- Holidays and Celebrations»
- United States Holidays
We The People?
Men of The People?
Today, we celebrate the day in 1776 when a group of British Colonists took an act that would truly be revolutionary. They signed a list of grievances against the King of England and declared themselves to be an independent nation.
While the courage of these men cannot be questioned, the idea of them being "Men of the people" is something that can be challenged. John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, and the other signers of the Declaration, where essentially a landed gentry. They were far removed from the small farmers and merchants that made up the majority of the colonies, and did so much of the fighting against the British Regulars.
When freedom was won, and a Constitution was drafted, the idea of a government of the few was evident. Voting was a privilege, reserved for those White, Males, who held enough wealth to pay the poll taxes that were required to vote. At the time of the Constitution's ratification, Senators were chosen not by the vote of the people, but the State Legislatures.
But our Founding Fathers made the Constitution flexible through Amendments; and the number of Amendments that relate to voting shows that over time, the people made demands for greater public power; expanding the right to vote to African-Americans, to Women, and to 18-year-olds, electing Senators by a popular vote, and allowing residents of the District Of Columbia to vote.
Many of these gains came in struggles that mirrored the fight for independence, especially the struggles and sacrifices that African-Americans made.
Of course, the idea of power being in the hands of a few may be why so many Conservatives favor such a strict approach to the Constitution. The idea of keeping the power in the hands of a small few may appeal to those who so often speak for the elite.