The U.S. Constitution – Lesson #1: The Preamble


I decided if I really want to get a following for my blog I best update on a fairly regular basis. I am going to make it a point to update this blog at least once a week over the next few weeks. There will be a theme to these postings. I am going to take my blog title seriously. I am going to take this blog and teach about government. The first lessons, which will take longer than most think is on the U.S. Constitution. And it starts now!

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.

— Preamble to the U.S. Constitution

So begins the Constitution of the United States of America. Allow me to break it down for you in to smaller bite size bits

We the People of the United States: While this constitution was written by the delegates from the thirteen states it was ratified intentionally by the people through constitutional conventions in each of the states. The immediate reason was because the founders knew the states legislatures would not give up the power they had under the Articles of Confederation. This wording, though, is a direct link to the words of Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence:

That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

The people would approve the the government because that is their right, not the states or the founder’s. It was the people who ultimately decided if this government would be ratified. It is the right of the people to alter the government as they see fit if it becomes destructive to the ends of protecting our God give rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and property. (Property was the original thought, intent and meaning behind the phrase but was changed. Slaves were considered property by this time so the phrase “pursuit of property” would defend slavery).

In order to form a more perfect union: Under the Articles of Confederation the 13 states were more like 13 individual countries in a military and economic alliance, similar to the European Union today. It was intentionally written to give all the power to the states. The problem came when the states needed each others help or worked against each other. Many state almost went to war over land, territory, or whatever. This document was made to make sure we were not just in an alliance but unionized into a strong country. The federal government was there to oversee the problems between the states.

Establish justice: Justice is the principle of treating everyone equally. The problem is even though “all men are created equal” we know not everyone is the same or equal. Some people have more skill or talents that they have developed over time. Some were born with more means or benefits that befit them. Equality can really only be achieved in three ways:

  1. Equal before almighty God. The rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak are all seen the same before God and are answerable to him for their actions in this life. He treats all people the same and judges with the same standard.
  2. Equal before the law. Every case is tried the same no matter who is on trial. Murder is the same for the millionaire and the pauper. The law does not recognize any different classes of people to be singled out or treated differently under the law.
  3. Equal rights. The book “The 5000 Year Leap” explains this idea of equal rights in conjunction better than I can.

The job of a society is to provide ‘equal justice,’ which means protecting the rights of the people equally: at the bar of justice to secure their rights; at the ballot box, to vote for the candidate of their choice; at the public school, to obtain education; at the employment office, to compete for a job; at the real estate agency, to purchase or rent a home; at the pulpit; to enjoy freedom of religion; at the podium, to enjoy freedom of speech; at the microphone or TV camera, to present views on the issues of today; at the meeting hall, to peaceably assemble; at the print shop, to enjoy the freedom of the press; at the store; to buy the essentials or desirable things of life; at the bank, to save or prosper; at the tax collector’s office, to pay no more than their fair share; at the probate court, to pass on to their heirs the fruits of life’s labors (Skousen 105).

Insure domestic tranquility: This idea goes back to the first goal of forming a more perfect union. The U.S. did not have very much peace within its borders under the Articles of Confederation. The government provided under the constitution would see that every state was equal to each other, that they received the protection of all the other states and that they would have peace between each other.

Provide for the common defense: This we see is the most primary job of any government: to protect its citizens. This is why we have the military and it has been standing since World War II. While people may not like the idea of “peace through strength” touted by former President Ronald Regan he is supported by our first president George Washington who said: “If we desire to avoid insult, we must be able to repel it; if we desire to secure peace, one of the most powerful instruments of our rising prosperity, it must be known, that we are at all times ready for War.

Promote the General Welfare: This phrase is only used twice in the Constitution but it is the most ill interpreted phrase. It has been used to defend the expansion of government into almost all areas of life, but few understand its meaning or its intent. Let us examine the words of the Father of our Constitution, the man most responsible for its language and intent: James Madison.

If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one…. (letter to Edmund Pendleton, 1792)

Jefferson backs up Madison when he says:

They are not to do anything they please to provide for the general welfare…. [G]iving a distinct and independent power to do any act they please which may be good for the Union, would render all the preceding and subsequent enumerations of power completely useless. It would reduce the whole instrument to a single phrase, that of instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the United States; and as they sole judges of the good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they please.

So we see the “general welfare” does not mean government can do anything it wants since most laws do provide for the general welfare of the citizens. They can only do things that promote the general welfare within the powers laid out by this constitution.

Secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity. This constitution and the freedoms it provided were not just written for the founders and the citizens of that time, but for “millions yet unborn.” There are no real rights listed in the original constitution, but the intent was that the powers listed in the Constitution were the limits of the government. The other powers, rights, responsibilities and liberties belonged to the people or to the states.

Do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. This the natural extension of the first phrase in the preamble though, minus the goals of the Constitution.

I hope you all learned something new this week about our government and more importantly our Constitution. I urge you all to go read and study the our U.S. Constitution. If you do not know it and understand it anyone can come in and reinterpret it or reinvent it to mean anything they want.

Until next time… class dismissed!

Blog Sources:

  • Monk, Linda R. “The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution.” Stone Strong Press; New York City, 2003
  • Skousen, W. Cleon. “The 5000 Year Leap.” National Center for Constitutional Studies; 1991,
  • http://www.brainyquote.com – George Washington quote
  • http://economics.gmu.edu/wew/quotes/govt.html – James Madison & Thomas Jefferson quote
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