Constitutional Topic: The Preamble

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.

We the People of the United States

The Framers were an elite group - among the best and brightest America had to offer at the time. But they knew that they were trying to forge a nation made up not of an elite, but of the common man. Without the approval of the common man, they feared revolution. This first part of the Preamble speaks to the common man. It puts into writing, as clear as day, the notion that the people were creating this Constitution. It was not handed down by a god or by a king - it was created by the people.

in Order to form a more perfect Union

The Framers were dissatisfied with the United States under the Articles of Confederation, but they felt that what they had was the best they could have, up to now. They were striving for something better. The Articles of Confederation had been a grand experiment that had worked well up to a point, but now, less than ten years into that experiment, cracks were showing. The new United States, under this new Constitution, would be more perfect. Not perfect, but more perfect.

establish Justice

Injustice, unfairness of laws and in trade, was of great concern to the people of 1787. People looked forward to a nation with a level playing field, where courts were established with uniformity and where trade within and outside the borders of the country would be fair and unmolested. Today, we enjoy a system of justice that is one of the fairest in the world. It has not always been so - only though great struggle can we now say that every citizen has the opportunity for a fair trial and for equal treatment, and even today there still exists discrimination. But we still strive for the justice that the Framers wrote about.

insure domestic Tranquility

One of the events that caused the Convention to be held was the revolt of Massachusetts farmers knows as Shays' Rebellion. The taking up of arms by war veterans revolting against the state government was a shock to the system. The keeping of the peace was on everyone's mind, and the maintenance of tranquility at home was a prime concern. The framers hoped that the new powers given the federal government would prevent any such rebellions in the future.

provide for the common defense

The new nation was fearful of attack from all sides - and no one state was really capable of fending off an attack from land or sea by itself. With a wary eye on Britain and Spain, and ever-watchful for Indian attack, the no one of the United States could go it alone. They needed each other to survive in the harsh world of international politics of the 18th century.



promote the general Welfare

This, and the next part of the Preamble, are the culmination of everything that came before it - the whole point of having tranquility, justice, and defense was to promote the general welfare - to allow every state and every citizen of those states to benefit from what the government could provide. The framers looked forward to the expansion of land holdings, industry, and investment, and they knew that a strong national government would be the beginning of that.

and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity

Hand in hand with the general welfare, the framers looked forward to the blessings of liberty - something they had all fought hard for just a decade before. They were very concerned that they were creating a nation that would resemble something of a paradise for liberty, as opposed to the tyranny of a monarchy, where citizens could look forward to being free as opposed to looking out for the interests of a king. And more than for themselves, they wanted to be sure that the future generations of Americans would enjoy the same.

do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America

The final clause of the Preamble is almost anti-climatic, but it is important for a few reasons - it finishes the "We, the people" thought, saying what we the people are actually doing; it gives us a name for this document, and it restates the name of the nation adopting the Constitution. That the Constitution is "ordained" reminds us of the higher power involved here - not just of a single person or of a king, but of the people themselves. That is it "established" reminds us that it replaces that which came before - the United States under the Articles (a point lost on us today, but quite relevant at the time).

Article I [The Legislative Branch]

Article II [The Presidency]

Article III [The Judiciary]

Article IV [The States]

Article V [The Amendment Process]

Article VI [Legal Status of the Constitution]

Article VII [Ratification]







The Importance of Having a Constitution

  • In its most general sense, a constitution is the fundamental, underlying framework of government for a nation or state. Most countries have a constitution. The United States has a constitution and is a constitutional government because it requires everyone regardless of position or office to abide by higher law. The united States Constitution establishes both the government's power and the fundamental rights belonging to all people who reside within the borders
  • While most of the world's constitutions are written, they need not be. For instance, Great Britain has an unwritten constitution. When the British refer to the term constitution, they are referring to their collective legal traditions, including: the Magna Carta of 1215, the English Bill of Rights of 1687, Acts of Parliament, and the collective decisions of the British Courts (known as the common law).
  • When people in the United States refer to the Constitution, they are often referring to the written document that lays out the structure and function of the federal government and that contains the Bill of Rights. People also may refer to their own state Constitutions.

The Provisions of the U.S. Constitution

  • Written in 1787 and ratified in 1789, the U.S. Constitution is the oldest national Constitution still in use.
  • The U.S. Constitution contains seven Articles.
    • Article I established the Legislative Branch of government.
    • Article II established the Executive Branch of government
    • Article III established the Judicial Branch of government.
    • Article IV regulated the relations of individual states with each other.
    • Article V established a means for amending the Constitution.
    • Article VI established the Constitution as the Supreme Law of the Land.
    • Article VIII established a procedure for ratifying the Constitution.
  • There are 27 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution of which only 25 are active.
    • The first Ten Amendments are known as the Bill of Rights. They list specific rights of the people which the government may not infringe upon. They were added immediately after the Constitution was ratified. (e.g., freedom of religion).
    • The Eighteenth Amendment prohibited the sale or transportation of alcohol and the Twenty-first Amendment repealed the Eighteenth.
    • The remaining amendments either alter portions of the Constitution or expand individual rights.


The Importance and Strength of the U.S. Constitution

  • One of the primary roles of any Constitution is to limit the powers of a government by informing all of the citizenry of those powers a government may legitimately possess.
  • No Constitutions: Historically, many rulers did not write constitutions in an attempt to keep all power to themselves. For instance, King Louis XIV of France (who did not have a constitution) is famous for saying "I am the State"–meaning that the law was whatever he said it was. A constitution exists to prohibit such unchecked concentrations of power.
  • The British Constitution and the Revolution: Although they saw many benefits of the unwritten British Constitution, the Founders argued that, without reducing basic principles of government to writing, they were too easy for rulers to manipulate. Indeed, the Founders justified the Revolution by arguing that the British King and Parliament routinely violated the British Constitution. Thus, they established a written Constitution for America.
  • "Empty Constitutions": Even if constitutions are written, they are empty if the government is free to ignore their provisions at will. For instance, the former Soviet Union had a Constitution, which it often disregarded.
  • The U.S. Constitution: The ultimate strength of the U.S. Constitution is that it not only establishes a government, but it establishes a government which, to use Thomas Jefferson's words, can "govern itself." In other words, the document not only lets all people know the limits of the government's power, but, the system of checks and balances that it has created ensures that these limits will be obeyed.