What America can learn from the Preamble

Published 8:00 pm Monday, August 3, 2015

The Preamble of the Constitution of the United States is a succinct introduction that establishes our framers’ goals for our government. The Preamble was actually written after our Founders had nearly finalized the text of the Constitution. In many ways, it served as a capstone — a finishing and protecting element. Although it doesn’t grant powers like the rest of the document does, it is nevertheless potent in its declaration of what the Constitution in its entirety means. That’s why the Preamble is often the first part of Constitution that American students memorize or study.

Today, there is a lot we can learn when we look at our nation through the lens of the Preamble. Here’s a look at each phrase of the Preamble and the important message it sends to our nation today.

  • “We the people of the United States,” The Preamble begins with a radical departure from the way government typically operated. At the time, most governments were headed by a monarch. In stark contrast, the Preamble introduces a government ruled of the people, by the people, and for the people — declaring that concept as the foundation for the rest of the document. Today, it reminds us of the exceptional nature of our government structure. It reminds us that it isn’t government that will sustain us. It is our people, because America is rooted in the rights of the individual.
  • “in order to form a more perfect Union,” America has never been perfect, but she has always been great. Our greatness comes, in part, from continuously striving to be better. The Preamble reminds us that our eyes should always be set upon making our nation as perfect as it can be. The direction of our nation tomorrow is dependent upon our ability to make difficult choices today, as well as posturing ourselves in a place of humility, acknowledging that we are always growing and learning, and that we can always do better.
  • “establish justice, insure domestic Tranquility,” These ideas introduced a shift in concept, from a rule of power to a rule of law: we who are governed by the law are both subject to it and protected by it. The Preamble reminds us that the rule of law and domestic tranquility are interconnected. The rule of law is a guardian thread running through every fiber of our government structure. Today, we must do our best to commit to the Rule of Law, for it is a necessary condition for justice and liberty to work and for tranquility to exist in our nation.
  • “provide for the common defence,” The freedoms and comforts we enjoy exist largely because our nation has placed great priority on a dedication to a well-guarded peace. The freedoms we enjoy are enviable to some and threatening to others. There will always be individuals who want to take them from us. The Preamble reminds us that to lack vigilance in our investment in our national defense fails a central tenet of our Constitutional duty. We cannot afford to cheapen our national defense. Today, more than ever, it is important that we ensure our men and women in uniform are the best-equipped, best trained in the world.
  • “promote the general welfare,” The Preamble reminds us that the government’s role in protecting the well-being and happiness of its citizens is to preserve our nation’s economic integrity, regulate commerce with foreign nations and encourage innovation, scientific discovery and creativity of its citizens. This phrase does not give government latitude to expand its role beyond the limits of the Constitution. Instead, it reaffirms its commitment to promoting the general welfare of every American by protecting their rights as an individual to grow a business, provide for their families, and set the nation up for success on a global stage.
  • “and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” Former President Ronald Reagan’s words help us to understand this phrase of the Preamble in the context of our modern world: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Our Founders established our nation with everything we needed to protect the freedom for our citizens, but it is up to us to secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our future generations.

  • “do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.” The Preamble as a whole declares our commitment, as a nation, to the Constitution, as the heartbeat of our government and the Supreme Law of the Land. As we look at the challenges we face today, let us be reminded that we have a document in front of us that serves as an incredible guide. We just have to commit to pursuing it.

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Congressman J. Randy Forbes represents Virginia’s Fourth District, which includes Suffolk, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Visit his website at forbes.house.gov.