The Preamble to the Constitution Explained

The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States is a one-sentence introduction that explains the purpose of the document. It is written in general terms and neither assigns nor limits the powers of the government. Following is the text of the Preamble and an analysis of it phrase-by-phrase:

“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–Although the framers of the Constitution were a small group of elite men who in their time were among the most brilliant in the world, they began the document with the assumption that the Constitution was created by the common people. The United States would be a government of the people who owed no allegiance to a king or any other authority. The framers feared that a government ruled by a small, elite group could potentially lead to a revolt by the common people and result in chaos or even anarchy, which is the absence of any government at all.

of the United States–The Articles of Confederation gave the United States its name. However, under the Articles the power of the central government was relatively weak. The concept of a strong central government made up of states with certain powers of their own is exemplified in the Constitution by the creation of the two houses of Congress. Each state would be represented by two members in the Senate, allowing the states to have equal representation. However, the House of Representatives would divide the states into districts with the number of seats per state determined by population, thus allowing more highly-populated states a greater representation.

in Order to form a more perfect Union–The framers of the Constitution wanted to improve upon the Articles of Confederation. The Articles were good, but the framers believed they could do better. The nation would not be just a loose confederation of states but a unified federal republic.

establish Justice–Because laws among states varied, there was often unfairness in commerce and trade within and between states. The Constitution addresses this issue in the “commerce clause” (Article I, Section 8, Clause 3.) It grants Congress power over trade among the states and with foreign nations. The Constitution also authorizes only the U. S. government to coin money, ending any disparity among the states with regard to minting.

insure domestic Tranquility–Following the armed uprising against the State of Massachusetts known as Shays’ Rebellion, the framers hoped to prevent future attacks against state governments by creating a stronger central government.

provide for the common defence–Although each state was allowed to have its own militia under the Articles, the framers understood that a strong, unified military would be the best defense against foreign attacks.

promote the general Welfare–The connotation of the term “welfare” during the time of the Constitutional Convention was not the same as today. Welfare was then defined as a general well-being, including justice, tranquility and security, not providing for the poor as its meaning is understood today. The framers desired a nation where the opportunity existed to create prosperity through business, industry and investment in property.

secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity–The framers’ goal was a nation where all its citizens could enjoy the liberty that was denied them under the monarchies from which they fled. They also looked to a future in which their descendents could enjoy these freedoms as well.

do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America–The ending phrase names the Constitution and the nation it represents. The word “ordain” implies a supreme power and that “We the People” who created the document are the ultimate authority of the government. The word “establish” means the Constitution replaces the previous document–the Articles of Confederation.