“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.”
This rather simple “52 word” (uscourts.gov) paragraph took our forefathers, the Framers, “six weeks over the summer of 1787” (id.) to hammer out and was “signed into law on Sept. 17, 1787 and ratified June 21st 1788.” (reference.com) It has “no legal authority” (id.), but was written in an effort to portray the “spirit in which the U.S. Constitution was written”, and is a “crucial tool when interpreting the law.” (id.) In fact, the Supreme Court has referenced the Preamble in a few very important cases in order to interpret the meaning of the Constitution.
I’m not going to go into the cases in this blog. Frankly, you need to read the cases themselves, and dissertations, in order to really understand the import of these Supreme Court cases as it concerns the interpretation of our U.S. Constitution and it’s distribution of law across our land. A good overview to whet your appetite regarding the cases can be found on Constitution.congress.gov. There you can find a brief summary of Chisholm v. Georgia and Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee and M’Culloch v. Maryland. But even with reading the overview, don’t ditch on reading the cases. They are fascinating and the language is eloquent, in most Supreme Court cases, and you’ll love it as much as I do, I promise. Not only that but, spoiler alert, I’ll be providing other cases to look at as it regards the actual Constitution in my future blogs. You’ll be able to tie in the timeline of many subjects such as Equal Rights, and child labor, etc. Having now given you a little homework to do, what I want to do in my blog is simply hash out the “Preamble paragraph” phrase by phrase now.
Mostly, the phrasing seems simple but think of the spirit these words embody as we go over them. “We the people of the United States” is not only the tenet relied upon in the above named cases in determining the supremacy of the U.S. Constitution over the States, but is an inclusive sentence by nature. It means that WE have control over laws that are, in turn, over the states. We the people! The PEOPLE! Think about that. Not “we the aristocrats” or “we the politicians” but “WE THE PEOPLE!” And I can’t think of a better line. It gives US the power to control our destiny as a country. This sentence gives definitive direction to the paragraph AND the Constitution.
“In order to form a more perfect Union” quite simply means that this is an agreement between the States, each conceding authority to the collective “We”, the citizens of the United States. And to “establish justice”, means that the whole intent of the Constitution to follow is to serve justice or law to the nation. In other words, the Constitution provides the framework to which all subsequent laws must adhere and with which all state laws must not conflict. It is a protection for the people by establishing the rule of law. It subsequently follows that there has to be a “justice system” in order to enact justice and this system is referred to in Article 3 of the Constitution in which the legal system and our Federal courts are designed.
To “Insure domestic Tranquility” is to set up laws for internal protective forces and to insure peace between the States. This duty falls squarely under the powers of Congress as set up in Article 1, Section 8 of the actual Constitution itself and subsequent defining S.C. cases. Likewise, to “provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” also falls under Congress’ powers as defined in Article 1. Once again inclusive language is used with the words common, and general, signaling that the laws will not only be for us, but for our children as we pass them generation to generation and are established for our protection. and that the purpose of the following framework is “for the people”. However, in Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution where the Executive Branch is discussed, the President is solely responsible for foreign relations and, yet, his powers overlap with Congress. Checks and balances… How cool is that? AND we see that these powers are “shared”, in a sense, between the Legislative Branch (Congress) and the Executive Branch (President). Bills are generated in the House of Representatives and must pass in the Senate before going to the President’s desk for acceptance as a law. The President then has the choice to pass or veto the bill, at which point it goes back to the House with the President’s objections. However, with a 2/3 majority in the House and Senate, the President’s veto can be overridden and the bill is then passed into law. So we can see that Congress has the ultimate power in this manner. Again, our founding fathers set up the legislative branch of government first because they deemed it the most important of the three branches.
Finally, We the People “do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” This sets up the purpose of the paragraph and the Constitution that follows. Whereas above we were discussing intent, here we see the Founders end on purpose. To ordain simply means to decree, and to establish means to found, as in foundation. In other words, “We the People do decree and found this Constitution.(fiber, framework, glue) for the United States of America”.