Why the Constitution's Preamble is More Important and Relevant Than You Think
The Preamble of the Constitution is just 52 words, but these 52 words are the beautiful opening to a set of laws that we still follow today.
The Constitution, ratified in 1778, is a rather mundane document filled with important laws and articles dictating how the government should run. Unlike the poetic Declaration of Independence, it is a practical document meant to be vague. However, its Preamble, written by vocal but forgotten founder Gouvernuer Morris, resembles a work of art.
The amendments to the Constitution have been debated and adored; added and subtracted. So let us take a moment to appreciate and learn from the 52 uplifting and permanent words of the Preamble.
We The People
"We the People of the United States"
Perhaps the most recognized words of the constitution, these are some of the most important. "We the People" is the most popular but it seems as if "... of the United States" was far more consequential when written. This is one of the first times the United States as a concept was expressed on paper. The Articles of Confederation, the predecessor to the Constitution mentioned it, but only before the author listed all of the individual states. The United States as a concept tied all the states together in a manner in which their sovereignty was still respected, as listed in the subsequent amendments.
Sometimes today we forget this crucial piece of the puzzle that is American life. We are in this project together, ever since 1776. Sometimes we will disagree and some things will divide the country but we must remember that we will always be united by each other.
State of the Union
"in Order to form a more perfect Union"
The founders sought to unite the loosely bound states in ways the Articles of Confederation could not. It was a hard task, trying to get everyone to agree on things which is why Morris inserted one word that changed the tone: the word "more." He never says in order to form a perfect union because he knows that it is impossible to do that, especially with so many diverse opinions across many states. The persistence remains however, to get as close as possible to perfection and to always strive for unity.
When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage in 2015, President Obama stated "we’ve made our union a little more perfect." Decisions that positively affect people's lives, whether you agree of not, are examples of us climbing rung by rung on the ladder that is progress to a more perfect Union. Many of these attempts will fail or be misguided but for every decision done right it is a step closer to the goal uttered in the Preamble.
Justice For All
A fairly straightforward line: the founders knew that in order to have a successful country, it needed to have just laws. Even though in 1776 our perception of justice was far different than theirs and certainly more civilized, many of the laws put forth in the Constitution still apply today. One of the more important ones is the 1st amendment, which guarantees the right to free speech and press.
Justice is rallying cry for some today and for others it is an elusive and fleeting goal. Justice can also be subjective when it shouldn't and our system can fail us but sometimes justice served is a satisfying feeling.
Peace and Tanks
" insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense"
When the Constitution was written, the newly formed country faced many threats from the French and Spanish who sought to take advantage of the weak, new country. The founders also knew that while they were facing these threats, there were many domestic disputes regarding land, governance, and slavery. Issues such as slavery were handled poorly by the founders who delayed a solution in order to reach an agreement on the Constitution. In the Preamble, Morris seems to give equal weight to the messages and states unequivocally that it is the responsibility of all of us, the people, to insure and provide safety at home and abroad.
Sometimes today domestic tranquillity is often disrupted. As a country we witnessed this in the Charlottesville rally, Kent State University shooting, and countless other events that shook the nation into doubting the insurance that the Preamble provided. In contrast, many Americans have strong faith in the United States military given its strength and authority. The "people" have provided for the common defense in a significant way. The United States has one of the largest volunteer armies with some of the bravest people in the world.
"Promote the general welfare"
Perhaps the primary social goal of the Preamble is to "promote the general welfare." It can be confidently said that this is partially based on philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau's idea of "General Will" General Will has many meanings and interpretations, one of which being that everyone should act for the betterment of society and the fellow individual. Morris writes that the welfare should be not only provided but "promoted."
Realistically, America has not handled this situation in the best way. Income inequality, healthcare issues, and poverty have dominated the political conversation for the past few decades. Questions of the government's role in all of this have been raised, but the answer is in the Constitution; just not the part everyone thinks. It may not be considered law but the Preamble stresses the idea of providing for and acting in favor of the American public.
"and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
The final section of the Preamble echos the sentiment laid out in the Declaration of Independence: that the most important part of the American project is freedom, not only for ourselves, but for the future generations as well.
This part is more important than people think, the future is the key to keeping the Constitution's laws and updating them when necessary. The founders knew that the future generations were going to succeed in executing their vision. Most of them were young themselves at the time of Ratification. This line is also a note to the current generation: a note stating that these liberties must be secured so that the future knows what freedom is and how it applies to the always changing way of life.
The Preamble to the Constitution is a very simple introduction to the set of laws that govern America, but a deeper look into the short introduction provides insight on the context of the Constitution. Through the Preamble we can see that the founders created these amendments to unite the loosely bound, always fighting states and attempt to create a federal government that allowed for liberty as well as justice, a sense of sovereignty, but with national unity, and a combination of peace and strength.
Today we can learn a lot from the Preamble, and if I were you I'd take a look at what comes after it as well. The preamble reaffirms that we, as Americans, are in this together and the best we can do is try and help others, make the country better, and overall keep striving to be perfect.
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© 2018 Gianfranco Regina