Let’s Learn The Constitution! Part I: The Preamble

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So many people in this still-great country don’t know what the Constitution actually says.  Few have ever read it straight through (it’s not that long!), and it often seems that many of those few are in positions of authority to act in the name of the Constitution.  (Note: this is more than just legislatures, judges, and executives, but also police officers and sheriffs, and of course teachers, among others!)

Thus, I wanted to here begin the work of understanding the Constitution for MYSELF.  I’ll break it out piece by piece, and research what I can about what’s been said about it and what it should and does mean for us.

The Preamble of the Constitution

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 [sic], 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 first thing to notice is that the constitution is forming a more perfect Union.  More perfect than what?

Than the system that existed before it: The Articles of Confederation, which established the “perpetual Union,” and which were the actual basis of the Union now being re-organized.

Much like the introductory sentence of a paragraph, or the introductory paragraph of an article, this is telling you what you’re about to be told.  No powers are defined, but the general aim is laid out, one which will help  folks live more peaceably together, to thrive, to live justly, and to be defended, all while ensuring “the Blessings of Liberty” persisted perpetually, to “our Posterity” (i.e., many successive lines of children).

I take this last part as the KEY POINT of the preamble.  Why?

Because only this part mentions something to be perpetual, much like the union in the articles before.  A just, tranquil, defended society in which general welfare can thrive are all necessary so that the blessings of liberty might be enjoyed by the present and all subsequent generations.

Consider this part of the infamous Dread Scott decision:

 “The brief preamble sets forth by whom [the Constitution] was formed, for what purposes, and for whose benefit and protection. It declares that [the Constitution] [was] formed by the people of the United States; that is to say, by those who were members of the different political communities in the several States; and its great object is declared to be to secure the blessings of liberty to themselves and their posterity. It speaks in general terms of the people of the United States, and of citizens of the several States, when it is providing for the exercise of the powers granted or the privileges secured to the citizen. It does not define what description of persons are intended to be included under these terms, or who shall be regarded as a citizen and one of the people. It uses them as terms so well understood, that no further description or definition was necessary. But there are two clauses in the Constitution which point directly and specifically to the negro race as a separate class of persons, and show clearly thathey were not regarded as a portion of the people or citizens of the Government then formed.” (Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393, 410–11 (1857))

Now the part in bold does a fair job of underscoring that liberty is the primary aim, even while the italicized part shows that the biases of the time would work, for a while, to avoid bestowing said liberty on all.  (Don’t worry, an amendment [#14] will bestow liberty to all.)

So, the question which needs answering here is:

“Quid Est Libertas?”

“What exactly does liberty mean?”
This will be a theme to which we shall return again and again and again.  I think the basic answer is: freedom from un-necessary intrusions on life.  But this balance is fragile, and, as Jefferson notied,

The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.

Liberty, in the mind of Jefferson, was something directly contrary to too much government.  And government, over time, tends to bloat itself (even if it doesn’t mean to).   What is being set up in the constitution is a system which will, hopefully, be able to avoid the accretions of government that slowly usurp the liberty of the citizenry.  If it cannot succeed, the union will fail because liberty will fail in the face of insurmountable government bloat.
Mancur Olson’s book, The Decline and Fall of Nations, which is going on 30 years old, made precisely that point.  Part of this bloat comes from interest groups, (“collusions” or “distributional coalitions,” in his terms) which eventually spell doom for the societies they inhabit. They’ve massively proliferated, from 6,000 in 1959 to 22,000 at the beginning of the 21st century, according to the Encyclopedia of Associations.  These are various factions which creep into the government and attempt to sway things in their favor over and against others.
James Madison, said it best when he defined a “faction” in Federalist Paper 10 as:
A number of citizens, whether amounting to a minority or majority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.
And that’s where we are today.  Various groups are vying against each other for dominance over others, which is the antithesis of what the Union was seeking to establish:  freedom from the meddling of said others, i.e., Liberty.

Liberty and The Republic

Know Your Rights.  Protect Your Rights.

There’s a saying: “If you don’t know your rights, you don’t have any.”  This series of posts is to help you learn your rights.  Once you know them, it’s equally important to Protect Your Rights.

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