The People and America's Constitutional Tradition Before the Civil War
By Christian G. Fritz
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print Publication Year: 2007
Online Publication Date:January 2011
Chapter DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511800580.001
This book is a history of an idea and of a people who tried to live by that idea. The idea is what we know today as American constitutionalism. It defines “the people” as the sovereign whose written constitution grants and guides the legitimate exercise of government authority. The fact that the people, instead of a king, ruled in America justified the Revolution as well as the governments established in its wake. When New Yorkers pulled down the statue of George III in Battery Park shortly after Congress declared independence, they did more than reject British authority over America. Their action symbolized the replacement of the person of the king as the sovereign by the collective body of the people as America's new sovereign.
The Revolution stimulated the interest of Americans in their new governments and the people's relationship to them. Revolutionary leaders stressed the important role the people played in securing America's independence. In framing America's first constitutions, patriots celebrated the people's sovereignty. These ideals smoldered even after the Revolution ended and this heated revolutionary rhetoric soon permeated all regions and ranks of society. Government was no longer something that happened to people. In America it now became something that the people – by their consent and volition – brought into being. The people gave their consent through their conduct and their active participation reinforced the message that the people were America's new sovereign.