Somewhere around 5th or 6th grade, I was required to memorize the Preamble to the Constitution. A few years later, a high school English teacher required me to learn and recite lines from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, being the rebel that I was I chose an entirely different passage than what the majority of the class picked. Now 30 years later I can still recite both passages and it occurs to me on this rainy Independence Day that the preamble and the passage from Shakespeare had a lot in common, though I doubt I knew it then, and that both said a lot about who I would become.
The words from the Preamble, written in 1787, some 11 years after we declared our independence from the King of England, inspired and influenced me in a way I wouldn’t understand for a long time:
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.
The Preamble is the introduction to the principles and purpose of the Constitution. It is not a part of the Constitution and grants no powers, but has been viewed as evidence of what the Founding Fathers of our Country wanted to achieve with this document that has ruled us for some 230 years since it was drafted. The purpose according to the words was to form a “more perfect” union that provides for the good of all of our people of the United States. The Preamble doesn’t guarantee perfection, as we all know perfection is unattainable by man, but it does strive to create a government that continues to be better, to provide for all, to guarantee our continuance as a society, to defend us in our time of need, and secure our liberties.
There is much debate in constitutional law about whether the words in the Constitution should be interpreted to mean the same as what they meant in 1787 when our Founding Fathers met to draft it or if they were to change with society. As a student and practitioner of the law, I believe that the Founding Father’s knew and expected the interpretation of their historic document to grow over time. These men knew that society changed and developed and that for government to continue to exist it had to be willing to change with it. This was part of the break away from England, the King did not adapt his rule to the changes occurring within the colonies so the colonies adapted the rule of law for him and gave birth to a new nation.
With this in mind, I think about the passage I chose from Julius Caesar. It is in Act 1, Scene 1, and set in the streets of Rome when the people are waiting for Caesar to come through the city and it sets the theme for the play.:
“You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things,O you hard hearts, you cruel men of Rome, Knew you not Pompey?…..”
This passage is about the fickle nature of the people to switch their support from one leader to the next over simple things. The speaker is reminding the people about the last celebration for the former leader when they backed him wholeheartedly but now they are flooding the streets cheering for the new leader. This seems to be the nature of our political society today, constantly changing support from one dynamic figure to the next based on what they say rather than what they do. I find this to be interesting given another common cliche “actions speak louder than words” often repeated in life. We vote, electing and reelecting leaders, who’s accomplishments we celebrate and who’s words before the election promise one thing but their actions post election show the words mean little.
I fear we have become the citizens in Julius Caesar, changing our loyalty from one dynamic leader to the next. Relying on words instead of looking to their actions. Placing our trust in “parties” and “platforms” rather than in the elected people who regardless of party show a demonstrated practice of acting in their own self interest rather than in the interest of our citizenry. I’ve heard repeatedly that no one was happy with the candidates offered by the major parties in our 2016 election, yet they were the ones chosen by our political process, one of the best, if not the best in the world, to represent us, to lead us, and to speak for us.
In a time when our country is divided, the words of our Preamble, the Declaration of Independence and even the Constitution itself to remind us of the founding principles of this country. The principles that were, are, and will continue to be important enough for people to fight and die for to ensure that we continue as the greatest nation in the world.
We The People….need to be the change that we want to see in our community, in our state and in our country. We The People….like we were in 1776 and in 1787 are the future and the voice of our times. We The People….need to make our voices heard and votes count to direct, steer, and guide the future of our country. We The People….need to decide if we are Romans cheering the next dynamic leader who conquers those who are weaker or if we are the Founding Father’s giving birth to and raising the greatest nation in the world to provide for All the People.