Douglas V. Gibbs
We the People of the United States
An Introduction to the Preamble
We the People
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 formal version of the Magna Carta in
England was issued on June 19, 1215.
There was a minor change in the new document, when the final provision
was drafted, replacing the term “any baron” with “any freeman” in stipulating to whom
the provisions applied. The term would
eventually include all Englishmen. The
final version’s applicability to all members of the English Society served as a
starting point for the Constitution’s Preamble, where “any freeman” was changed
once again, but this time to the first three words of the American document:
“We the People.”
The English Colonists developed legal codes largely
incorporating liberties guaranteed by the Magna Carta and the 1689 English
Bill of Rights. Though the education
levels of the colonists varied, and few could afford legal training in England,
they were familiar with English common law. During one parliamentary debate in the late
18th century, Edmund Burke observed, “In no country, perhaps in the world,
is law so general a study.”
James Madison and Thomas Jefferson drew inspiration
from the doctrines of the British constitution, or in what were called English
Unlike the Spanish Colonies, which were conquered land
ruled over by the Spanish Conquistadors, and authoritarian governors, the
English Colonies were granted by charter. Rather than bear the burden of empire, which,
as Spain discovered, could be expensive, and taxing on a nation’s armed forces,
the English Crown offered the lands along the Atlantic Coast to investors,
entrepreneurs, and families seeking a new start. In the northern colonies, the colonists
sought religious freedom. The Pilgrims
did not want to keep their membership in the Church of England. As separatists,
the Pilgrims organized their worship independently, colonizing north of the
Puritans at Plymouth Rock.
The English Colonies enjoyed autonomy that the Spanish
Colonies did not. To survive in the
Spanish Colonies, the colonist exhibited a warrior spirit, conquering the lands
and the people who stood in the way, forcing the captured natives into slave
labor and marriage for the purpose of accomplishing the tasks necessary for
survival, while also being heavily dependent upon supplies from the
homeland. The English Colonies were
expected to survive by living off the land.
They were families, indentured
servants, and seekers of fortune.
They were forced to be self-reliant, personally responsible, and hard
working, in order to survive. The
English Colonists did not attempt to conquer the natives as the Spanish did,
but worked with them, making treaties with the Native Americans, because they
needed the native population’s help in order to survive. In the English Colonies, freedom was a
necessary component of survival, and after failing under communitarianism, the colonists found that a free market system, where colonists kept more of what they worked
for, and had the option to trade goods in an open market, worked best for the
In English America, freemen adopted the best of
the English system, while adapting it as necessary to the new circumstances in
the colonies. The English Colonies was a
place where a person could rise by merit, not by birth. The thirteen colonies was a place where men
could voice their opinions and actively share in self-government. When the British Crown challenged these
beliefs, turning to the colonies as a source of revenue to help alleviate the
Crown’s substantial debts, and the growing expense of keeping troops on
American soil, the colonists questioned the government in Britain, challenging
the actions of Parliament, arguing that without consent or direct
representation in Parliament, the acts by the motherland were “taxation without
representation,” and an act of tyranny against the free Englishmen of the
The influence of the Magna Carta, and the demand for
liberty, existed along the Atlantic Coast long before the War of
Independence. As John Adams later wrote
to Thomas Jefferson, “The Revolution was in the minds of the people, and
this was effected, from 1760 to 1775, in the course of 15 years before a drop
of blood was shed at Lexington.”
The Americans knew their rights, and they were willing
to fight for them. The seal adopted by Massachusetts on the eve of the
Revolution summed up the mood. The image
was of a militiaman with sword in one hand, and the Magna Carta in the other.
When it was time to form a new government, embodied in
a written social contract we now
know as the Constitution of the United States, the founders determined that
like England under the Magna Carta, the government must be limited by
subjecting it to the rule of law. The
Constitution, once ratified by the States, became the law of the land. The document serves as a written standard
where the authority emanates from the people, not from any governmental
body. Pursuant to the Constitution, no
man, not even the country’s leader, was considered to be above the law. The rule of law based on the philosophy of
the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God was the basis of constitutional thought
in the United States in 1787.
“A government of laws, and not of men.” – John
Elder statesman Benjamin Franklin strolled across a
grassy lawn from Independence Hall in Philadelphia, after the conclusion of the
Federal Convention of 1787, when a woman in a bonnet approached him, asking,
“Sir, what have you given us?”
“A republic,” Dr. Franklin replied. “If you can keep it.”
The new government in the fledgling United States was
considered to be one that was doomed to fail.
Europeans scoffed at the American experiment in self-government. The Old World argued that without the hand of
a divinely appointed, wise, ruling monarch
in place to guide society, a culture could not succeed. The Grand Experiment was a waste of time, and
it would not be long before the rebellious, starving, treasonous, and petulant,
English colonists came crawling back to the British Crown, begging to be
readmitted to the empire.
In a society with no government, people have no
freedom. In a society with too much
government, people have no freedom.
Without government there is no law, and without law
there are no enforcers of the law. This
kind of system is called an anarchy, which is a transitional form of
government. In an anarchy, there is no freedom because the citizens must constantly
protect their property, and their lives.
With government in place, there are laws in
place. When there are laws in place, it
is necessary to hire enforcers of the law, such as a police force. A society with a government in place can
create an environment of freedom that allows citizens the ability to leave
their property and engage in activities away from their homes.
a unitary state dominates the pages
of history. Tyrannical governments
obtain their power through violence, and bloodshed in a complete disregard for
authorities granted, justice, or the rule
of law. To maintain their power,
tyrants use violence and bloodshed. When
tyrannies are finally toppled, the path to dislodging tyrannies normally
includes violence and bloodshed.
Violence and death are the common results of powerful
central governments with dominant rulers.
Dictators do not normally reveal their plans of tyranny
during their rise to power, for the people would never have allowed them to
become their leaders if they knew this kind of violence was in their
future. Tyrannical leaders render
legislative bodies irrelevant, demoting them to nothing more than a consultative assembly.
In history, tyranny is the rule, and liberty is the
exception. Governments that protect the
freedoms of the people, and respect the rights of their citizens, are a rare
occurrence. Freedom requires the
citizens to be informed and involved.
With freedom comes responsibility.
An educated society begins by teaching the younger
generations the principles of liberty, and to encourage them to be involved in civic activities, and local government. The founders understood we need government,
but a limited government was
required to protect the rights and property of the citizens. However, because of human nature, the
founders realized that without making sure the people remained educated about
the system they had established, a downward spiral into despotism and tyranny
The Declaration of Independence was approved by
the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, and outlined the reasons why the
colonies were seeking independence from Great Britain. The founding document declares that it is the
right of the people to alter or abolish their government should it become
destructive. It also states these truths
are self-evident, and that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by
their Creator with certain unalienable rights,
that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
The document penned by Thomas Jefferson includes a
list of grievances, most of which are also iterated in the U.S.
Constitution. The Declaration calls for
fair representation, encourages immigration, calls for a judiciary that is
separated from the will of the central leadership, calls for a stop to the
presence of a standing army, demands that Great Britain stop the quartering of
troops in the houses of the citizens, demands fair trials, and calls for due
process, free trade, fair taxation, a protection of rights, and for the Crown
to hear the redress of grievances by the colonists.
A key aspect of the Declaration of Independence
reveals itself in the final sentence of the document. The call for independence ends with the
incredible statement, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm
reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each
other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
In the battle of Left versus Right, it is important to
understand what it all means in the first place. Like-minded individuals naturally tend to
gather together when a theater of opinion erupts. Congregating in such a manner, creating political
parties, is a part of our human nature.
Houses, or chambers, of government are no different. Members of the political assembly who support
similar agendas sit together, much in the way social allies tend to hang out
together at a dinner party. The classification
of “left” and “right” grew out of the tendency of people to
group together on one side, or the other.
The early definition of “left” and
“right” was different than in today’s American Society. Among the most commonly known split between the
left and the right in a political assembly occurred in France before the French
Revolution. Members of the National
Assembly sat on the right or the left of the hall depending on their level of
political support in regards to the ruling monarchy. Those in support of the monarchy, and the
religious elements that came with the reigning government, would sit on the
right. The people on the right were
defined as being those holding traditional interests in line with the Church
and the monarchy, believing the king ruled by divine right, and that
Catholicism must continue to be the state religion, and therefore continue to
be a strong influence on governance. The
people who sat on the right side of the assembly believed that the Church had a
vested interest in the political system, and sought to preserve that system.
Those who sat on the left side of the hall in France
during the period preceding the French Revolution did so in support of
“enlightenment,” which was considered to be in the interests of rationalism
and secularism. The left used secular
elements to challenge the Church’s long-held influence over government,
fostering nationalism among its allies, and promoting hope in constructing and
shaping the political community. The
left desired to change government by overthrowing the Church and the
aristocracy by promoting secularism and nationalism. The planners of this glorious new
“Enlightened” government became the leaders of France after the
French Revolution, orchestrating a Reign of Terror, which was a period of chaos
during which thousands were guillotined for being politically incorrect.
The radicals within this new government saw the
Catholic Church as the enemy while promoting its Cult of Reason. Like with the monarchy before them, however,
it became clear that to control the political and social upheaval, the
government in place must also become tyrannical in their own right. Under the rule of statism, France remained a nation unable to cultivate liberty, and
one that remained under the iron fist of a dictatorial government. For many, this was no surprise. Some of the
planners of the change of the form of government in France knew that in order
to keep order they would need to “treat the people as cattle.”
The French National Assembly established a
constitutional monarchy and adopted a new constitution in 1791 that created a
Legislative Assembly. The political
assembly, as with any other political body, rapidly divided into factions
opposing each other. The three factions
that formed in the new French Legislative Assembly were the radicals
(liberals), moderates (centrists) and conservatives. The radicals (liberals) sat in the left
section of the assembly hall, the conservatives sat on the right, and the
moderates sat in the center section.
Their political identities have some similarities to political movements
today in the United States, and had little in common with the pre-revolution
arrangement that emphasized itself more on monarchy and religion.
America is much younger than the European nations, and
never had a landlord class of titled nobles.
In fact, the Constitution specifically prohibits such a system. The Founding Fathers desired to break away
from European traditions as much as possible, even abandoning much of British
Common Law when defining citizenship. To
be a British Subject the rules were weak, and divided loyalties ran rampant
throughout the British Empire. The
United States as a nation could not tolerate divided loyalties, and placed a
stronger standard of natural born citizenship upon the President in order to
eliminate the opportunity for the executor of the American Form of Government
to harbor divided loyalties between the United States of America, and any other
nation. That way, the new American
government could break completely free of any European influence, and forge
itself into a Republic independent from British influence, and in fact, the
authoritarian nature of Europe as a whole.
The political landscape of the United States of
America, since there never was a class of nobles, was simple in the young
nation. Either you were a Federalist, an
anti-Federalist, or somewhere in between.
In other words, you believed in a stronger centralized federal
government, you believed that the federal role in government should be limited
greatly, or you found yourself somewhere between the two political beliefs.
Unlike the Europeans, royalty and religion played no
role in determining the nature of American political philosophies. Nearly all of the early American Politicians
were deeply religious men, but the political spectrum did not separate factions
along religious lines. God played a
major role in the principle foundation of the nation, but the founding fathers
also determined that no religion could ever take an official role in
government. In other words, the
establishment of any religion as the official religion of the United States was
forbidden. However, the freedom to
practice one’s religion was not to be infringed upon. Almost all of the signers of the Declaration
of Independence were either clergy, or highly involved in their church. 27 of the 56 signers had Christian seminary
degrees. The founding fathers fervently
prayed in Congress.
Benjamin Franklin is widely regarded to be among the
least religious of the founding fathers.
However, his speech given to Congress on June 28, 1787 asking that
Congress have a prayer every morning before conducting business was overtly
religious in nature. Despite modern
assumptions, there was not a political battle between The Church and the
secularists during the founding of the United States of America.
From the newer models of government in France, and
America, the definition of the Political
Spectrum changed, becoming more about the level of control of government over
a society, rather than the presence of a monarchy, or established church. Zero percent of government intrusion on the
lives of the people inhabits the far right of the current political spectrum,
which is a condition known as anarchy. 100% governmental control inhabits the far
left extremity of the Political Spectrum, or a totalitarian government. The American form of government, or a
Constitutional Republic that operates under the rule of law, is at the center
of the political spectrum.
Most of the current forms of government present in
today’s international political arena reside on the left side of the Political
Spectrum, drawing their foundations from socialist
principles. Socialism is
authoritarian. Socialism claims to seek
to overthrow the Church and aristocracy by promoting atheism and nationalism,
much like the enlightened planners of the French Revolution, only replacing the
government they thought to be a tyranny with a tyranny of their own. In Russia, the rise of socialism held the
basic tenet of replacing the individual’s commitment to God with a commitment
to love and serve a collective society ruled by an elite few.
When one examines the communist society, which resides
on the left side of the Political Spectrum, one finds that if society was ruled
over by an equally powerful religious theocracy,
the basic governmental elements of the ruling doctrine are the same, and just
as tyrannical. Therefore, a controlling
government based on religion is no different than an atheistic system of communism. Either way, the form of governance is based
on a centralized control over the people, and limits on personal individualism,
encourages increased government involvement with the instruments that regulate
the economy. Under a leftist economic
system, such as in the communist model, the government seizes control of the
industries, eliminating private ownership. In the fascist model, however, the
authoritarian political entity engages in corporatism, allowing the private
enterprises to remain private, yet bundled together in a uniting strength under
authoritarian government rule. Because fascism
(from Italian fascismo, Benito Mussolini’s authoritarian political movement in
Italy 1922 to 1943) was created to be an adverse reaction to the apparent
economic failure of Marxism, and labeled itself as the opposite of communism, fascism
is often referred to as being right-wing, and ultra-conservative. If you break down the political structure of
fascism, however, it becomes apparent that defining fascism as being on the
right side of the political spectrum is problematic. Like socialism, fascism exalts the group
above the individual (in fascist states often the nation or race is exalted
above the identity of the individual).
Like other leftist systems, fascism also calls for a separation of
church and state, a national civilian army, and progressive taxation. One
element of fascism some may argue as being right-wing is the fact that fascism
seeks to eliminate labor unions for co-ops. But the co-operatives, in a fascist state, are
controlled by the government, and therefore become more leftist than the system
before. Though fascism, during the early
twentieth century, claimed to be anti-communist, the National Socialism aspect
of the ideology places fascism on the left side of the Political Spectrum.
Ultimately, the true definition of the Political
Spectrum is dependent upon how government interacts with society. Increased government intrusion moves needle
on the spectrum to the left. Increasing
limitations on government intrusion moves the needle to the right. In both cases, the extreme of
totalitarianism, or anarchy, are equally dangerous. Ultimately, most forms of government, despite
the promise of fairness, are often only precursors to another form of
government. The Founding Fathers
realized this, recognizing that the only form of government that both limits
the powers of the federal government, while still giving it adequate authority
to protect and preserve State
Sovereignty, is a Constitutional Republic. They knew that if you pursue leftism too far,
an authoritarian government would rise from the movement. If government was limited too much, and the
government did not have enough power to enforce law, an authoritarian
government would also rise to fill the void.
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 is the introduction of the U.S.
Constitution. The opening paragraph of
the founding document holds no legal authority.
The Preamble serves to establish who is granting the authority to create
a new federal government, and the reasons for the decision. We The People of the United States are the
grantors. In other words, the States,
which were the embodiment of the people, were creating the federal government, and granting authorities to it so that it may
function in a manner necessary to protect, promote, and preserve the union of
States. The concept became known as federalism.
The Preamble is designed much like a permission form
the doctor’s office may present to you to sign, giving the doctor the authority
to perform necessary procedures on your body in order to make you well. The form begins with your name (I, patient’s
name), and then limits the doctor to only the procedures necessary to make you
well. The doctor, if he or she believes
additional procedures may be necessary, must ask for your permission before
performing the additional procedures that are not granted by your original
agreement with them.
Like the form in the doctor’s office, the Preamble
begins with who is granting the authorities.
“We the People of the United States” are the grantors of the authorities
given to the new federal government. The
people, through their States, allow the federal government to exist, and to
perform the procedures expressly granted
in the United States Constitution.
If a homeowner hires a contractor to add a room to
their house, a contract is created between the homeowner, and the company hired
to do the work. The contract establishes
the granted authorities to the construction company regarding the room
addition, listing the materials and labor necessary and proper to carry out
that task. If, later, after the work
begins, the homeowner observes the workers tending to the garden, and mowing
the lawn, the homeowner would be angry because lawn maintenance was not among
the authorities granted to the contractor hired to provide the service of
adding a room to the house. In the same
way, through the Constitution, the federal government has been granted a list
of authorities that are necessary and proper for it to carry out the tasks
vested in it. The tasks directly relate
to protecting and preserving the union, while also respecting and promoting State
Sovereignty. The federal
government’s authorities encompass only the external issues necessary to
protect the union, and the sovereignty of the States. Internal issues are not granted to the
federal government. Local issues are
reserved to the local governments, such as the States, counties, and cities.
The first three words of the Preamble, “We the
People,” often lead people to believe that we are a democracy. Taken in context, the first part of the
Preamble is not only “We the People,” but “We the People of the United
States.” In the context of original
intent, “the people of these States that are united have come together to
establish this contract for the following reasons.”
The words “United States” appear often in the U.S.
Constitution. When those words appear in
the text of the Constitution, they mean one of two things. Either, “United States” is a reference to the
new federal government, or United States means “these states that are united.” In the case of the Preamble, both definitions
are used. As we notice the first time
united States appears in the Declaration of Independence, “united” is not
capitalized. Failing to capitalize
“united” in the Declaration of Independence was a reflection of the common
opinion of the people of that era. America
was not a nationalistic country dominated by a powerful government, but a union
of States that are sovereign, autonomous, and individual – like the
people. We the People are the individual
parts of their States, and the States are individual parts of the union.
Early Americans saw the United States in the plural,
rather than as a singular nationalistic entity.
The people were citizens of their States first, but realized that the
States must be united to survive. The
individual States would only be safe if they all worked together as a united
country. To ensure the union was
protected they proposed forming a central government through a social contract
called the United States Constitution.
This contract to grant limited authorities to a federal government was
designed to ensure that the federal government remained limited so as to not
infringe on the individual rights of the sovereign States, and the people who
resided in those States.
A limited government is the essence of liberty.
The reasons listed in the Preamble for forming a new
government were “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.” In line with classical
writing standards, these reasons were listed in order of importance.
The most important reason for the formation of the
federal government, the main purpose for the creation of the U.S. Constitution,
was “in Order to form a more perfect Union.”
A union already existed under the Articles of Confederation. A confederation, however, is a weak
form of government where nearly all of the power remains with the individual
members. A confederation is an
association of sovereign member states that, by treaty, or other agreement,
have delegated some of their powers to a common institution in order to
coordinate policies, without constituting a new state on top of the member
states. The government under the
Articles of Confederation was formed hastily during the Revolutionary War, and
as revealed by Shays’ Rebellion,
proved to be too weak to protect the union not only from threats beyond our
shores, but insurrection from within the country. The founders realized that they needed to
form a more perfect union, one with more authorities, while still remaining
fairly limited in its power and scope.
The realization that the Articles of Confederation were too weak, and
either needed to be fixed, or replaced, was first discussed in delegation
during the Annapolis Convention in 1786.
During that meeting, the attending State delegates decided to meet again
in May of 1787 in a convention of all States, which became the Federal
Convention of 1787.
Under the Articles of Confederation, the central
government was as weak as a lamb. What
America needed was a central government with the strength of a lion. The problem with lions, however, is that they
can kill you if not restrained. So, the
Founding Fathers had to figure out a way to create a lion strong enough to deal
with the external issues, and conflict between the States, while restraining
that lion in such a way that the people living under it were safe from its
potential tyranny. The lion is the
federal government, and the chains and restraints of a set standard that
protects We the People from that lion is the United States Constitution.
In the Constitution, the authorities granted to the
federal government are limited to protecting, preserving, or promoting the
union. The federal government, through
the express powers granted in the Constitution, was granted authorities
including, but not limited to, maintaining an army and navy in order to protect
the union, to collect taxes in order to pay for that military and the other
necessary functions created for the purpose of preserving the union, to
regulate commerce by acting as a mediator between the States so that the flow
of commerce flows regularly and in good order so as to encourage a growing
economy for the union, establish a uniform rule of naturalization for the
purpose of ensuring the union grows through legal immigration, and to establish
post offices so that the many parts of the union may remain in contact with
each other. The federal government was
created for the sake of the issues related to the union. The federal government was not created to
manage local issues that have nothing to do with the union, and everything to
do with the unique cultures and societal needs of the local communities.
The second reason listed in The Preamble for the
creation of the federal government through the ratification of the U.S.
Constitution were to “establish Justice.”
Note that the word “establish” is normally used in situations where
whatever is being established never previously existed. The word “establish” being used in the
Preamble, then, leads us to believe that there was no justice prior to the
writing of the founding document.
However, justice systems already existed in each of the States, through
State court systems. Therefore, the U.S.
Constitution was not written to establish justice in the States, but to
establish justice at the federal level where a judicial system had not
previously existed. The language used in
the Constitution, in this case, provides us with a clue that the original
intent of the Founding Fathers was for the Constitution to apply only to the
federal government, unless it specifically states otherwise.
Though “establish Justice” is listed second in the
list of reasons for creating the federal government, we must not confuse
“importance” with “power.” To establish
justice was a very important reason for creating a federal government, but the
federal court system, for fear of it becoming a powerful judicial oligarchy,
was also greatly limited. During the
debates of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, there was actually a
consideration to not establish a federal court system. The delegates realized that tyranny easily
flows through an activist judiciary. The
rule of law could be easily compromised by a judicial branch not willing to
abide by the original intent of the U.S. Constitution, or poisoned by political
ideology. For this reason, the powers of
the judicial branch are greatly limited by the Constitution. We will go into more detail regarding those
limitations when we get to Article III, and the 11th Amendment.
The first two reasons for the writing of the U.S.
Constitution, according to the Preamble, were to form a more perfect union
through the formation of a federal government, and to establish justice by
creating a federal judicial system.
Those primary goals reveal to us that the Constitution was not written
to grant powers to the States, but for the purpose of creating, yet limiting, a
newly formed federal government, which was designed to serve the States by
protecting them, and preserving the union they enjoyed. Before the States delegated some of their own
powers to the federal government through the Constitution, all of those powers
belonged to the States – a political condition known as Original Authority. The States, however, only granted “some” of
their powers to the federal government, retaining most of the powers for
The U.S. Constitution, and all language within the
document, is directed to the federal government, not to the States, unless
specifically indicated otherwise. This
is because the States essentially “hired” the federal government to protect and
preserve the union. The contract that
authorizes the federal government to exist and receive the authorities from the
States is the U.S. Constitution.
Therefore, it would not be reasonable to assume that the provisions of
the Constitution are to be applied to the States as much as it would not be
logical to believe that an agreement between you and your doctor tells you what
you can and can’t do regarding the procedures that are about to be performed on
you. The agreement with the doctor is
specifically designed to tell the doctor what procedures are allowed, just as
the Constitution is specifically designed to tell the federal government what
authorities it is allowed to have in order to protect, preserve, and promote
the union. In that contract with the
doctor there may be instructions that tell you what not to do so as to not
undermine healing, such as submersing oneself in water before a wound is fully
healed. The same is true in the
Constitution. There is a section,
Article I, Section 10, that tells the States what they are prohibited from
doing. These prohibitions were necessary
to ensure the States did not interfere with federal functions.
Since it is We The People of the United States who
granted the federal government its powers, that means it is the people’s
responsibility, through the States, responsibility to ensure the federal
government acts in a constitutional manner.
The Constitution is nothing more than ink and paper if we don’t fight
The union, at the time of the writing of the
Constitution, was fragile. The States,
as colonies, or as individual states shortly after the American Revolution, did
not always coexist in a mutually beneficial manner. The States enjoyed their own unique cultures,
religions, and laws. The States clashed
over territory, commerce, and a variety of other issues that often included
disputed legal issues and definitions.
The States were much like siblings, fighting over everything under the
sun; but when it came down to brass tacks, they were united when it came to
defending each other.
The bickering between the States created an atmosphere
that placed the cohesion of the union at risk.
Therefore, when it came to creating a more perfect union, it was
understood by the framers that the federal government would have to “insure
domestic Tranquility” and to “promote the general Welfare.”
The federal government was expected to ensure there
was tranquility between the States by acting as a mediator in disputes. Part of that task by the federal government
was to also promote the general welfare of the republic. In other words, the federal government was tasked
with making sure the squabbles were properly resolved, while also protecting
the union, so that the welfare of the union would not be in jeopardy.
The term general Welfare, as it is presented in
the Preamble, is capitalized in a curious manner. Welfare is capitalized, but the word
“general” is not. Capitalization in the
Constitution was often used for the purpose of emphasis. With that tendency as our guide, we recognize
that “Welfare” was the key component when these two words were presented in the
Preamble. The Founding Fathers were
seeking “Welfare” with a capital “W.”
The founders tasked the federal government with the duty of ensuring
there was Welfare in the nation in a general manner. Or, you could say that they wanted the
atmosphere in general to be one of “Welfare,” or “all’s well,” hence, the
reason general is not capitalized, and Welfare is, in the Preamble.
Tucked between “insure domestic Tranquility” and
“promote the general Welfare” is the phrase: “provide for the common
defence.” The placement of this phrase
in The Preamble reveals that providing for the common defense was almost as
important as ensuring peaceful cooperation between the States, and slightly
more important than promoting the general Welfare of the republic (and a necessary
part of ensuring the general Welfare).
The need to provide for the common defense, one may
note, was not listed first in The Preamble as one of the reasons for the
creation of the federal government. The
Founding Fathers, though they recognized the importance of the federal
government to field a military force, as realized from the failure of the
government to put down insurrection during Shays’ Rebellion under the Articles
of Confederation, did not list the need to provide for the common defense at
the beginning of the Preamble because a country that places too much importance
on a military is doomed to become a police state. Defending this nation was not placed at the
bottom of the list of reasons for the writing of the Constitution, either, because
a nation that refuses to defend itself ultimately becomes a conquered entity
that is subject to the authority of a foreign government. Despite the fear of a powerful military that
could be used against the people and the States, providing for the common
defense was still indeed one of the primary reasons for creating the federal
government in the first place. That is
why “provide for the common defence” is listed in the Preamble within the
central depths of the body of the paragraph.
The final reason for the writing of the Constitution
was to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” The presence of the word “Blessings” reminds
us that the Founding Father’s grateful spirit recognized that the result of the
American Revolution, and the inspiration for the new federal government, could
have only come from the favors of Divine Providence. Liberty, remember, is one of the unalienable
rights listed in the Declaration of Independence that has been given to us by
The Creator. In fact, that is one of the
foundational beliefs of the original intent behind the creation of the federal
government. Our rights are granted to us
by God, not by government, for if our rights are granted to us by government,
government would then be able to take those rights away. This idea of God-granted rights is based on a
concept called Natural Law penned by John Locke during the 1600s. In the Declaration of Independence, it is
referred to as, “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” Natural Law is the unchanging moral
principles regarded as a basis for all human conduct, which is observable law
we participate in as related to our natural existence.
The U.S. Constitution was not solely written only to
protect our natural rights, liberty,
and property. Protecting our rights,
liberty, and property are among the chief reasons the Constitution was written
in the manner that it was, and protecting those natural rights are predictable
byproducts when the Constitution is being followed by the government, but those
are not the only reasons for the perceived need to compose the founding
document, or for the creation of the federal government.
As indicated in the Preamble, the primary reason for
the Constitution was “in Order to form a more perfect Union.” However, the very formation of that union,
and devising a governmental system to protect, preserve and promote that union,
was not exclusively for the sake of the union, either. The ultimately desire was to protect the sovereignty
of each component of that union – The States.
The framers understood that by creating a federal government, the
potential for the governmental system to become a tyranny was unleashed. Therefore, in order to protect the rights,
liberty and property of the people (more specifically to “secure the Blessings
of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”), the federal government needed to
be limited in its authorities by the rule of law. The law of the land in which the governmental
system is limited to, in the case of the United States, is the U.S.
Constitution, for the sake of protecting the individuality of the States, and
We the People.
Confederation: A confederation is an association of sovereign
member states that, by treaty or other agreement, have delegated some of their
powers to a common institution in order to coordinate policies, without
constituting a new state on top of the member states.
English Bill of Rights: The Declaration
of Rights in 1689, following the relatively bloodless “Glorious Revolution” of
1688, reasserting Protestant influence in England, and establishing a written
declaration based on the belief that rights are granted by God, limiting the
power of the king, and guaranteeing individual rights in writing. At its core, the system of government based
on the English Bill of Rights, and the Magna Carta, holds as its philosophy
that government is to serve the people, not the other way around.
Federalism: Government in which the central government’s power
and authority is limited by local government units, and where each unit is
delegated a sphere of power and authority only it can exercise, while other
powers must be shared. The term
federalism comes from the Latin root foedus, which means “formal agreement
or covenant.” It includes the interrelationships between the states as
well as between the states and the federal government.
Unalienable Rights: Incapable of being
alienated, that is, sold and transferred. You can not surrender, sell or
transfer unalienable rights, they are a gift from the Creator to the individual
and can not under any circumstances be surrendered or taken. All individual’s
have unalienable rights.
Questions for Discussion:
1. How might
the United States be different if the Magna Carta, or the Glorious Revolution,
had never taken place?
2. Many of us
were taught to memorize the Preamble in school, others remember it because of
the School House Rock cartoon on Saturday mornings, but growing up how many
times were we taught what it means?
or the belief in a central government limited by the authorities granted to it
in the Constitution, began as a wonderful idea.
The members of the “Federalist Party,” however, were not satisfied, and
desired the federal government to have more authorities than it was
granted. Why do you think this is true?
4. Why did the
Founding Fathers only desire the federal government to be granted powers that
regarded the union, and not authorities in regards to other issues?
4. The judicial
branch was supposed to be the weakest of the three branches. Why do you think the Founding Fathers wanted
to limit the judiciary to such an extent?
5. One of the
founding principles is that our unalienable rights are given to us by the
Creator. Is it a coincidence that
historically most authoritarian governments that sought to take away the rights
of the individual did it either by taking control of the church, or by
rejecting religion/the existence of God?
6. At what
point does a government take “provide for the common defense” too far?
James L. Roark, Michael P. Johnson, Patricia Cline
Cohen, Sarah Stage, Alan Lawson, and Susan M. Hartmann, The American Promise: A History of the United States; Boston:
Bedford/St. Martin’s (2009).
James Madison, Federalist
No. 41: General View of the Powers Conferred by The Constitution,
John L. Hancock, Liberty
Inherited: The Untold Story of America’s Exceptionalism; Charleston:
Liberty Lane Media (2011)
Joseph Andrews, A Guide for Learning and Teaching The
Declaration of Independence and The U.S. Constitution – Learning from the
Original Texts Using Classical Learning Methods of the Founders; San Marcos:
The Center for Teaching the Constitution (2010).
Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, A Patriot’s
History of the United States; New York: Sentinel (2004).
Madison’s Notes on the Constitutional Convention,
Avalon Project, Yale University:
Philip B. Kurland and Ralph Lerner, The Founder’s
Constitution – Volume Two – Preamble through Article I, Section 8, Clause 4;
Indianapolis: Liberty Fund (1987).
2014 Douglas V. Gibbs