Wednesday, December 24, 2008

We the People

Son's social studies teacher is offering extra credit to any student who will get up in front of the class and recite the Preamble to the Constitution. Son really wants the extra points, so I got out my Schoolhouse Rock DVD and found The Preamble.

Reading through the Preamble led me to a deeper appreciation of what the founders of our country were trying to accomplish. The language may seem a little florid to contemporary readers, but one could easily make it into a Powerpoint slide, if Powerpoint weren't one's mortal enemy.

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.
We the People of the United States
The government of the United States derives its power from the people. This power isn't conferred by a foreign or higher power. Neither king nor god gives any permission for the governed to govern themselves. The government exists because of the people.

in Order to form a more perfect Union,
The founders of this nation were writing a new plan for the government to supersede the plan outlined in the Articles of Confederation. The new plan was intended to be better, or more perfect, than the old one. Yes, contemporary use of "perfect" implies an absolute, but there is some beautiful poetry in this prose.

establish Justice,
The early Americans had been treated unjustly by the British king for years, and this explicit call to human justice is really inspiring.

insure domestic Tranquility,
They seemed to be tired of conflict and war, and wanted the interactions between the people of this nation to be peaceful.

provide for the common defence,
But, knowing that it was unreasonable to assume that there would never be conflict, we needed to be prepared to defend ourselves against people and nations that wanted conflict over peaceful relations. I'm interested that this clause mentions "defence" but not war. The founders seemed to want mostly to be left alone.

promote the general Welfare,
I love this. Am I my brother's keeper? In the sense that we live by the social contract, and that our government has a vested interest in providing some basic services for the people of the nation.

and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,
I got a little verklempt here. This isn't just about us, but about what we can do for future generations. If we make the world better now, maybe our children can make it better than we were able to.

do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
We declare this to be so, with the authority granted us by the people of the country that was already called the United States of America by virtue of the Articles. And then we wrote it down.

Whether other people read this the same way, or whether we've done an A+ job of living up to those ideals as I read them is another discussion, but the sentiments expressed are very well thought out and inspiring to me.


hwqe said...

Defense is intertwined with war. I view your thoughts on this differently.

We may come to the defense of Ourselves, Our Society and Our Nation. The Nation requires Nation State framework and We provide that via the Constitution.

War is a legitimate defense as long as it is just.

But where it does get interesting is in the sections. Congress has the right to declare war. (To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water). But States are restricted and can only fight if they are invaded or in imminent danger. (No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.)

There is a debate though that fits your thoughts, that the Federal Government is also restricted like the states and can only have war if they are invaded or in imminent Danger (Very ambiguous statement)

But I don't think the above statement is written for the Federal Government.

GDad said...

I agree that defense is intertwined with war. It just seems that the language is indicating that the founders were more interested in minding their own business (at least at that time) than preparing for offensive wars. Of course, the Preamble is not often the determining factor in constitutional interpretation, so YMMV.

I'd also be interested in a discussion about what makes a war just. I doubt that the Blogger comment engine is powerful enough to record all of the thoughts on *that* issue.

Bill said...

A couple of months ago I toured James Madison's home, Montpelier. It is still being restored, but most of the work is completed. Nearly all of the rooms are empty, so that the plaster walls can cure properly.
Upstairs in his library, where he wrote most of the Constitution, I unexpectedly felt tingly (and nearly tearful). Far from a perfect man, he was the chief crafter of a magnificent document which continues to guide - and confound - us.
I wish Son success with this school project!