Q: I’m trying to understand the implications of your post last May about “We the People.” In particular, can I use it as the object of a sentence for rhetorical impact if it’s in quotes? I’d like to use this sentence in a speech: “The US Constitution says our republic was ordained and established by quote We the People unquote.”
A: As we said in our blog item, the resonant and historically important phrase “we the people” is demeaned when it’s grammatically misused (as in, “Don’t trample on we the people!”).
But you’re not misusing the phrase in that sentence. By adding the words “quote” and “unquote,” it’s clear that you’re making a rhetorical allusion to the exact phrase used in the Preamble.
(We’ve written on the blog about this use of the words “quote” and “unquote.”)
In writing, of course, you could make the same point by using quotation marks and the original capitalization: “The Constitution says our republic was ordained and established by ‘We the People.’ ”
We quoted from the Preamble in our blog item last May, but let’s end this posting by doing it again:
“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.”