The Preamble to the United States Constitution

Most institutions, businesses, and community organizations have a mission statement designed to declare their goals and beliefs.  The United States Constitution also begins with a mission statement.  It is called the preamble.  Students of my generation were required to memorize the preamble, and many of us can still recite the noble statement without sneaking a peek.  I doubt that is true today, but you can prove me correct or not by asking the young people in your lives.

For thirty years in public education, I taught a unit on the Constitution, always beginning with a lesson on the preamble.  A way to teach this 52 word statement is to connect the first six words and the final twelve words into one sentence that reads “We the people of the United States do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”  Every word in between that sentence states the purposes for the Constitution.  With that sentence in mind, it is now possible to examine those purposes.

First, “in order to form a more perfect union.”  Note that the Founders did not say a perfect union for they understood that we live in an imperfect world and that trying to form a perfect union simply leads down the path to a utopian dead end.  Rather, their goal was the realistic one of trying to form a more perfect one or perhaps at least one that is less bad.

Next  they called for justice.  Simply put that is a nation that is fair, one that tries  for a level playing field where everyone has the opportunity to work toward their individual dreams.  

Next, “domestic tranquility (peace) and common defense.”  Simply put, the government's greatest obligation is to keep its citizens safe from foreign foes and from each other.  This is only possible if society is, for the most part, civil and responsible.

Next, “promote the general welfare.”  This calls for our government to create a place where people can work to provide themselves with life's necessities and hopefully enough extra to enjoy what makes them happy.

Finally, “secure the blessings of liberty for themselves and their posterity.”  Posterity, of course, refers to those who come after us.  Each generation is responsibility for making this a reality.  Liberty is always one generation away from extinction.  

It is my hope that you will join me in reminding those around you of the important ideas in the brief preamble to our Constitution, which by the way, is the oldest continuing Constitution in the world today.

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