The Constitution – 230th Anniversary Edition

On September 17, 1787, the United States Constitution was signed and we became a new nation. Previous to this, we lived under the Articles of Confederation. These articles gave all power to each individual state, but none to the confederation. Without a federal government, issues like common defense, treaties, interstate commerce, and a common currency were not possible. Under the threats of economic collapse and other nations waiting to take over weak states, the Continental Congress gathered. They initially gathered to patch up the Articles of Confederation, but it was soon agreed upon to scrap them and start fresh. Six weeks later, the draft was completed and sent to committee to finish it.

Over the next few months, I’ll be discussing the Constitution, article by article. Others are also encouraged to write posts on the Constitution.

Today, we’ll look at the Preamble.

“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.”

1. We the People of the United States – this is the first nation in modern history created and approved by the people. No kings, lords, nor authoritarians imposed their will on the people.

2. In order to form a more perfect union – the Articles of Confederation failed to hold the individual states together. “Not worth a Continental” described the federal government.

3. establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare – herein lies the main purposes for the Constitution. Provide a federal judiciary, handle interstate commerce and disagreements, defense department, and PROMOTE general welfare.

Note that the Constitution and its Amendments constrain the federal government to a certain number of things it can do. The states and local communities are better able to handle most challenges, not as a one-size-fits-all federal program (most of which have grown out of control, are costly, and do not help individuals very well.

To promote general welfare is not the same as providing general welfare. To promote it means to open up the free markets, between states and with other nations. It means having a Federal government that does not overregulate anything and everything.

Also note that the Fed is to promote GENERAL welfare, not specific welfare. This opens up the question of why the Fed is involved in specific welfare issues like healthcare, retirement, education and welfare? Should the Fed be so deeply involved in these, or should they be left to communities and states? Such questions continue in Congress and statehouses, even though many of our federal programs are generations old.

As we look at the articles of the Constitution over the next several weeks, we’ll see exactly what the federal government is expected to do, and what things may be prohibited. Please share your thoughts in the comments.

11 thoughts on “The Constitution – 230th Anniversary Edition

  1. I always would play the School House Rock Preamble song to my American History kids …. they’d start out by thinking it was kind of stupid, but they’d know it by the end of the day, then they’d ask what the next song we were going to learn was.

  2. I love the Constitution. But it was not perfect as originally crafted. Which is why we needed amendments.

    For example, the Equal Protection Clause, didn’t become part of the Constitution until passage of the 14th amendment, in 1868. If the Equal Protection Clause had been part of the original Constitution (along with earlier amendments), then states wouldn’t have been able to legally abrogate the rights of a despised minority, as Missouri did to the Mormons in the late 1830s.

    Obviously there are those contending that much we have arrogated to the federal government more properly belongs at the state level. But there is a process for making these corrections, and it involves proceeding via law, legal petition, and election, not by mere argument amongst the populace.

  3. As a veteran history and government teacher, I recommend the book “The Words We Live By” by Linda Monk as a reference for those engaging in Ram’s ongoing discussion. This book was assigned to the incoming freshman at BYU about a decade ago. It is affordable, readable and reasonably unbiased.

  4. Meg,
    The Amendment process is what makes the Constitution a living document. It allows for change when necessary, but makes change hard, so that the changes are well thought out usually.
    We’ll discuss them more.

  5. Just to keep things interesting, I looked up the definitions of a few words.

    Promote: further the progress of
    General: affecting or concerning all or most people
    Welfare: the health, happiness, and fortunes of a person or group

    In other words, the Constitution grants the government to further the progress of the health, happiness, and fortunes of all people. Pretty broad, but that’s why we have the courts to interpret the Constitution.

    Granted, those are 2017 definitions. I tried finding a dictionary from 1787, as the meaning of words do change, but my quick Googling was unsuccessful.

  6. It would have been better to Tweet the Constitution a few sentences at a time and watch the Trump supporters react with their inane comments. 🙂

  7. “Promote General Welfare” in 1789 meant that the purpose of government was to ensure peace and prosperity. The Constitution is a document that is aimed at restricting government, and therefore if you read the document from that perspective the purpose of the clause was meant to *limit* what government does, not create an expansive definition of what government should do for the people. More here:

  8. Thank you for pointing me to the 1828 version and for the link. Definitely interesting to compare and contrast the framers’ different viewpoints on general welfare and the power of Congress to spend (i.e., Hamilton vs. Madison).

    So here are the definitions in Webster’s 1828 version:

    Promote: To forward; to advance; to contribute to the growth, enlargement or excellence of any thing valuable

    General: Properly, relating to a whole genus or kind; and hence, relating to a whole class or order

    Welfare: the enjoyment of health and the common blessings of life; prosperity; happiness; applied to persons

    The definitions of the words don’t seem to have drastically changed in 230 years.

  9. I think that the interpretation today is very different than what Madison, the Father of the Constitution, understood in his day.

    He viewed negative rights being preserved by the Fed. These are rights that are inalienable, natural rights that do not take from one to give to another.

    Today, many Democrats and Republicans believe in positive rights,
    forcibly taking from one person to benefit another. Often they put emphasis on government invented positive rights at the expense of unalienable natural negative rights. Safe zones create a protected class, while threatening freedom of speech, for example.

    The founding fathers would hate our current system of debt, taxation, excess spending, and meddling in the private affairs of individuals. This is why Madison promised a Bill of Rights for those who feared giving so much power to the Fed.

  10. Your statement, “articles gave all power to each individual state, but none to the confederation.” is a common misperception.

    each of the individual states/individually independent countries that had signed the articles of confederation kept all power they enjoyed as independent countries.
    Only with the adaption of the Constitution did they cede any powers to the central/Federal government.
    How much power these United States kept individually has been an ongoing debate since then. The high points being the Civil War deciding that states who had joined couldn’t leave. The imposition of the 13th and 14th Amendments in the wake of the Civil War then gave the Feds power to actually stick their power hungry noses into states internal affairs. Initially such power was culturally limited. But over time the Central Federal Government has gradually come to accrue the power you claim the central government failed to give these United States under the confederation.

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