I have always been intrigued with the opening phrase of the Constitution: “We the People . . .”
It goes without argument that the United States is the greatest nation to have ever existed in this world of ours. Called “The Grand Experiment” early in our existence as a country, it remains a work in progress. However, I fear we are moving further and further away from the intended purposes of this once fledgling nation.
“We the people” determined at that time that they would be free from the tyrannical rule of the British monarch. Taxes were increasing at an alarming rate in the 1700s (though they pale by today’s standards of taxation!). Forced taxation by the British Crown grew increasingly offensive to the colonists. The declaration, “No taxation without representation!” became the rallying cry for those who were fed up with King George and his ravenous appetite for all things colonial.
The Preamble to the Constitution states: 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.
A constitution is “a document or statute outlining the basic laws or principles by which a country or organization is governed.”
Let’s look at the Preamble in more detail. First you have the phrase mentioned at the top: “We the People of the United States.” We the People is a testament to the common man of that day in Colonial America. The Constitution, therefore, was to be a document emerging from the people of America. This was somewhat similar to the British Magna Carta of 1215. In that novel document, the king was forced to acknowledge certain rights of the people. Over time this document was changed, modified, and ignored so that when the colonists of the 18th Century came along, they resented the infringement of the Crown in their lives, both commercial and private.
When the Constitution was being written in 1787 it was understood that the strong-armed, heavy-handed manner of the king was no longer to be tolerated. The Government of the United States was to function at the pleasure of the American people.
“In Order to form a more perfect Union.” This line came as a result of the original Articles of Confederation (1777), which served its purpose, but was not adequate for the new Constitution. The Constitution would be “more perfect” than the original Articles.
“Establish Justice.” This is no small task! In that day people were treated with injustice by the British Crown, particularly when it came to laws and trade. One of the injustices that was particularly offensive was the British law allowing any British soldier to demand food and shelter from any citizen – like it or not.
“Insure domestic Tranquility.” As the nation emerged from the revolution, former soldiers of the revolution sometimes disagreed with new governmental laws and action. As in the landmark case of Shay’s Rebellion, a sizeable group of these men in Massachusetts grabbed their rifles and marched on their government. After being suppressed, it was believed that such rebellion was not good for the new country. Thus, such armed dissent was forbidden. Laws were written to provide adequate venues for grievances.
“Provide for the common Defense.” In an uncertain world, the new nation was keenly aware that they needed to band together in a common defense. No one state could stand against Britain, Spain, or France, or even certain powerful Indian tribes. They truly needed each other.
“Promote the general Welfare.” A strong national government that could ensure Justice, Tranquility, and Defense, would naturally promote the general Welfare of its people.
“And secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” This was the goal of the revolution – Liberty for all. To live as free men and women, and to enjoy the protection of a government that was to ensure their safety, was nothing short of intoxicating. Future generations had this hope.
“Do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” This final phrase says what the people have determined for the good of all. The “ordain” portion is a direct reflection in acknowledging God’s providential hand on this new nation. And the “establish” portion marks a new view of the way “We the People” choose to govern and be governed.
Everything about the Preamble itself, and the Constitution, has to do with “We the People.” Please remember this as we forge ahead in this presidential election year. The rights we have were obtained through the shed blood of American patriots. We dare not forget this or we will soon lose those rights, becoming servants of the government, instead of the government being the servant of “We the People.”
God bless America!