Article Image

IPFS News Link • Constitution

This Bill Of Rights Day Has Come And Gone, Let's Celebrate The Preamble

•, by Hans Zeiger

December 15th should be a day all Americans reflect on the unique blessings the Bill of Rights safeguards – the freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, and being protected from undue searches and seizures, to name just a few.

But Bill of Rights Day also offers us the opportunity to reflect upon another unique aspect of our republic: the Preamble to the United States Constitution.

Originally penned by Gouverneur Morris, the Preamble states, "We the People of the United States, in Order 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 to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain this Constitution for the United States of America."

And although today we can find little to argue with in such beautiful – and familiar – language, at the time of its framing, and immediately after, the Preamble was the subject of much debate, all intimately tied to the deliberations that resulted in the Bill of Rights.

Following the ratification of the Constitution, James Madison turned over a package of recommendations for a Bill of Rights to a House Select Committee on Amendments in 1789. In the committee's initial report, dated July 28, 1789, the very first proposal was an amendment to the Preamble. As the report put it, "In the introductory paragraph before the words, 'We the people,' add, 'Government being intended for the benefit of the people, and the rightful establishment thereof being derived from their authority alone.'"

Why amend the Preamble? It turns out that members of Congress from New York, Virginia, and North Carolina felt that "We the People" on its own was inadequate. According to these congressmen, some further explanation of the source of "rightful" government was in order, more explicitly connecting the Preamble back to the words of the Declaration of Independence to make clear that the people are the source of all legitimate governments.

In this proposed amendment, new text was to be incorporated into the body of the Constitution. Madison favored this approach, while Roger Sherman of Connecticut – the only Founding Father to have signed the Articles of Association, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution – opposed it.

Free Talk Live