Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Preambling into a new experiment in government

The Articles of Confederation had failed to achieve the vision of the leaders of the several states - the founding fathers, as we have come to call them - or at least those who were around back in the beginning we call founding fathers.

Why did they try again? They could have gone back to being individual states. They were pretty friendly with each other now, after the war.

They tried again because there were still enough people who believed in the obvious benefits of a formal union between the states - at least in the benefits of a common defense against unfriendly outsiders, and the regulation of commerce between the states.

Virginia probably didn’t care terribly much about how Massachusetts and New York conducted their internal affairs, and the feeling was probably mutual, but there WAS still a desire to cooperate in things that affected all the states: again, mostly commerce and the other things that were common problems and common opportunities. Speaking with one voice, on certain issues, at least, was recognized, even then, as being a valuable thing.

Still, nobody particularly wanted to give up any soveriegnty, either. Shades of the later EU.

So, the need for a Union - a more effective union than they had had under the Articles of Confederation - was still recognized. And the issue of soverignty - states’ rights - was still in need of a compromise being hammered out. Our present-day constitution is the result of that desire for a union, and that eventual compromise, spelled out in words.

In fact, the reason for the constitution is actually stated pretty clearly in the document itself, in the Preamble: “... in order to form a more perfect union... “

The complete statement of purpose - the entire preamble - reads as follows:

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, 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 capitalization of certain of the words was in the form of the day. They capitalized whatever words were important. Which is to say, whatever they felt like capitalizing. The rules of grammar were easier to teach back then: you made them up as you went along.

The actual constitution was written by a relatively few men, but the debate as to what points were to be put into it and how it was to be worded, involved many people. Then, once it was written, it had to be sold to all the states. Some of them weren’t buying at first.

[next: part two of 1,027 parts.]

(Well, I hope not.)

[Note: I can almost hear the wheels clicking and turning inside A.’s delightful head. “It was either perfect, or not perfect. If they didn’t like it the first time, then it could not have been perfect. If it were perfect, they would not have wanted to change it. Therefore, the purpose can not have been ‘to form a more perfect union’.” Sigh. Ah, well. Just chalk it up to the times: the founding fathers were just that way. They wore ruffled shirts. Puffy pirate shirts. They wore powdered wigs. That’s just the way they talked. They were... effusive.]  :)


  1. Thank you for doing my commenting for me. :) I was taught English grammar by a teacher who was of the same era as those men. She wore puffy clothes to hide her puffy body, and ought to have worn a wig too, powdered or otherwise.

  2. I can't read the preamble without thinking of the song in School House Rock. Is that a bad thing?

  3. @A. - But what do you think about the Preamble as a whole? I know you don't mind an amble. Does a preamble seem at all necessary?

    @Stephanie - Yes. A bad thing. Disrespectful. :)

  4. Hey you, good post. Jerry Seinfeld wore a puffy shirt. I can't help it, I know that was dumb but at least I am laughing.

  5. @Ettarose - Where do you think I got the idea of a puffy pirate shirt? Great minds think alike!

  6. Does a preamble seem at all necessary?Of course it's necessary, it's the best bit. I'm surprised you have to ask.

  7. Well, I have to ask. Why is it disrespectful to set it to music? I'm 41 years old and I've never forgotten the words to the preamble thanks to that song. (Yeah, yeah, apparently there is a whole section of my brain devoted to song lyrics). Isn't that what learning's all about?

  8. I agree with Stephanie B. I can resite the whole Preamble because of School House Rock and feel really smart when I do.

    Remember this one Stephanie B?
    I'm just a Bill, yes I'm only a Bill and I'm sitting here on Capitol Hill and then it's off to the White House where I'll stand in a line with a lot of other Bills for the President to sign and if he signs then I'll be a law, oh how I hope and pray that he will but today I am still just a Bill. :-)

  9. Ha, I know all the school house rocks (and I unashamedly bought the whole set for my kids), Sue. I know that one, and the one on women's sufferage, shot heard round the world, and elbow room (unabashedly excusing our ruthless imperialism), No More Kings.

    I don't doubt SHR is a factor in my STILL knowing my multiplication tables (including for 11 and 12). And I can sing all the ones on grammar except the one on the predicate and the one on pronouns.

  10. @A - Well just preamble right over here and see if can't promote some general welfare.

    God, wait until we get to the legislative branch. I'm not sure this is going to hold up.

    @Stephanie B - Because you are our youngest commentor, I will try and be tolerant of your singing. And Sue's. Good godamighty.

    Well, maybe not younger than Angelika. But then Angelika doesn't really comment, does she? Unless you count snide remarks.

    @Angelika - I was only kidding about you not commenting. As long as you are here, that's the main thing, right? :) I think so.

    @Sue - So you ARE still alive. I thought the Pooh had dragged you off into the woods and plied you with hunny and and and and had his bearish way with you. (Couldn't think of anything else to say there. :) So glad to see that was not true or that you survived if it were true.

    Yes, I was only a bill fresh down from Capitol Hill when Mr. President Bill took me against my will under his desk for a thrill along with Monica Jill (who had had her fill by then of President Bill) but cigars and a chill didn't stall THIS bill (although if looks could kill from Missy Monica Jill I'd be back up on the Hill far far from President Bill) but no! he picked up his quill and signed this sorry bill fresh down from Capitol Hill. I guess you know the drill.

  11. Ruthless Imperialism. Christ, my head is going to explode.

  12. For the record, I'm a superlative singer. :P

  13. Are you? Good. Sing then and get me off the hook here. This orbit is decaying rapidly. :)



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