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September 17th, 2013

Constitution Day: We the People

“Ours was the first revolution in the history of mankind that truly reversed the course of government, and with three little words: “We the people.” “We the people” tell the government what to do, it doesn’t tell us. “We the people” are the driver, the government is the car. And we decide where it should go, and by what route, and how fast. Almost all the world’s constitutions are documents in which governments tell the people what their privileges are. Our Constitution is a document in which “We the people” tell the government what it is allowed to do. “We the people” are free.” – Ronald Regan

Happy Constitution Commemoration Day! Throughout this week, universities and educational institutions around the United States will be gathering together to remember the incredible wisdom and revolution which was effected by our founding fathers! To this day, the Constitution serves as the guidelines by which our nation functions – it provides the people with a standard – a standard written not by one man, but by many, for the good of all.

Statements like Regan’s quote — while profoundly true — are not always easy to enact. Because I’m an American, and because I am constantly (though most times obliviously) influenced by the Constitution, I tend to think that “Yes, I am a believer in The Constitution of the United States of America!” Today, however, challenged that perspective.

“Each generation should re-interpret it [the Constitution] for themselves, but we all have to adhere to what the founders intended.” This was said by Dr. William Forstchen, New York Times best-selling author and beloved professor of history here at Montreat College, during his convocation address this morning.

Dr. Forstchen or “Doc,” as he is fondly called by his students, spent the majority of his time with us this morning breaking down the first line of the Constitution. Ironically, this line is probably the line that we all can quote, but the one that few of us really understand. In case you’ve misplaced your pocket-sized copy of The Constitution or are suffering from a temporary brain freeze, the first line begins, “We the People of the United States of America, in order to form a more perfect union…”

After quoting Ronald Regan’s famous “We the People” speech, which also emphasizes the importance of this first line, Doc went on to elaborate on the power of the American citizen, or “the people.” “Not only the power,” he said, “but more importantly, the responsibility of the American citizen: “The power given to one man to serve the people is temporary. We the people hold the power. We bear the responsibility as citizens and as Christians to guide this country forward.”

Through his entire lecture, he kept coming back to this principle: we the people. The collectiveness, the security of our national identity being a “we” rather than a “they.” It’s not about government, it’s not about politics. It’s about people.

Now, I think I know all of this intuitively, but there probably aren’t many days where I’m actively participating in “guiding the country forward.” Yes, we have the right to vote and exercise that right as much as we want, but the issues we help decide are already predetermined. Where, then, are we independently contributing to the the progress of our nation? I’m reminded of Ghandi’s quote. Under the Constitution we are given the power to “be the change we want to see in the world.” We live by the fruit of our own labor, and as Doc said, “All revolutions and change began with ONE person. If one person can stand up and say, “I believe this,” suddenly a movement starts.

What is your take-away from Constitution Day?

#1 – Read, read, and re-read The Constitution. It really is brilliant and completely relevant. #2 – Remember: WE THE PEOPLE. We can make a difference.