Guest Essayist: David Bobb, Ph.D., director of the Hillsdale College Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship, in Washington, D.C.
The Preamble to the United States Constitution
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.
The Preamble to the Constitution was added at the last minute by the Constitutional Convention, roundly criticized upon its announcement, and even today lacks any legal standing. So what does it mean, and why does it matter?
“We the People” was a powerful and even revolutionary way to announce the Americans’ new form of government, for encapsulated in these three opening words was the argument for a new regime that is in keeping with the principles advanced in the Declaration of 1776, and defended in the War for Independence.
Whereas the previous compact of the United States, the Articles of Confederation, had been a “firm league of friendship” joined by states, the new Constitution was formed by the people as a whole. The national government was sovereign, not the states. To Anti-Federalists, the Constitution went awry from the outset, for in its first phrase, they held, it announced a form of government that would eliminate the power of the states and thereby destroy the liberties of the people. Nothing could be further from the truth, Federalists responded correctly, for unless the nation wished to continue in abject weakness, it needed to empower the national government to do what the states could not, thus ensuring that the liberties of the people would be secure.
Owing to the fluid style and incisive intellect of Pennsylvanian Gouverneur Morris, who despite being the most loquacious of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention was also among the most profound, the Preamble was his parting gift to the nation, drafted as he did the final edits to the document as a whole. Remedying the weaknesses of the Articles, the new Constitution would accomplish all of ends stated in its Preamble. Morris gave those ends concise expression, and despite his clarity, they were misunderstood in his day, and often, for very different reasons, continue to be misunderstood in ours. Take, for example, two of the six ends, or goals, adduced in the Preamble: the first, which is “to form a more perfect Union,” and the fifth, to “promote the general Welfare.”
To some Anti-Federalists, the phrase “to form a more perfect Union” was taken to entail a process of perfection whereby the states would be gradually crowded out, and more and more power would be given to the central government, so that when the evolution was complete all three main functions—legislative, executive, and judicial—would be held by one consolidated power. Such would not only be a violation of the Constitution’s set-up, it would also trammel everything the Declaration had stated against the King’s own arrogation of authority. Publius and many other Federalists had a ready response for this erroneous reading.
There are many who today take the phrase, “to form a more perfect Union,” to mean that the steady march of Progress must carry us closer and closer to perfection. Intent on leaving behind old, outdated ideas, and replacing them with a “new foundation” for our government, contemporary Progressives take the Preamble out of context in supposing it an endorsement of their agenda.
“To form a more perfect Union” meant nothing about the future, and everything about the past. It meant, simply, that the Constitution would be an improvement upon the Articles of Confederation, which left much to be desired in its anemic, nearly non-existent central government. The Constitution is the architecture of our equality and liberty not because of some supposed Progressivism in the Preamble, but rather because of its foundation in principles that are enduring.
While some Anti-Federalists wondered whether the fifth end, or purpose, of the Preamble, to “promote the general Welfare,” would, along with its recapitulation later in the first article of the Constitution, create too broad a grant of power, the overwhelming consensus at the time of the Founding was that the word “general” precluded the kind of projects that today we know as “pork.” Today the Preamble’s “general Welfare” reference is occasionally cited in error as a constitutional grant of authority. The Preamble can confer no such legal boon, and even if it could, the phrase “general Welfare” would allow very little, if any, of the legislative activity that the frequent misreading of the first clause of the Constitution’s Article I, Section 8, has permitted. In other words, to “promote the general Welfare” must be understood within the limited government context in which it was written.
Limited government for the Founders did not mean weak government. On the contrary, government had to be strong to secure the rights of the people. This is obvious when three other ends not examined in detail here are considered. To “establish Justice,” “insure domestic Tranquility,” and “provide for the common defence”: How do each of these ends require strong government—stronger than provided under the Articles of Confederation?
The Constitution’s Preamble states six ends of government, the sixth of which is, to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” It is this phrase, especially, that might remind us of the president of the Constitutional Convention, and the “Father of our Country,” George Washington, whose birthday should remind us how much we owe to him for the “blessings of liberty” that we so richly enjoy today.
David J. Bobb, Ph.D. is director of the Hillsdale College Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship, in Washington, D.C. Click on http://www.hillsdale.edu/KirbyCenter/about/staff/bobb.asp to read Dr. Bobb’s biography.
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46 Responses to “February 21, 2011 – Analyzing the Constitution for 90 Days – The Preamble to the United States Constitution – Guest Essayist: David Bobb, Ph.D., director of the Hillsdale College Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship, in Washington, D.C.”
- Trevor says:
February 21, 2011 at 3:50 am
The Preamble was considered in the debate in the States prior to ratification. It is an integral part of The Constitution and thus must have legal standing. “We the People” is an important bridge from America’s founding document The Declaration of Independence, particularly the second paragraph, which lays out the hierarchy of authority and the rationale that “…Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”.
You state, “The national government was sovereign, not the states.” I disagree entirely. The Constitution grants dual sovereignty by establishing vertical checks and balances in the form of a Federal Republic where the national government is sovereign in those matters related to its delegated powers listed in Article I, Section 8 while the states are sovereign in all other areas. This was further affirmed in the Bill of Rights Preamble and the Ninth and Tenth Amendments.
I agree with your analysis of the “General Welfare” clause in the Preamble. This meaning is reconfirmed in Article I, Section 8 as I believe Madison further explained in the Federalist Papers.
- Lucy says:
February 21, 2011 at 8:13 am
I am so ever thankful that the Preamble was included , even if it was at the last minute. For me, personally, it sets a clear tone as to WHO the Constitution was a voice for.
As Dr. Bobb states: ““We the People” was a powerful and even revolutionary way to announce the Americans’ new form of government, for encapsulated in these three opening words was the argument for a new regime that is in keeping with the principles advanced in the Declaration of 1776, and defended in the War for Independence. ” It continued the theme that it was “WE THE PEOPLE”… not the King, Queen, or anyother ruling person.. but the PEOPLE. It is the People that want this gov’t and our responsibility.
Our founding fathers were brilliant.
- Roberta Castillo says:
February 21, 2011 at 8:48 am
First of all, I think your word “defence” in the preamble is spelled incorrectly. DEFENSE is better
- Susan says:
February 21, 2011 at 9:21 am
If by sovereignty it was meant that the Federal could contract in the name of the States as an entity rather than requiring separate ratifications I have no problems with the statement but if it means a superceding of sovereignth of the States I object.
- Shannon_Atlanta says:
February 21, 2011 at 9:34 am
I am interested in hearing other’s views on whether or not the Ant-Federalists were correct (in their interpretation of the future problem with the preamble) now that we have had 200 plus years to look back.
I have heard many times the argument that “promote the general Welfare” means to provide everything for everyone. I know that the Founder’s definition of Welfare was that which helped to keep the states together; however, that has been lost in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Another thing I find interesting is this: If one reads closely, he or she will have the answer spelled out clearly as to what the Founders meant.
They want to PROVIDE for the defence (that action takes a proactive, monetary avenue) yet only PROMOTE the general Welfare (ie, kinda like creating an atmosphere whereby the states can do their business without the federal government ‘providing’ anything of monetary value.) In today’s society to promote is kinda like doing PSA’s and having the president speaking out about the dangers of drunk driving, while ‘providing’ is actually funding.
- CAPT JACK says:
February 21, 2011 at 9:39 am
Liberty and the framers and founding fathers never knew how the people that live under these protections would defame and protest and denounce it.That the men and women that fought, bled, and died for the right of free speech and liberty would be so defamed and spat upon when they came home from 12,000 miles away from family and friend’s in Viet Nam.This government,and congress has become a joke.we need another George Washington NOW before we destroy ourselves and this country.In the words of Thomas Jefferson,(If the govt. is big enough to give you everything you need, it is big enough to take them away.)
- Brad says:
February 21, 2011 at 9:59 am
Janine and Cathy,
I am so grateful to you both for resuming the dialogue and blogs of last year. I enjoyed the Federalist Papers and now truly look forward to the Constitution. What you do for us as citizens of this great Republic is nothing short of true patriotism.
Let the reading begin !!!
- Vicki says:
February 21, 2011 at 10:13 am
Imagine encountering the Constitution without its preamble, never having heard of it, and knowing nothing about the United States of America.
It is still the same document, but the statement up front that provides the reader with context is missing.
- Donna Hardeman says:
February 21, 2011 at 10:50 am
Is Dr. Bobb going to come back at the end of the day and respond to some of the questions raised? I would like his answer to Trevor’s comment about vertical checks and balances. There is so much awareness recently of the abrogation of states’ rights and the federal government announcing its sovereignty in any area it so chooses. I actually think Dr. Bobb would agree with Trevor’s statement that federal government has sovereignty in the “biggies” listed in Article I, Section 8 but, Dr. Bobb, wouldn’t you agree that the states have sovereignty over everything else not specifically delegated to the federal government?
- Ralph T. Howarth, Jr. says:
February 21, 2011 at 11:09 am
For perspective, the 1st draft of August 6, 1787 was a preamble written as follows:
“We the people of the States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, do ordain, declare, and establish the following Constitution for the Government of Ourselves and our Posterity.”
Similar; but different. The preamble apparently was amended to reflect the more national intents; but that nationalization is limited to Art 1, Sec 8. It is that design that specifically makes a federal system, to which we do not constitutionally have a national government; but open license of federal government has formed a defacto national government that ignores the enumerated powers of Art 1, Sec 8. Case in point:
Records of the Federal Convention
Published Under Direction Of The United States Government
From The Original Manuscripts.
Reprinted 1895 Albert, Scott, Chicago, Page 725
Article 1, Section 8, Clause 7
[2:615; Madison, 14 Sept. 1787]
Doctor Franklin moved to add after the words “post roads” Article I Sect. 8. “a power to provide for cutting canals where deemed necessary”.
Mr Wilson seconded the motion.
Mr Sherman objected. The expense in such cases will fall on the United States, and the benefit accrue to the places where the canals may be cut.
Mr King thought the power unneccessary.
Mr King — The States will be prejudiced and divided into parties by it. In Philadelphia and New York, it will be referred to the establishment of a bank, which has been a subject of contention in those cities. In other places it will be referred to mercantile monopolies.
Mr. Wilson mentioned the importance of facilitating by canals the communication with the Western Settlements. As to Banks he did not think with Mr. King that the power in that point of view would excite the prejudices and parties apprehended. As to mercantile monopolies they are already included in the power to regulate trade.
Col: Mason was for limiting the power to the single case of Canals. He was afraid of monopolies of every sort, which he did not think were by any means already implied by the Constitution as supposed by Mr. Wilson.
The motion being so modified as to admit a distinct question specifying & limited to the case of canals.
New Hampshire — Massachusetts — Connecticut — New Jersey– Delaware –Maryland — North Carolina — South Carolina — no
Georgia — Pennsylvania — Virgina — aye [ Ayes–3; noes–8. ] The motion was not agreed to.
- arthur says:
February 21, 2011 at 11:31 am
We the people, the people of what? The citizens of the sovereign States, who sent representatives to the convention. To form a more perfect union, a union of what? The States, who sent representatives to the convention. To provide for the common defense and general welfare of what and who? The States and the citizens that lived within them. Dr Bobb states that the Articles of confederation was a compact, a“firm league of friendship” but forgets that the confederation also states “in perpetuity”. What was the weaknesses of the Articles? He doesn’t answer that question, I will, the one reason for the constitution convention was to agree on a way to force the States to pay it’s share of the debt accrued during the war of independence by the union. Who is Publius? An alias on essays to be published in news papers anonymously. They are not legal anything. The weight that they are given because they were printed in a volume titled the federalist papers is an illusion. If you want a better understanding of the constitution, read Madison’s notes on the convention taken down at the time. You can find them at the Avalon Project website. If the federal entity is sovereign then why doesn’t the representative from the District of Colombia have a vote? People certainly live there. I’m just getting started and I will post more to help in the understanding of our union of “nations” with constitutions written before the federal and which our federal constitution reflects.
- Susan says:
February 21, 2011 at 12:03 pm
arthur, the weakness was in the structure that demanded unanimity before any measure could go forward. This resulted in one state blocking almost all regulations on commerce. This state was Rhode Island. This caused paralysis of all.
- Ron Meier says:
February 21, 2011 at 12:07 pm
Janine & Cathy,
Thanks so much for continuing your program. I was concerned after finishing last year’s program on the Federalist Papers that Constituting America would die. I learned much about our founder’s intentions by the studies on the Federalist Papers, and have found it useful when crossing swords with people I know who pontificate on the Constitution’s meaning but who have not read the Constitution and FP or tried to understand their meaning. You’re doing a great service to our society. Blessings to both of you.
- Ralph T. Howarth, Jr. says:
February 21, 2011 at 12:36 pm
At the time of the writing of the Constitution, the word “welfare” had the meaning of “happiness” or “prosperity”. So it can be said, “to promote the general happiness/prosperity”. Many today come to associate that clause with the societal safety net of unemployment and disability welfare, which still would not be a “general welfare” but that of a particular welfare and not that of charity: charity is the conscientious and voluntary giving to a particular cause where welfare is operative from the mandated taxation to a general treasury.
In addition, the Preamble was revised in part because when the original draft’s Preamble named New York, it was New York, if I recall right, objected and abstained in participating in the 1787 ConCon. Since New York was not present, it precipitated either striking New York from the Preamble or another option such as a more collective term of United States.
I say the Anti-Federalist were right in their concerns of a runaway federal government. George Mason’s objections in September 7-15, 1787 included a statement:
“Under their own construction of the general clause, at the end of the enumerated powers, the Congress may grant monopolies in trade and commerce, constitue new crimes, inflict unusual and severe punishements [realize Mason is the father of the Bill of Rights that came up after], and extend their powers as far as they shall think proper; so that the State legislatures have no security for the powers now presumed to remain to them, or the people for their rights.
The government will set out a moderate aristocracy: it is at present impossible to forsee whether it will, in its operation, produce a monarchy, or a corrupt, tyrannical aristocracy; it will most probably vibrate some years between the two, and then terminate in the onr or the other.”
Mr. Gerry had likewise this to say also among other things: “…By the general power of the Legislature to make what laws they may please to call necessary and proper…”
And more can be illuminated of sentiments of dissent on the Constitution just within the 1787 ConCon, let alone the Anti-Federalist debates that followed during the ratification process into the 1790s. In terms of Mason’s forsight, we are presently in the moderate aristocracy stage vibrating between a defacto monarchy in the President that assumes legislative powers in extended Executive Orders and a tyrannical aristocracy in the Congress that presumes executive powers in regulatory oversight. One will upstage the other eventually if the course is not changed. At present we have the SCOTUS that passes judgement on state laws for powers not granted to the Congress to legislate upon; but with consensual validation of aggregation of jurisdication, has now put the rights of the people subject to the opinions of a few.
Oh, and DEFENCE is the spelling used in the original, not DEFENSE of our present English.
- Shannon_Atlanta says:
February 21, 2011 at 12:47 pm
Arthur, you said:”Who is Publius? An alias on essays to be published in news papers anonymously. They are not legal anything.”
True, the papers weren’t legally binding. However, they were a DEFENSE of the COTUS. In those papers we find WHY the framers thought the way they did. It is a good way to see why the COTUS came out the way it did.
True, Madison’s notes are a great insight; but the Constituting America site deals with the Federalist Papers, not Madison’s notes. Therefore, it may be better to discuss the narrow points made within them and the COTUS-or else we will get off on a tangent that will take away from why we are all here. Maybe you can start a blog that deals with Madison’s notes on the Convention?
- zac allen says:
February 21, 2011 at 2:24 pm
I may have been confuse on how it was written, but the States are the Sovereign, not the Federal Government, even with the Constitution. The Federal Government is merely an agent of the States. I one said earlier, the Preamble set the tone , and was not supposed to be used to supercede or define any of the articles that follow. Great stuff!!!! I like it!!!
- Rudolph Moreno Pena says:
February 21, 2011 at 2:25 pm
With respect to the question, “What does the Preamble to the United States Constitution mean to you?”.
Though in my late 50′s and a college drop out early on, my desire and capacity to seek knowledge and understanding has never been greater than in these times of witnessing the aggressive march of Liberal-Progressivism in America. I greatly appreciate the efforts and perseverance of Janine, Cathy & the Constituting Crew for bringing this important online study of America’s foundation to the general public. This is a good reliable source for understanding and motivation for advancing to other levels.
In my (humble) estimation, the Preamble was an obvious and much needed statement of intent aimed directly at the King of England with no room for doubt as to our resolve to be free of British rule. The boldness and timing of it seems that it could have been a last minute dare with defiance and determination. It is that kind of American resolve that makes me such a proud American of Hispanic ancestry. A mere and common blue collar citizen, though I have never been in the military, being yet in my late 50′s, well worn and still somewhat physically able, I would not hesitate to do and give whatever sacrifice is required to protect this country from enemies both foreign and domestic. To preserve America, I would give my all. To that end, if the intention of the Preamble could be painted in the expression of an American face, it would present nothing less than a countenance of stalwart love with a determined look of duty and honor, and service to country. This, while in stride with a faithful reliance on God.
For a solid parallel to the Preamble, I would encourage all to read General MacArthur’s May 12, 1962 West Point speech, “Duty, Honor, Country”. To me, it states the ironic beauty of American character and the selfless will of sacrifice. To me it absolutely defines the Preamble and the incredible courage that it took to express it.
God Bless “Constituting America”
- zac allen says:
February 21, 2011 at 2:30 pm
Also…. As I consider myself a Jeffersonian Anti-Ferderalist, I must make note, that what the Anti-Federalist feared has come to fruition today… It is the dumbing down of our society that has allowed it to happen. Things like this can only help, if it will reach the right people.
- Trevor says:
February 21, 2011 at 3:26 pm
The Federalist Papers were important because they were intended to sell the States on the Constitution and show why the Anti-Federalist fears were unfounded. In other words, for the most part they confirm that even the Federalists (Madison, Hamilton, Jay, Washington et al) intended the national government to be limited to those powers enumerated in Article I, Section 8 and why the term “General Welfare” was not an open ended power.
- Gary says:
February 21, 2011 at 6:50 pm
To me, the preamble to the Constitution is a stirring introduction that sums up the intention of the founding fathers in what was to follow after in the articles. It sets the tone for what is spelled out in greater detail later. As such, I have always found the preamble to the Constitution to be inspiring and a wonderful reminder of what our federal government is supposed to be about. When comptemplated as a whole, and compared to what we find now in practice, it’s pretty obvious that over the last 230 years, the three branches of our federal government have grossly over-extended their powers. The preamble to the Constitution, in this matter then, is a rallying cry for those of us who believe that a limited form of government is not only what was intended by our founding fathers, but it is what we so sorely need again today.
- Luci says:
February 21, 2011 at 8:12 pm
Everyone seems in agreement that our three branches of government have gotten way out of hand from what they were supposed to be but most are forgetting that it is “we the people” who allowed it. We were so busy believing the “media” that formed our minds to accept “patient gradualism” that we little by little didn’t even notice the subtle changes they shoved at us – TV, movies, stories, articles, music, art, immorality,you name it – and so here we are – unable to even recognize the great Country and people we once were.
‘They” wanted to get us from A to Z but we’d rebel and so they took us from A to B to C and pretty soon we are at Z and we wonder how we got here. Well, now we know. We were asleep. God gave us Obama for a reason. He’s thrown us from A to Z in such a whirlwind that we finally said WHOA! And now, with God’s help, wide awake, WE WILL TAKE OUR COUNTRY BACK!
- Ralph T. Howarth, Jr. says:
February 21, 2011 at 8:51 pm
The Federalist Papers experience was last year’s project. This year is on the Constittuion itself. Constituting America is about all matters that concern the formation, proclamation, and ratification of the US Constitution as it was put into affect. As James Madison’s 1787 ConCon notes is our only window of a detailed account of what transpired in that secret meeting to change the operation of government, Madison’s information is very relevant to this year’ project on analysis of the U.S. Constitution rather than the Federalist Papers to promote ratification of the U.S. Constitution as the ConCon dialog tells us just what were precisely going on in the minds of the framers of the same as the document instrument was drafted.
- Alyssa says:
February 21, 2011 at 9:12 pm
To me, the premable of the consitution means that the people decided what kind of government they wanted to live under.
- Thomas S Mackie says:
February 21, 2011 at 10:15 pm
At the time the Constitution was written, ALL thriteen colonies were established under the common law of England. King George signed over his sovereign authority to each one of these colonies in the Treaty of Paris. It is very confusing that these men would have chosen these words since it would have been impossible for such a group to exist as “We the People” of anything…each was citizen of his own Colony (State if you wish). While I share your enthusiasm, it is somewhat “telling” that these individuals chose to so word this organic document, a document that is nothing more than the organizational document outlining the duties and responsibilities of that corporation….”telling” in that they apparently intended for the Federal Animal to flourish…it did. The Federalist Papers were nothing more than the sales and marketing effort of those men. The Antifederalist Papers tell the true story and foretold as much way back then.
- Cutler says:
February 21, 2011 at 10:25 pm
The Preamble, in my opinion, in one, concise paragraph, adequately describes our founding father’s intentions for this country’s government and the Constitution, limiting it to six, “missions” if you will, to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
- Ron Meier says:
February 22, 2011 at 12:15 am
To those anti-Federalists out there, I have a question. How would it have worked out better to have retained the Confederation? If you would not have retained the Confederation, what would you have put in its place? Why would that have worked better than the Constitution?
- Judy says:
February 22, 2011 at 1:26 am
What a utopia our country would be if our federal and state governments would have followed just the preamble let alone the entire constitution.
I could be off on a couple of these but I am really tired at the moment.
“We the People of the United States”
No longer the people of another country, king or territory but one people. No longer the people whose allegiance if for their sovereign state but allegiance to state and federal union
“in Order to form a more perfect Union”
States would acknowledge and encourage the union to be accountable to the constitution.
The federal union would no longer tolerate the injustice of oppression, tyranny, slavery or unlawful imprisonment
“insure domestic Tranquility”
The federal union would keep states accountable for keeping liberty and freedom for all people
“provide for the common defence”
The federal union would keep the sovereignty of the nation safe
“promote the general Welfare”
Key word: Promote NOT Provide: The people’s constitutional rights would be a priority
“secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”
The freedom and liberty of the people would not be infringed upon by state or federal governments
“do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
This constitution is a bond between states and the federal; people and federal; people and states
- Richard says:
February 22, 2011 at 4:10 am
Trevor made an excellent point about the dual sovereignty with both the National government being sovereign as well as the States being Sovereign. David J. Bobb stated the the National government was sovereign but the States were not. It is my understanding that Trevors view is correct. If we want to have a correct understanding of these daily teachings, it seems we need to have the authors of these contributions address these stated contradictions or some means to set the record straight.
- James Burtner says:
February 22, 2011 at 9:42 am
Let me start by stating what the preamble means to me, then I will go on to comment on his blog. In my mind, the preamble is similar to a business mission statement or a personal mission statement, which lays out the goals and purpose of uniting the states into a whole, while at the same time allowing the people and individual states to govern themselves in most every other area of life.
It continued the idea established in the Declaration of Independence that men are born free, but establishes the reality that some men will use their freedom, and governments will use their power, to infringe upon the rights and freedom of others. For this reason, the people must relinquish a limited amount of their own freedom in order to establish a government to conduct the business of the nation, and to protect each man’s individual freedom. It requires citizens to follow good conduct in their dealings with others, and laws are established to this end.
The preamble lists the general duties of the federal government, and limits the federal government to those duties alone. The entire purpose of the Constitution was to lay out the federal government’s specific responsibilities as granted to them by the people of the nation, and was designed to specifically rectify problems they had faced due to the weakness of the Articles of Confederation.
In his blog, Dr. Bobb points out that it was a last minute addition to the Constitution. This is a little surprising because it so beautifully lays out the general role of the federal government. He also points out that there are those today who see the phrase, “to form a more perfect union”, as a means of continuing to evolve to a point where the states would lose their power and the federal government would be the sole governing power. This is a serious misreading of the constitution, as he points out, and the reason the country is where it is today. As he states, “to create a more perfect union” is based not on the future, but on the past, and the weakness they had found the Articles of Confederation to contain. The Constitution was designed to remedy those problems, not take the power of the states away, but to unite them as one nation that could operate and function as a whole without betraying the local interests of individual states.
- Ralph T. Howarth, Jr. says:
February 22, 2011 at 3:33 pm
The “insure domestic Tranquility” clause rode upon the coat tails of the Shay’s Rebellion that had just occurred up to the 1787 ConCon. Having a strong federal government insured that the states could call upon the federal for help with insurrection and rebellion going on in the state, and by having free trade and a standard of weights and measures among the states would help assure lower and fairer prices of products and prevent shortages that might precipitate a rebellion. This measure was not intended to be a federal grant to impose jurisdiction on the plenary police powers of states.
The U.S. Constitution was written to define and limit the federal government and only left a provision that the federal will guarantee to ever state a republican form of government. Not until the 14th amendment was there federal supervision on the plenary police powers of states in the form of questions on Due Process (rights to defend oneself in court) and Equal Protection of the Laws (rights to sue someone in court). Those matters, of course, is a latter reading in this 90 days Constitution reading.
- Mark Carr says:
February 22, 2011 at 8:21 pm
It is interesting how the Constitution has taken on so many meanings to so many people. I am very concerned about our current leaders who want to quote from the Preamble as if it is the whole document. They cherry-pick the things they want to reach their own progressive ends, most of which are directly against the word and spirit of the whole document. We need people to realize the Preamble is the introduction to the main body of the Constitution and that we all need to learn the whole thing in context before jumping off in the wrong direction.
Thank you for this opportunity to write to you all.
- Debbie Bridges says:
February 22, 2011 at 8:38 pm
The Constitution was created for several reasons. The Constitution created a Federal government that would have the power to collect taxes, pay debts, regulate trade amongst the States, negotiate peace treaties with Indians and negotiate with foreign countries. Other countries would not recognize the Untied States in foreign trade agreements and treaties because we didn’t have a unifying Federal government. They were not willing (rightly so) to deal with 13 individual States when negotiating with the United States. Hence, the Articles of Confederation wasn’t working for this reason as well as the other problems already discussed in this thread. The Preamble beautifully announced to the world that we had come together as One Nation with One Federal government to be our voice and protector while at the same time retaining and protecting the individual sovereignty of the separate States and their citizens.
- Janine Turner says:
February 23, 2011 at 11:55 am
Dr. Bobb, I thank you for your fabulous essay and for your generosity of time!
I never knew that Governeur Morris wrote the Preamble and that it was written last.
Knowkedge is power and only by truly understanding the words of the Constitution can one debate the wide array of misinterpretations that bombard citizens today. Your words enlighten the path one journeys on his/her destiny to defend our Republic.
- Jerry Turner says:
February 23, 2011 at 4:08 pm
WOW. It is so refreshing to read the words all of you have written. I thought I must be the only person left in common America who understood the general ideas and principles of the Constitution. People say all kinds of “stuff.” But they can never back it up with real source material. This was more informative and educational than any class I’ve ever taken. Maybe there is hope. I still doubt it, but with the middle east transforming their governments and all you intelligent individuals out there teaching fellow Americans; it gives me just a little hope.
- Shelby Seymore says:
February 23, 2011 at 4:38 pm
We provide for the common Welfare. Not provide Welfare. Which is one of the biggest reasons we are in a 14+ trillion dollar debt. I know welfare is a “good thing,” but only when churches or private businesses try to help the needy. Period. John Locke said the government provides protection from foreign attacks, protection from criminals, and actual needed infrastructure (which turtle crossings don’t count!). Welfare started when the poverty was 13%. Now in 2011, it’s still 13%! It didn’t help, in fact it’s making the rest of the nation less wealthy.
- Gene Hinders says:
February 24, 2011 at 12:52 am
The Preamble, to me was a way to sum up what the Founding Fathers had laid out for us…an 18th century “sound bite” if you will…and one of the most powerful statements to ever had been made.
- yguy says:
February 24, 2011 at 4:08 pm
The Preamble to the Constitution was added at the last minute by the Constitutional Convention, roundly criticized upon its announcement, and even today lacks any legal standing.
How can it have any less “legal standing” than the rest of the Constitution which was ratified along with it?
So what does it mean, and why does it matter?
In maximal contravention of those who make it out to be a throwaway line, I submit that the Preamble is properly viewed relative to the rest of the Constitution as Christ said the two Great Commandments ought to be viewed relative to Mosaic law; i.e., the Preamble tells us where we’re going, and the rest of the Constitution tells us how we mean to get there. In the same vein, I would call attention to Christ’s act of healing on the day of rest; and just as the Sabbath was made for man rather than man for the Sabbath, the Constitution was made for America rather than America for the Constitution. One consequence of this view is that regardless of whether a President can constitutionally suspend the Great Writ (which he can, IMO), Lincoln acted constitutionally by doing so during the Civil War.
- yguy says:
February 24, 2011 at 4:16 pm
The Constitution grants dual sovereignty by establishing vertical checks and balances in the form of a Federal Republic where the national government is sovereign in those matters related to its delegated powers listed in Article I, Section 8 while the states are sovereign in all other areas.
I say baloney. I say there is only one sovereign entity according to the Constitution, and that is We the People, our will being expressed by a supermajority of states per A5. No government entity has ANY sovereignty under the Constitution, as they are all vassals of those who consent to be governed by them.
- Todd says:
February 24, 2011 at 7:32 pm
I think you are picking nits regarding soverignty. Government, in the context of the document is “the people”. I think this goes without saying. But you are correct.
- yguy says:
February 24, 2011 at 9:45 pm
Government, in the context of the document is “the people”.
If that’s true, then the master is his servant, and his command to the servant is a command to himself. Obviously that makes no sense, since We the People delegate certain tasks to our servants in government because we can’t or won’t do them ourselves.
- Ruth Harper says:
February 25, 2011 at 11:17 pm
As the name “Preamble” says, it “walks before,” or introduces, the Constitution. As such, it identifies the parties: in this case “We the People” and “the United States,” and it establishes the nexus or connection that binds them together. According to my Black’s Fifth, the preamble is also “explanatory of the reasons for its enactment” the pronoun referring to the Constitution)and states “the objects … to be accomplished.” In that sense, it is indeed analogous to a mission statement as someone has already said.
It is true that it does not grant any powers; Black’s again, this time quoting a particular case: it “neither enlarges nor confers powers.”
- Ruth Harper says:
February 26, 2011 at 6:58 am
A Caveat Against Injustice
– or –
An Inquiry into the Evils of a Fluctuating Medium of Exchange
Oddly, the specific issue under the Articles… that caused great problems and inequities, as stated in a book called Miracle on Main Street, and explicated in another, called E Pluribus Unum, was the lack of a lawful “money of account” among the states. Some places used specie coin, others paper “money” that was essentially worthless, with resulting chaos, rioting, and bloodshed.
The most familiar example was Shay’s Rebellion which arose at least in part because those western farmers had no specie money (gold or silver coin) with which to pay taxes demanded by their brethren in Boston on the East Coast who only dealt in specie because they could demand it for the products they traded with foreigners.
Thus, with Shay’s as a trigger, the Constitutional Convention was called in large measure to solve the problem of a lack of uniform currency or money of account (as opposed to the paper “continentals” that were “of no account” or just plain worthless).
Hence the specific concerns listed in the Preamble
“…to form a more perfect union,” (one money; uniform currency),
“establish justice,” (paper, like corn or apples, does not last or hold value as do gold and silver),
“ensure domestic tranquillity” (There was contemporary fighting over money issues),
“provide for the common defense,” (pay soldiers in money that has real value),” and especially,
“promote the general welfare,” (general well-being does not happen with a fluctuating medium of exchange! It happens with business and enterprise done with a stable medium of exchange; something that holds intrinsic value),”
“and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity…,” (what greater blessing than being able to buy and sell and save for a rainy day in something that has enduring value, and then even pass it on to our offspring?)
- Ruth Harper says:
February 26, 2011 at 8:18 am
Oops! The author of the “Caveat …,” was Roger Sherman, the only Founder to sign and/or help write all four of our really important founding documents: the Continental Association of 1774, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution of the United States.
But his “Caveat Against Injustice – or – An Inquiry into the Evils of a Fluctuating Medium of Exchange,” predated all those by more than 20 years! He wrote the Caveat in 1752, based on real-life experience. Like the authors of the Federalist Papers, Sherman modestly hid behind a pseudonym: He called himself a “Lover of Good Law” which, borrowing Greek, was “Philo eu nomos” (though not spaced as I did it here). When only two copies were known to exist, F. Tupper Saussy, author of The Miracle on Main Street saw the copy inscribed by Mr. Sherman to a friend wherein he had crossed off the Greek nom de plume and wrote in his own name.
One can go to the Connecticut State Library in Hartford and search out the file of a lawsuit in which Roger and his brother William sued James Battle for “paying” a debt of 129 pounds with nearly worthless paper from the “Rogue State” of Rhode Island. The Sherman brothers lost the case, but won the war, so to speak, because Roger lived to write into the new 1787 Constitution, Article I, section 10, that “No State shall … make any Thing but Gold and Silver coin a tender in payment of debts….” I believe his imprint is on other clauses as well, but just that one would be sufficient glory could we but interest state authorities in living up to it by demanding that the Federal Reserve be audited, and then sent packing, and that our mints resume making real money so we could all give up the “paper is money”charade!
- Susan says:
February 26, 2011 at 12:42 pm
yguy, I believe the thinking for the representative republic was to hire a ‘representative’ to take care of that portion of the business of governance so that the majority of the people could continue in a more efficient day-to-day operation of life and the provision for his family and community.
- Ralph T. Howarth, Jr. says:
February 26, 2011 at 3:24 pm
Ruth, I had no idea that Philoeunomos was Roger Sherman. I thought the name/title had something to do with the Bible’s Philemon. Now I know different and pleasantly something more. Thank you very much!
- craig eyrich says:
February 28, 2011 at 6:22 pm
dear janine and cathy, i am so happy that ‘classes’ have resumed!–i will follow this assiduously and try to support your website as best i can!– as i’ve said in the past–i never learned anything from opening my mouth and i am truly grateful for the learned commentaries from the other devotees of this website!–your friend in liberty, c.eyrich