Constituesday – Preamble
Welcome to the first edition of Constituesday, Left Turns Only’s weekly look at the U.S. Constitution.
Over the next 35 weeks, we will review, analyze and discuss the Constitution’s articles and amendments, with historical and contemporary contexts. We’ll have three main goals in mind.
1. To review the Constitution and remember what is actually IN there. To explore the history behind each article and amendment, and the how today’s issues fit within the document’s framework.
2. Showing that the framers were shrewd political compromisers, not infallible demigods. Today’s political climate, with it’s unflinching ideology, is the antithesis of the framers’ compromise-to-get-it-done philosophy.
3. To give red meat to liberals who find themselves in constitutional debate with short-sighted conservatives. For example: The Constitution, despite neocon contentions to the contrary, is a living document, meant to travel with us through time.
Also, I’m no constitutional scholar, so feel free to impart your own wisdom in the comments.
So without any ado, let’s get into this week’s topic, the Constitution’s preamble. Here’s the text.
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.
Directly after the Revolutionary War, the United States was operating under the Articles of Confederation. The Philadelphia Convention was called to address the problems that the Articles had caused. Namely, that the Articles provided too weak a central government.
That’s the “more perfect union.” And I want to make this very clear. The U.S. Constitution exists because the central government was too weak. If you find yourself in conversation with a conservative, or a “tenther,” or someone of the sort, make sure you let them know this fact. The U.S. by 1788, was in need of a much stronger central government.
The U.S. needed a provision for taxation, it needed an executive branch, and it needed a judiciary. It needed solutions to a bevy of other problems. But those topics are for the next few weeks. For now, let’s take a look at the points in the preamble.
“We the People of the United States…” People. The power of governance is with you, it is with me. It doesn’t always work, but that’s the guiding principle. The government is us. Conservatives, especially since the Reagan Revolution, like to paint the government as a boogey-man or the enemy. These first seven words of the Constitution prove otherwise.
“…Establish Justice…” The Articles didn’t provide a central judiciary. The Constitution introduced the U.S. judiciary system. More on that in Article 3 in a few weeks.
“…Insure Domestic Tranquility…” This is mostly in response to popular uprisings like Shays Rebellion. Ironically, it was this incident, not the American Revolution, that gave birth to Jefferson’s “Tree of Liberty” quote. Make sure that you remind your tea-bagging friends that their favorite quote was about a popular uprising of the workers protesting income inequity. Anyway, insuring domestic tranquility, in a way, gives the central government the power to suppress such uprisings.
“…Provide for the Common Defence…” Establishing a national military. The word defense is clear. The Bush Doctrine and Global War on Terror are offensive, imperialistic strategies. They violate the spirit of the Constitution’s military provisions.
“…Promote the General Welfare…” Liberals’ favorite line to throw in the face of conservatives. This is the Constitution’s way of saying “For any one of us to succeed, we must succeed as one America.”
“…secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…” This line harkens back to Jefferson’s “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” line from the Declaration of Independence. It sets forth the spirit of American governance and freedom. The framers used the word “Posterity” to ensure that these blessings of liberty would be passed down to future generations.
There’s not a whole lot of meat in the preamble, and most of what’s there is laid out in detail in further articles. But it is symbolic and iconic. There’s a reason third graders are made to memorize it, even if they don’t understand half of the words. The Constitution’s Preamble is the backbone of American governance.
So absorb, and enjoy. We’ll be back next week with Article 1.