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Preamble to the US Constitution

Preamble to the US Constitution

Introduction to the Preamble

The Preamble is considered the opening statement of the United States Constitution. This short and powerful paragraph lays out the fundamental objectives and principles of the Constitution. It begins with the famous words, “We the people,” which establish the intent of the document to serve the common good and welfare of all the citizens of the United States. Since its creation, the Preamble has played a vital role in shaping the American democracy and guiding its citizens in their pursuit of a more perfect union.

In this article, we will explore the history, purpose, and significance of the Preamble in the Constitution. We will examine how its role and interpretation have changed over time and what it means for the American democracy today.

The History of the Preamble

The Preamble was one of the first elements added to the Constitution during the drafting process. As the Constitutional Convention convened in Philadelphia in 1787, the delegates faced the daunting task of creating a new system of government that would unite the thirteen states under one federal umbrella and protect the rights of its citizens.

At the opening session of the Convention, the delegates elected George Washington as the president and agreed to keep the proceedings confidential. Over the next several months, they debated and drafted the various elements of the Constitution, including the articles, sections, and amendments.

Alexander Hamilton, a delegate from New York, introduced the Preamble as a statement that would set the tone and objectives of the Constitution. James Madison, often referred to as the “Father of the Constitution,” was the primary author of the Preamble.

The Preamble received little discussion or debate among the delegates, as it was seen as a harmless introduction to the more substantive components of the Constitution. Its language borrowed from the Declaration of Independence, which had declared that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The final text of the Preamble, as approved by the Convention, read:

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.

The Meaning and Purpose of the Preamble

The Preamble is often described as the “Why” of the Constitution, as it lays out the reasons and objectives for its creation. Through its concise and eloquent language, the Preamble expresses six key principles that define the American democracy and form the foundation of its government.

The first principle is “to form a more perfect Union,” which recognizes the early struggles of the United States as a confederation of states that lacked a strong central government. The Constitution sought to create a more unified and cohesive nation that could effectively address the challenges facing it.

The second principle is “to establish Justice,” which affirms the importance of fairness and impartiality in the law. The Constitution created a judicial system that is separate from the legislative and executive branches and tasked with interpreting and enforcing the law of the land.

The third principle is “to ensure domestic Tranquility,” which recognizes the importance of maintaining peace and order within the nation. The Constitution grants the federal government the power to quell and suppress insurrections and rebellions and promotes harmony and cooperation among the states.

The fourth principle is “to provide for the common defense,” which acknowledges the need for national security and protection against external threats. The Constitution empowers the federal government to raise armies and navies and to declare war when necessary to defend the country.

The fifth principle is “to promote the general Welfare,” which recognizes the importance of economic prosperity and well-being for all citizens. The Constitution grants the federal government the power to regulate commerce and promote the common good through policies such as social security, healthcare, and education.

The sixth and final principle is “to secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” which declares the importance of individual liberty and freedom for all citizens. The Constitution protects freedom of speech, religion, and the press and guarantees the right to bear arms and due process under the law.

Interpretation of the Preamble

Over the years, the interpretation of the Preamble has evolved and sparked much debate among scholars, politicians, and ordinary citizens. Some argue that the Preamble should be read as a statement of intent and purpose and should guide the interpretation of the entire Constitution. Others see it as a mere introduction that has little legal significance and should not be used to justify any particular interpretation of the Constitution.

Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, in his Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, argued that the Preamble had a “definite legal force and meaning” and provided a clear guide to the intent of the Constitution. He suggested that the Preamble should be used to resolve any ambiguities or conflicts in the interpretation of the articles and sections of the Constitution.

Justice Story’s view was not without controversy, however, as many legal scholars and judges have disagreed with his interpretation of the Preamble as having any substantive legal authority. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, for example, wrote in United States v. Darby Lumber Co. (1941) that the Preamble “has never been regarded as the source of any substantive power conferred on the government of the United States.”

Despite this debate, the Preamble has played an important symbolic and emotional role in the American democracy, often serving as a unifying and aspirational statement of national purpose. Its language has been invoked in numerous speeches, documents, and court cases as a means to inspire and motivate the American people towards a more perfect union.

Use of the Preamble in Recent Times

Recently, the Preamble has been invoked by politicians, activists, and citizens across the political spectrum to advocate for various causes and reforms. Some have used its language to promote social justice and equality, while others have cited it to defend individual liberties and freedoms.

For example, in July 2021, the Democratic-led House of Representatives passed the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which seeks to restore and strengthen the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In a press release announcing the bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi invoked the Preamble, stating that “we are taking action to protect the sacred right to vote for all Americans and to honor the Preamble of our Constitution.”

Similarly, conservative groups such as the Tea Party Patriots have used the Preamble to advocate for limited government and individual rights. In a statement on their website, the group argues that “the Preamble clearly outlines the reasons our Founding Fathers fought against British rule and established a government that was limited, respected individual rights and placed ultimate power in the hands of the people.”


In conclusion, the Preamble remains a vital and significant element of the United States Constitution. Its language expresses the essential objectives and principles that guide the American democracy and serves as a powerful symbol of national identity and purpose.

Despite its limited legal authority, the Preamble has been used in recent times to advocate for various causes and reforms and continues to inspire and motivate citizens towards a more perfect union. As we continue to strive towards a more just, equal, and harmonious nation, we should remember and reflect on the words of the Preamble and their enduring significance for the American democracy.

Jacobson v. Massachusetts was an important case for a number of
different reasons, ranging from the implications that the case had on states’¬†rights to coerce citizens in appropriate situations, to the effect it had upon¬†the very nature of understanding healthcare even in the modern-day world.

But the case had an effect which is often overshadowed by those more blatant issues of citizens’ rights versus states’ rights and healthcare policy established by the Government. The case actually asserted an important point regarding The preamble to the Constitution, helping to specify the Preamble’s place in court decisions and legal thinking.

The facts of the case boil down to a conflict between a single man, Jacobson, and the State of Massachusetts, over whether or not Massachusetts could force Jacobson to be vaccinated. Massachusetts passed a the statute in 1902 which would require all citizens who had not been vaccinated at some point during the past 5 years to become vaccinated or to pay a fine. Jacobson, however, refused both to be vaccinated and to pay the fine. He sued on the argument that the Massachusetts statute infringed on his liberty and sought to have his position supported through law.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled against him, however, so he appealed to the United States Supreme Court. They decided against Jacobson, ruling that Jacobson’s refusal to accept the vaccination was not so much an act of individual choice, as it was an act endangering those around him. He was accepting the benefits of everyone else had received the vaccine without having gotten it himself. Furthermore, this was a situation in which the State had the power to force citizens to act in certain ways in order to protect the common good.

The case established the concept of manifold restraints to action which each citizen inherently accepts in being a citizen in order to make the overall society function. There was some dissent, as the decision was a 7-2 decision, but the decision was accepted, in general, primarily because it was a decision so clearly in favor of the public. Jacobson’s disbelief in the science of vaccination was not based on sound evidence and the general public welfare was helped by the prevalence of the vaccination.

In terms of the Preamble to the Constitution, however, Jacobson v. Massachusetts had a different effect. The Preamble does not have any legal power within the Constitution. It is an introduction to the document as a whole and does not, in and of itself, allow the exercise of any kind of legal power. This was confirmed and established in the Syllabus of the decision for Jacobson v. Massachusetts. The syllabus opened up with a statement on the fact that the Preamble did not confer any powers to the Government or to citizens, and the only power that can arise from the Constitution must come from elsewhere, not
the Preamble.

The spirit of the Constitution can be understood through the Preamble’s words, but actual legal power would not arise from the Preamble. This means that for all that the Preamble to the Constitution may provide a the strong basic framework for understanding the intent behind the Constitution as a whole, the Preamble cannot be taken as directly legally relevant in providing rights or powers either to the citizens or to the State.

In this particular case, the State’s actions were actually found to be in accordance with the intent of the Constitution as described in the Preamble. This would not have been enough to push the decision in Massachusetts’ favor if there had not been a law on the books for acting as it was, but it was enough to confirm that Massachusetts was in the right.