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ANNOTATIONS ON THE ANALYSIS
CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES.
We, the people of the United States, 1. In order to form a more perfect union ; 2. Establish justice; 3. Insure domestic tranquillity; 4. Provide for the common defense ; 5. Promote the general welfare; and, 6. Secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our pos
terity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. 1.
$ 1. 1st. The Preamble is an exposition of the objects and purposes of the Constitution. Unlike the Articles of Confederation, which were an agreement or compact between the States as such, the Constitution is a compact of the PEOPLE. The first line of the former document shows that the bargain is between the States : on the contrary, the first line of the Preamble to the Constitution shows that the agreement is by the PEOPLE.
2d. Observe, the Preamble begins with, “We, the People ;” and what they purposed to do was for themselves and their posterity
States can not properly be said to have posterity. The Articles of Confederation were never submitted to the people for their approval in any such direct manner as the Constitution was.
3d. The first object expressed in the Preamble is, to form a more perfect union; that is, a more perfect union than had existed under the Confederation. The government, under the former system, had been found by experience to be inadequate to the wants of the people. The Union was so imperfect as to be almost unworthy of the name.
4th. Its imperfections as a national government appeared from the collision of interests between the States; their commercial aggressions upon
each other; the laws of retaliation for real or imaginary injuries, which they did not hesitate to pass; the dangers from foreign interference, as well as the actual advantage which had often been taken of our weakness, all of which threatened the dismemberment of the Union under the Confederation.
They demonstrated the necessity of a more powerful federal government, and a more perfect union of the people of the United States.
§ 2. 1st. A government having no judiciary that commands the respect of the people is wanting in one of the essential elements of stability. To establish justice was, therefore, the second object to be secured by the new Constitution.
2d. Under the Confederation, there was nothing that could be called a national judiciary. The State legislatures were often led to pass laws favoring their own immediate and respective localities, and State courts did not hesitate to disregard the decisions of co-ordinate tribunals of neighboring States.
3d. Treaties formed between the Confederacy and foreign nations were recklessly disregarded by the State legislatures as well as by the State courts. In several instances, this open disregard of the plighted faith of the nation threatened to involve the whole country
4th. Laws were passed by the State legislatures, in many instances, in open defiance of the sacredness of private contracts between
man and man. Remedies for the recovery of debts were suspended. Debtors were authorized to tender any sort of property, even though nearly worthless, in payment of debts that had been contracted to be paid in money.
5th. Insolvent laws were enacted by some of the States, the effect of which, when applied to the relations of debtor and creditor, practically amounted to a complete discharge of indebtedness without consideration.
6th. Laws were also passed making the most unjust and invidious distinctions in favor of the citizens of the States enacting them, and against foreigners and citizens of neighboring States. In fact, the American judiciary became a matter of contempt at home, and of burlesque abroad.
7th. There were other evils that called loudly for remedy. Some related to the welfare of our foreign commerce ; Some to the conflict of interests between citizens of different
Some to the relief of foreigners who had given credit to our citi
Others related to territorial disputes between different States ; and still others,
To titles of lands under grants from different States.
So loose and reckless had the legislative and judicial administration of affairs become, that it was conceded by all parties, that, unless some effectual remedy were applied, our political institutions must crumble into ruins. To establish justice, therefore, was a leading purpose of the authors of the Constitution.
§ 3. 1st. To insure domestic tranquillity was another of the expressed objects of the new Constitution. Domestic contentions, as may be inferred from what has already been said, were not unfrequent.
2d. Whatever foreign influence, State jealousies, commercial rivalries, legislative retaliations, disputes about boundaries and State jurisdictions, and perpetual failure to administer justice through the
State Courts, could accomplish to foster domestic discord, had been done from the close of the Revolution to the adoption of the Constitution. Hence the whole country was anxious for domestic tranquillity.
$ 4. 1st. The common defense was not properly provided for under the Confederation.
A people not prepared for war, and known not to be, will constantly be liable to aggressions from neighboring nations. On the contrary, a nation known to be prepared will be quite unlikely to be attacked. A weak nation is never formidable, and will never command the respect of its neighbors.
2d. Congress, under the Confederation, as we have seen, could recommend, but could not enforce, measures for the common defense. They could not even declare war, nor exercise any of the war-powers, without the concurrence of nine of the thirteen States; nor, even when they had declared war under these restrictions, should they do so, could they force into service a single soldier. Sound statesmanship demanded, therefore, that something should be done to provide more effectually for the common defense. By reference to the warpower in the Constitution, it will be seen that this provision has been made.
$ 5. 1st. The duty to promote the general welfare of its citizens properly devolves on every national sovereignty. It is indeed, or should be, the primary purpose of every government. The individual States of America had not the means, nor have they now, to secure this desirable object. It requires larger resources than belong to a single State.
2d. Stretching over such a vast extent of territory as the States of this Union occupied during the last century, and more especially as they are sure to occupy before the close of the present, isolation of State interests is out of the question. What concerns one State, in a greater or less degree, must concern all. There is not a State in this Union, for instance, which has not an interest in the harbors of New York and New Orleans.
From our geographical peculiarities and relations, it would be impossible to guard the interests of commerce, agriculture, and manufactures, without the agency of a more plenary power than belongs to a single State.
3d. This clause, “the general welfare," doubtless refers more especially to the affairs of commerce; and this is an interest that pervades all other interests of a great, growing, free, and industrious people. The clause means more than this, however. It is general in its character, inserted not only in the preamble, but in the Constitution itself, in the enumeration of the powers of Congress. In fact, the whole Constitution is directed to this end.
4th. From the poverty of language, it would be impossible to specify, within any convenient limits, all the powers which a government like that of the United States might at some time find it necessary to exercise, and under some possible emergencies.
And although fears may be indulged in some quarters, that, under a clause of such broad signification, some of the departments, especially the legislative, and perhaps the executive, may overreach and go beyond their prerogatives, yet the ballot is the remedy in the one case, and impeachment in the other.
$ 6. 1 st.
“To secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” is the closing language of the preamble. It is an appropriate climax. It briefly expresses the whole purpose of human government.
Give me liberty, or give me death !” exclaimed the immortal orator of the Revolution. Without political and religious liberty, life itself would become valueless, and existence a burden ; with it, we may have all that is valuable in earthly institutions. For, if a nation enjoys liberty, its citizens have the means of enjoying every other earthly blessing.
2d. But the patriotic authors of the Constitution were not content with this sacred boon for themselves merely: they were earnest to perpetuate this inestimable blessing to the remotest posterity.
There was a sublime disinterestedness in the arduous and hazard.