you know what it says, do you know what it means?
|“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, 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.”
Does anybody recognize that? I should hope so, as it is the preamble to the constitution. I believe that it is the most famous fifty-two words in the entire world, But what does it mean? Why is it there? What did the founding fathers mean by this?
By definition it is a preliminary or preparatory statement, or an introduction. But I’m sure you want more info that the simple dictionary definition. So, I’ll ask it once again, what is the preamble? Well I believe that the answer I am looking for is that it is an introductory and expressionary statement where the purpose and philosophy of the document is explained. It is not a source of power in the United states government it is backed up by the federal courts that says that the preamble is reliable evidence of the founding father’s intentions regarding the documents meaning and its scope, while not interpreting it to confer and rights or powers not specifically designated in the Constitution.
But still it is the most recognizable part of the constitution. So recognizable as such, it is taught to elementary school aged children to memorize, it was helped along that direction by old time cartoons that gave such children a fun way to learn it easily.
Although, the simplicity of the Preamble is quite obvious, it’s importance cannot be understated. What it does is actually set the stage for the Constitution. It is the introduction to our highest law of the land, while not law in and of itself it has no power to it.
In all reality it never was meant to contain any power. But as important as it is from a historical standpoint, t does seem to be an afterthought added during the writing of the final draft of the document. As it does, as a whole seem out of place within the framework of the document.
The idea of using a preamble in a document is not a new idea. In fact, it is more commonplace then most would know. There have been several historic documents that have one. Documents such as: The Petition of Rights of 1628, the Habius Corpus Act of 1679, and the Bill of Rights of 1689 as well as other documents of that time that also have a preamble in it.
In fact, in the past the British Parliament used a prefatory text that explains the object of the document as well as the historical impetus in several documents. Which, I believe, is where we, as Americans got and copied the idea of using one in our documents.
We brought it to the new world from the old. No one person knows exactly why we brought it from the old world to the new but I assume the explanation of why could be said that it was because” we have always do it that way why not continue it?” And while it is not a new idea to history, surprisingly the framers, who fought to have this country being different from England, offered little debate about it. As much as it was popular during this time, it is surprising that during first two months of the Constitutional convention there was absolutely no mention of it, nor was ever brought up in discussions about creating the document.
It wasn’t until July of 1787, during the writing of the final draft of a constitution that Edmund Randolph of Virginia discussed it then made a suggestion to add it.
“A preamble seems proper.” Randolph exclaimed.
He is one of the few that considered the Constitution was to be a legal document rather than a philosophical one. Although, He was also against a lengthy preamble, like the one for the declaration of independence. It was also expressed by him that he thought it should never be used to explain the theory of why we needed it, just that we did while also that it should also explain the establishment and reason for the constitution.
The primary draft of the preamble wasn’t so brief and didn’t contain the wording it needed to contain while containing other wording it didn’t need to have. And while the initial draft passed by the delegates during the convention, the preamble did undergo several changes in its wording due to the committee on style, which was led by Governor Morris of Pennsylvania on September 8, 1787.
Some of the wording the original preamble contained that needed to be removed and some just simply rewritten, such as there being nothing referring to the ”People of the United States” , but referred to the people from each of the states individually which had been the norm for national documents until then. More specifically, it is the use of a specific word which hasn’t been used much. And that word is “people”, such documents that include this are the1777 Articles of confederation,1778 Alliance treaty with France.1783 peace with Paris This word that is missing in a way of degrading the Americans down to the level of subject of, instead of , the one’s running the government, which is what they were supposed be doing. However, the revision shortened it down while changing the wording to what it is now. “We, the people of the United States of America…”.
There were a few other revisions added along the way as well. The added wording increased its value to the American people because by adding several broad goals that the constitution needed to contain. And they are (1).to form a more perfect union, (2) establish justice, (3), insure domestic tranquility, (4). Provide for the common defense, (5). Promote the general welfare, (6). Secure the blessings of liberty.
Let’s look at these goals to understand them, shall we?
“We the people”- this is a key phrase, more especially ‘The’ key phrase of the constitution because it speaks to us as a whole as Americans as well as the rights and freedoms instill by the constitutions on all its people. This statement also establishes the very basis of our system of ‘Federalism’. It also establishes that the people of this country are the power behind it.
“in order to form a more perfect union”- this phrase says to me that the government before this was not the right one and could not grow and evolve as it must. I believe the previous government was run off of the Articles of Confederation and was not really the right thing for the purpose it was doing.
“Establish justice”- this phrase was almost literally the reason to the American Revolution, and the declaration of Independence. It was added in because the framers of the document wanted to establish fair and equal system of justice for all its people.
“Insure domestic tranquility”- this phrase comes after Shay’s rebellion of 1786. From all accounts, this rebellion was a bloody uprising based in rural Massachusetts which occurred from 1786 through 1787. It was a rebellion of farmers who rebelled against the tax collection from the state and local government based on the way they collected it. In a way this was the way they felt about they way the new government had the inability to keep peace within their borders.
“provide for the common defense”- this phrase solidified the need for a unified and a coordinated effort that need of the United states government’s effort to protect and defend Americans will always be the main duty of the U.S. Government. It grew out of the Shay’s rebellion and pointed out that there was a big failure in that respect of our country’s new government, and this is the way they, the framers, fixed it.
“promote the general welfare”- this recognized that the creators of the document knew that the well-being of the American people is another key job of this new government.
“secure the blessings of liberty to our selves and our posterity” this statement cements the very purpose of the constitution which was to free ourselves from a tyrannical government by protecting the liberty, justice, and freedom that many Americans have fought and died for, the things we gave our most precious blood to secure.
“Do ordain and establish the constitution of the United States of America”- this is the most easily understood statement made in the preamble. It established the for the people, and by the people as the power behind the constitution, which is the people of the United States.
As for the records of the Philadelphia convention, they appear to be quite devoid of information there isn’t anything in way of the discussions or any objections listed to the altered preamble or to the final version. The records do seem to be a bit skimpy or missing in this area, which is sad in and of itself, but there is no fighting with the final product.
There was no mistaking that the preamble, the first words of the constitution, did help it to get debates for the ratification that followed. It definitely made the preamble, and by association, the constitution one of the most notable and well-known documents ever penned under the hand of modern man.