Before 1789, the young nation had been ruled by the Articles of Confederation, which were passed in 1781. However, in 1787, people realized that these regulations did not describe the principles of the separation of powers and limited the power of the national government, giving preference to the states. Thus, a new document was required (Meese, Spalding, & Forte, 2005). These considerations and their consequences made the Founding Fathers feel the need for establishing a union by means of new and more perfect laws. As a result, the Constitution of the United States of America was written in 1787. Since that time, it has been the main plan for government to follow and the basis for its decisions and laws. The final draft of the document was created by the Committee of Style and Arrangement. Among its members, there was Gouverneur Morris, a delegate from Pennsylvania. He is considered to be the author of the actual text of the Preamble and the best part of the rest Constitution.
The Preamble is the first paragraph of the U.S. Constitution. In fact, it is a brief introductory statement that consists of fifty-two words, which mention the main purposes of the document and the major guiding principles (Levy, Karst, & Winkler, 2000). The Preamble is of minor importance in the U.S. Constitution, and it serves only as a preface or introduction. It is obvious that there is no word about the assignments of the government or its branches, and people’s rights and powers.
Generally, the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution describes six main purposes of the document. They include the formation of a perfect union, justice, national peace, military defense, welfare, and freedom. The original text of the Preamble is the following:
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 (“The United States Constitution,” n.d.).
Thus, these purposes show the need for security and safety sought by every sovereign nation, the desire to be ruled by the law that in turn will serve for the well-being of all people, and finally the hopes of the Founding Fathers for their liberty and freedom and the ones of the future generations (National Constitution Center, n.d.). In fact, there have been many attempts to interpret the Preamble and to find out what it really means. This part was read and reread by many scholars, writers, and historians. It was compared with the introductions to many other laws and explained from different points of view. Besides, there have been debates whether it has any legal power or not.
Of course, nowadays people understand the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution differently comparing their points of view with the ones of the Founding Fathers and the society of those days. It is true that America has changed greatly since 1787 (Levy et al., 2000). In 1787, the United States was an agrarian country with a small society and completely different interests and concerns. Today, it is a large nation with the population of millions of citizens. They all are equal regardless of their gender, race, or social class. Everyone is guaranteed the exercise of the citizenship right. Thus, due to the country has changed, people’s interpretation of the Preamble has also become new. So what does this part mean? How do people understand and interpret the purposes of the supreme law of the country?
We the People
The first three words “We the People” indicated that there was one united nation with its people, but not the states with their representatives, who gathered to form a pact. This phrase establishes the most important concept of the government, namely popular sovereignty and the idea that it derives power only from the consent of people. Thus, the first purpose of the Constitution was to establish the authority “of the people, by the people, for the people” (“The United States Constitution,” n.d.).
Some politicians criticized Gouverneur Morris for failing to list the states, as it was in the Articles of Confederation. However, the initial aim was to unite the people of the USA and to create a national government. Despite the fact that the Framers of the Constitution were considered an elite group, they decided to forge a nation for everyone, including a common man.
Generally, the phrase “We the People of the United States” lays out the hierarchy of power in the country (“The United States Constitution,” n.d.). The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. However, due to people created it, they are superior to it. The power of the Constitution is the one delegated from the people. It contrasted the government that existed in 1787. In other countries, every right was granted either by the monarch or by the government. The U.S. Constitution was the first document, according to which the latter was beholden by the people (Levy et al., 2000).
…in Order to Form a More Perfect Union
The Articles of Confederation limited governing the new nation forming a weak and imperfect union. According to these rulings, the states were more important than the national government, which in turn did not have the power to collect taxes and was dependent on the former (Meese et al., 2005). Due to the union was not perfect, the second major purpose of the Constitution was to provide a better form of the government. In this way, being dissatisfied with the situation in the country, the Founding Fathers saw a federal government as the only key to power that would affect citizens directly. Hence, the Constitution was not an agreement between the states, but between people, who sought for improving the government and making it stronger and better than the preexistent one.
Whereas the union needed improvement, justice had to be established, due to it did not exist under the previous government. Such an opinion was common among the Founding Fathers and ordinary people as well. In 1787, citizens dealt with the unfairness of laws and trade injustice. The state government constantly violated individual rights. Actually, people sought for fair unmolested trade within and outside the country, as well as fair trials around the union. At first sight, the phrase “to establish Justice” seemed to be hyperbolic, due to there was a court system with independent judges and juries (National Constitution Center, n.d.). However, it was not a secret that the states limited individual freedom and liberty in many ways. One of the possible solutions was the establishment of an independent Supreme Court that would be superior to state courts (Mason & Stephenson, 2005).
Today, Americans enjoy a fair system of justice, according to which everyone has the right to a fair trial and equal treatment. Although people have been still striving for justice, and there are many cases of discrimination and injustice, the situation is much better than the one in 1787, when the Constitution was signed.
…Insure Domestic Tranquility
The next purpose of the U.S. Constitution, domestic tranquility, was not less crucial for the new nation. American colonists did not want the country to suffer from violent disputes among people, similar to those in England (the ones based on different faiths and against people, who disagreed with the Crown and others). In fact, there was Shays’s Rebellion, the revolt of Massachusetts farmers for the repayment of war debts, and some lesser revolts in Delaware and New Hampshire. Due to this, people were deeply concerned about domestic tranquility and peace. The new Constitution was created to protect them from domestic violence and prevent suchlike rebellions. As a result, the Whiskey Rebellion and the Fries Rebellion that broke out during the first decade were crushed under the Constitution without any bloody consequences (Mason & Stephenson, 2005).
…Provide for the Common Defense
The Constitution of the United States was created to provide for the common defense. The international politics of the eighteenth century made the new nation think about possible attacks from all sides. Despite the fact that all states had their standing armies, no one was ready for a large-scale attack. The federal government had to organize the defense force and unite all the states to work together. Besides, the unity of colonies defending each other freed them from raising their own army (National Constitution Center, n.d.).
…Promote the General Welfare
The general welfare means the well-being of the whole nation ensured by justice, tranquility, and defense. The federal government aimed to take care of the citizens’ welfare, ensuring that it would act in the interest of the whole nation, allowing every state with all its citizens to benefit from what the government could provide.
…Secure the Blessings of Liberty to Ourselves and Our Posterity
The final purpose of the Supreme Law of the United States is “to secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” (“The United States Constitution,” n.d.). These include the freedom from the tyrannical government and the Crown, the freedom to speak out, to do business, to study, to travel, and many other things that Americans enjoy today. The Founding Fathers wanted to secure these blessings for themselves and their children. Gouverneur Morris, the author of the Preamble mentioned these, because he wanted to emphasize the need to create a nation for liberty, opposing the tyranny of monarchy and dependence upon the king’s interests. What is more, the Framers of the Constitution did not just think about themselves, they wanted the future generations to enjoy liberty as well.
…Do Ordain and Establish This Constitution for the United States of America
The last words are important, because they are the logical ending of the first three. “We the People…do ordain this Constitution for the United Stated of America” (“The United States Constitution,” n.d.). These words tell what people ordain and for whom they do this. Besides, the word “ordain”, which is usually used as religious, reminds of the higher power of the united nation that “do ordain” the new document for a number of crucial purposes that will eventually bring happiness and welfare.
Summing up, the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America is the introduction to the Supreme Law of the country that indicates the six main purposes and tasks of the document, namely the formation of a union, the establishment of justice, the insurance of domestic tranquility, the provision of the common defense, the promotion of general welfare, and the security of the blessings of liberty. Being a one-sentence introductory statement without any legal force, it is considered a powerful and meaningful explanation of the main tasks and principles of the federal government and the ways it achieves nation’s goals and objectives.