We...do

Excerpted from Akhil Reed Amar, America's Constitution: A Biography (2005)

With simple words placed in the document's most prominent location, the Preamble laid the foundation for all that followed. "We the People of the United States,... do ordain and establish this Constitution..."

These words did more than promise popular self-government. They also embodied and enacted it. Like the phrases "I do" in an exchange of wedding vows and "I accept" in a contract, the Preamble's words actually performed the very thing they described. Thus the Founders' "Constitution" was not merely a text but a deed—a constituting.


Focus Questions

1. The first three words of the constitution establish the idea of popular sovereignty. This is the idea that the people created their government and consented to be governed by it, and the government derives its political authority from the people. To what extent do you believe this ideal rings true today? Explain your answer.

2. Some commentators maintain that the Preamble and the idea of popular sovereignty also established the principle that the people had the right to change the Constitution when they deemed the status quo to be outdated. To what extent do you agree with that reasoning, and why?

3. Amar compares the Preamble to a contract or wedding vows. If the people are saying "I do" in the Preamble, what are they agreeing to?

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