What is the Constitution Preamble?
The United States Constitution’s Preamble is a brief introductory statement that sets forth the general principles and purposes of the Constitution. It is not a legally binding part of the document, but serves as a guide to understanding the intentions of the framers and what they hoped to achieve through establishing a new government.
The full text of the Preamble reads as follows:
“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.”
The Preamble was written during the Constitutional Convention in 1787, a gathering of delegates from 12 of the 13 original states (Rhode Island did not send representatives) who met in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation. The Articles, in effect since 1781, were widely seen as inadequate as they provided for a weak central government with limited powers.
During the Convention, it became clear that a complete overhaul of the government structure was necessary, and the delegates set about drafting a new constitution. Gouverneur Morris, a delegate from Pennsylvania, was credited with composing the final version of the Preamble.
1. Establishing the source of authority: By beginning with the phrase “We the People,” the Preamble emphasizes that the authority for the new government comes directly from the citizens of the United States rather than from a king or other external power.
2. Setting forth the goals of the Constitution: The Preamble lists six specific objectives that the framers hoped to achieve through the establishment of the new government: to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty.
Significance of the Constitution Preamble
The Preamble is significant for several reasons:
1. Emphasizing popular sovereignty: The opening phrase “We the People” is a powerful statement of the principle of popular sovereignty, which holds that the ultimate source of political power resides in the people themselves. This was a radical departure from the prevailing systems of government at the time, which were typically based on hereditary monarchies or other forms of elite rule.
2. Expressing the ideals of the American Revolution: The Preamble encapsulates many of the key ideals that inspired the American Revolution, such as the pursuit of justice, the importance of individual liberty, and the desire for a government that promotes the general welfare of its citizens.
3. Providing a concise summary of the Constitution’s goals: The Preamble offers an overview of the Constitution’s main objectives, making it an accessible starting point for those seeking to understand the document’s purpose and guiding principles.
National Archives. “The Constitution of the United States: A Transcription.” National Archives, https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution-transcript. Accessed 7 November 2023.
U.S. Senate. “The Preamble.” U.S. Senate, https://www.senate.gov/civics/constitution_item/constitution.htm. Accessed 7 November 2023.
Yale Law School. “The Preamble.” The Avalon Project, https://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/preamble.asp. Accessed 7 November 2023.