The preamble introduces the Constitution and states its underlying purposes and guiding principles. The preamble reads:
“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.”
While the preamble does not have any legal standing on its own, it helps to interpret the Constitution by setting out the framers’ intentions. The courts have referred to the preamble at times to clarify the meaning of the Constitution and to expound upon the framers’ intentions.
Guiding Principles in the Preamble
The preamble lays out six core purposes and principles of government:
- To form a more perfect union
- To establish justice
- To ensure domestic tranquility
- To provide for the common defense
- To promote the general welfare
- To secure the blessings of liberty
These broad goals shaped the content of the Constitution and established the nascent government’s responsibilities. The framers outlined a structure and powers intended to effectively pursue these commonly held goals.
Relationship Between the Preamble and Articles/Amendments
The articles and subsequent amendments provide the legal means for the government to carry out the general mandates stated in the preamble. For example:
- Article I, Section 8 gives Congress the power to provide for the common defense and general welfare.
- Article III establishes the Supreme Court to help ensure domestic tranquility through the rule of law.
- The Bill of Rights (Amendments 1-10) protects individual liberties and justice.
The preamble provides guidance for interpreting the proper scope and limits of the more detailed articles that follow. The goal is to interpret the Constitution in a manner consistent with achieving the purposes laid out in the preamble.
Legal Status of the Preamble
The preamble does not directly confer any power or restrict any government action. However, it has been referenced by courts to help answer questions about constitutional interpretation. For example:
- The Supreme Court relied on the preamble in Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905), which upheld a state’s compulsory vaccination law as promoting public health, a legitimate goal under the preamble.
- In United States v. Sprague (1931), the Court cited the preamble when finding the Constitution granted the federal government power to punish criminal conduct on U.S. waters.
While such references lend support to an argument, the preamble on its own cannot compel a particular outcome. Overall, the preamble provides guidance, rather than legally binding requirements, for the broader Constitution.
The preamble introduces the aspirations and purposes of the Constitution. While it does not carry any legal authority itself, the preamble provides interpretive context for understanding the detailed articles and amendments that follow. By setting forth the framers’ motivations and objectives, the preamble plays an important role in constitutional interpretation and analysis.