Who Are The Potters Of The Constitutional Clay? - By Daniel W. Sheridan
"We the People of the United States...do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
Exactly how did "We the People" ordain and establish the Constitution? The story begins after the Constitutional Convention concluded. The text, shortly after its completion, was published in local newspapers for everyone in the country to read - from Rhode Island to Georgia. Newspapers, to grab the attention of the reader, usually put the Preamble in larger type. The words leaped off the page as if crying out to every American – READ ME!
I always wonder what ordinary Americans thought when they first saw the words, We the People. "That's me! I've made the front page!" Ordinary people mattered, and that was unique in human history. Americans, from that day forward, with a new sense of individual dignity, from all walks of life, in homes, neighborhood gatherings, and town-halls read and discussed the merits of the document. Then, per Article Seven of the Constitution, the people voted to ratify through democratically chosen state conventions. The field of convention delegates to choose from was a novelty, too. Typically, men who served in the state houses had to be propertied men, but these restrictions were lowered or eliminated when it came to qualifications for delegates to the ratifying conventions.
"A people, free and enlightened," boasted James Wilson, "ESTABLISHING and RATIFYING a system of government, which they have previously CONSIDERED, EXAMINED and APPROVED! --- This is the spectacle, which we are assembled to celebrate; and it is the most dignified one that has yet appeared on our globe...You have heard of SPARTA, of ATHENS, and of ROME. You have heard of their admired constitutions and of their high prized freedom...But did they, in all their pomp and pride of liberty, ever furnish to the astonished world an exhibition similar to that, which we now contemplate? Were their constitutions framed by those who were appointed, for that purpose, by the people? After they were framed, were they submitted to the consideration of the people? Had the people an opportunity of expressing their sentiments concerning them? Were they to stand or fall by the people's approving or rejecting vote?"
The answers to Wilson's questions are NO! In America, We The People are the Sovereigns; we brought the Constitution into existence, and we alter it as we see fit.
Indeed, Women and Slaves couldn't vote at this time, but Americans would eventually make amends for these exclusions through the Amendments. Universal suffrage existed nowhere before 1787. As the Founders wished, however, the Amenders would improve the original Constitution, which We The People did by more faithfully and widely applying the Democratic principles of the Preamble to include those excluded in 1789. Americans love to do better and make amends.
"This Constitution," said James Wilson, "is laid before the citizens of the United States…By their fiat, it will become of value and authority." And the people said, "Let there be a Constitution, and there was a Constitution." That goes for the Amendments, too. We've never ceased to be the potters of our Constitutional clay.