How the Preamble Sets the Tone for The Constitution
The Framers of The Constitution sought to construct a document that would make clear their intention to break away from the crown of England and establish a rule of law that honored the sovereignty of the individual rather than a central monarchy or ruling elite. This point is made clear from The Constitution’s introduction, also known as the “preamble.”
“We the People of the United States”
are the most well-known words of The Constitution, a document that would take the fledgling American government from a confederacy to a single union with a shared vision and purpose.
Declaration of Preamble
The preamble declares the intent of its authors to establish a “more perfect” union, one that would replace the fragmented and often disordered confederacy that existed before the writing and ratification of The Constitution.
Is the Constitution a Legal Document?
While The Constitution can rightly be considered a legal document for how The United States government would function, the preamble exists not as part of the core framework itself but rather as an introduction that clearly states the nature and intention of the document.
While many other such documents at the time began with a statement of authority on behalf of a king, lord, or deity, The U.S. Constitution was unique for its choice of wording as “We the People,” even though at the time, only approximately 15 percent of the adult white male population had the right to vote.
Also, while 12 of the 13 states attended the Philadelphia Convention, where The Constitution would be put forward, notably absent from the assembly, Rhode Island refused to participate in the process.
Does the Preamble Imply the U.S. is a Democracy?
At first glance, one may assume that the use of “We the People” establishes the United States government as a democracy. However, that’s actually not the case. The word “democracy” or “democratic” is not found in The Constitution. The forefathers themselves would likely consider themselves republicans before calling themselves democrats, which was more closely associated with the French at the time.
As John Adams put forward his vision for the young government, it would be one in which all people and citizens were equally subject to laws. This varies widely from a populist democracy, of which Andrew Jackson was an early champion, where the majority rule would most often prevail with minimal counterbalance or restraint.
Ruled by Law
Rather than being ruled by a king or monarchy, the forefathers as free individuals would rather be ruled by law, which would be applied equally among the political class, common person, and magistrates. This is clearly reflected in the words of the preamble, “and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” indicating that the basis of sound law that draws upon the progress of the Magna Carta, natural law, and the consent of the governed.
Justice, Domestic Tranquility, and Common Defense
Before writing The Constitution, America’s untamed land was really a “wild west” kind of environment. No national court system existed, and providing for the common defense was left to private citizens who were often under assault by rogue native elements and foreign enemies. Furthermore, states often competed for resources and political interests whenever they would intersect, putting them at odds with one another and making it difficult to manage legal matters effectively.
The preamble makes clear these issues in its wording that The Constitution would be intended to
“establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense” and “promote the general welfare.”
While under the previous model of government, each state was sovereign, individual, and left to themselves. The establishment of a Constitution that would become the supreme ruling document of the land helped solve many of the problems that had previously belabored the young nation during its formative years.
The Constitution Succeeds Where the Articles of Confederation Came Up Short
The preamble states unambiguously that one of the main goals of The Constitution was to rectify these issues left unattended by The Articles of Confederation. “In order to form a more perfect union” implies the progress that The Constitution would put forward, both in terms of establishing a government that transcended state lines and in laying a foundation for the rule of law that would apply equally to all citizens. In its wording, scope, and approach, the preamble accomplishes this in a way that distinguished itself from other documents of the era, drawing its inspiration and authority from those who would fall under its domain rather than from an exterior king mythical figure or deity.
While the forefathers had no idea how “perfect” their union would be, they hoped that their efforts would ensure a better environment for themselves and their era, in which they were successful.
Who Are “We The People”?
While it may be surprising to know that the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention were not directly elected, each state then ratified The Constitution once completed to a directly elected convention in each state. Setting in motion what would become the bedrock of liberty and common defense for many years to come, the preamble and seven articles of The Constitution put forward the federal system that would allow a more perfect union to take shape. The preamble is essential for putting The Constitution on a trajectory that would later grow into one of the most revered legal documents in modern times,
Confederation, Union, and Federation
While The Constitution establishes a federal form of government, powers are delegated to people and states rather than a central, all-powerful bureaucracy. In this sense, it can be accurately considered a union in a republic, as power is distributed evenly amongst people and states. This approach helps to create a foundation for the vision the founding fathers hoped to create, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.