Educate, Participate, Connect: Those are the three roles OVF wants to play with overseas voters. We're expanding on our Educational role with the Citizenship Challenge: a series of questions that test how much you -- and your expat friends and family -- know about our civic heritage. Could you pass the citizenship test asked of naturalized American citizens?
Question #3: The idea of self-government is in the first three words of the Constitution. What are these words?
Answer: "We the People"
Tell Me More: Here's the whole passage:
“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.”
This first paragraph establishes the principle of "popular sovereignty," that is, that the people themselves are the source of the government's legitimacy. In other words, the government works for the people and not the other way around.
This idea dates to the social contracts school of philosophy, represented by Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. All three promoted the idea that the rule of law should be based on the consent of the governed and this concept is now a principle of most democracies.
In his The Social Contract, Rousseau elaborated on the idea that individuals voluntarily enter into a social contract, giving up some liberties in exchange for the protections offered by the contract. In the Constitution, these protections are defined as the "enumerated powers" listed in Article 1.
Did You Know? In the years leading up to the Civil War, politicians -- famously Michigan Senator Lewis Cass and Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas -- used the phrase "popular sovereignty" to propose that settlers in incoming territories, and not the Congress, should be able to decide whether to allow slavery in that territory.
This was supposed to let the people themselves strike a compromise between North and South over slavery; the failure of this plan not only led to the Civil War but opened a deep and still-current debate over the role "we the people" should play in determining public policy.
Citizenship Challenge questions are drawn from the civics portion of the Naturalization Test prepared by U.S. Citizenship and Naturalization Services. Applicants for U.S. citizenship must pass an English proficiency test and respond correctly to at least six out of 10 questions taken from a list of 100 possibles.
(Source: Donald Ritchie's Our Constitution, Oxford University Press, 2006)