. "


Jeff Nielsen wrote on Jul 29, 2009 11:25 AM:


" Cliff

That is my point, both sides interpret it to mean something to benefit them instead of just taking it word for word. "


cliff wrote on Jul 29, 2009 1:14 PM:

" My point is they take it word for word and can't agree on what those words mean. Take the word "militia" for example. "