Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Preamble to the Constitution

"...the Constitution is the guide, that I will never abandon." 
--George Washington to The Boston Selectmen, July 28, 1795

The Preamble to the Constitution has no force in law, nor is it a grant of power -- instead, it establishes the "Why" of the Constitution. Why did the Constitution come to be? It reflects the desires of the Framers to improve upon their previous government (to be "more perfect" than the Articles of Confederation), to ensure that that government would be just, and would protect its citizens from internal strife and from any foreign attacks. It is based on principles of natural law. It is intended to secure the blessings of liberty to the people and all future generations of Americans. We should become familiar both with the Preamble and the Constitution itself.

WE the People of the United States… “The Framers of our Constitution were trained and experienced in the Common Law. They remembered [the Magna Carta forged by] the barons and King John at Runnymede. They were thoroughly indoctrinated in the principle that true sovereignty rests in the people.” (J. Reuben Clark, Jr.). It confirms this truth in the Declaration of Independence that “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed;” and, it was “a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal …a government, of the people, by the people, for the people.” (Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address).

…in Order to form a more perfect Union The Framers were dissatisfied with the United States under the Articles of Confederation, and they were striving for something better. The framers desired that the new Constitution would form a more perfect union of both the states and the people. They knew that unity would prove essential to their future political success. George Washington stated, “you should properly estimate the immense value of your national Union to your collective and individual happiness …accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as the Palladium [safeguard] of your political safety and prosperity” (Farewell Address).

…establish Justice Injustice, unfairness of criminal and civil laws, especially in trade and taxation, was of great concern to the citizens of 1787. They wanted a nation of equal justice -- where courts would be established with uniformity, the laws administered with fairness and equity, and where trade within and outside the borders of the country would be open and unmolested. They longed for judges who would do their duty as faithful guardians of the Constitution.

…insure domestic Tranquility One of the events that caused the Constitutional Convention to be held was the revolt of Massachusetts farmers known as Shays' Rebellion. The taking up of arms by war veterans revolting against the state government was a shock to the system. Keeping the peace was on everyone's mind, and tranquility at home was a prime concern. The framers hoped that the new powers granted to the federal government in the Constitution would thwart seditions and such rebellions in the future.

…provide for the common defense The new nation was fearful of attack from all sides —and no one state was really capable of fending off an attack from land or sea by itself. With a wary eye on Britain and Spain, and ever-watchful for Indian attack, no state in the new United States could survive such attacks alone. The people and the states needed to bond together in order to survive in the harsh world of international intrigue and aggression.

…promote the general Welfare The whole point of having tranquility, justice, and a common defense was to promote the general welfare — to allow every state and every citizen of those states the benefits that the new republic could provide. The framers looked forward to the expansion of agriculture, manufacturing, trade and investment, and they knew that a strong national government would be the precursor. However, it is not a granting clause – i.e., it does not grant Congress (or any other branch) the power to legislate for the general welfare of the country, but is merely intended as a guidepost for the federal government to carry out its enumerated powers in promoting the common good.

…and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity The framers sought for the blessings of both civil and religious liberty — something they had all fought hard for in the Revolutionary War just a decade before. They desired to create a virtuous nation that would secure the unalienable rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to all citizens, and remain free from tyranny. And more than for themselves, they wanted to be sure that their children and future generations of Americans would enjoy the same.

…do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. In the final clause of the Preamble, "We the People" delegate and invest their authority in the new government, pronounce the official name for this great charter of liberty, and restate the name of the new nation for whom they are adopting the Constitution.

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Sunday, May 19, 2019

Thomas Jefferson as Father

During the Constitutional Convention (May 25 – September 17, 1787), Thomas Jefferson was serving as United States Minister to France. On February 28, 1787, the forty-four-year-old Thomas Jefferson left Paris on a three-month, twelve-hundred-mile journey to southern France and northern Italy. Traveling anonymously as a private citizen from Virginia, not as a diplomat, Jefferson paid his own way, and none of his Paris servants went with him. While on this journey, on May 21st he wrote to his 14-year old daughter “Patsy” (Martha Jefferson Randolph, 1772-1836) from the famous Canal of Languedoc in southern France [Jefferson also mentions his youngest daughter “Polly” (Mary Jefferson Eppes, 1778-1804), who was 8 years old at that time]. He first describes the chorus of birds along the waterway -- nightingales. He then significantly refers to the “object most interesting to me for the residue of my life” -- and what he believes is “the true secret, the grand recipe for felicity [or happiness].”

Letter from Thomas Jefferson to his daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson
May 21, 1787

I write to you, my dear Patsy, from the Canal of Languedoc, on which I am at present sailing, as I have been for a week past, cloudless skies above, limpid waters below, and find on each hand a row of nightingales in full chorus. This delightful bird had given me a rich treat before at the fountain of Vaucluse. After visiting the tomb of Laura at Avignon, I went to see this fountain, a noble one of itself, and rendered for ever famous by the songs of Petrarch who lived near it. I arrived there somewhat fatigued, and sat down by the fountain to repose myself. It gushes, of the size of a river, from a secluded valley of the mountain, the ruins of Petrarch's chateau being perched on a rock 200 feet perpendicular above. To add to the enchantment of the scene, every tree and bush was filled with nightingales in full song. I think you told me you had not yet noticed this bird. As you have trees in the garden of the convent, there must be nightingales in them, and this is the season of their song. Endeavor my dear, to make yourself acquainted with the music of this bird, that when you return to your own country you may be able to estimate it's merit in comparison with that of the mocking bird. The latter has the advantage of singing thro' a great part of the year, whereas the nightingale sings but about 5 or 6 weeks in the spring, and a still shorter term and with a more feeble voice in the fall.

I expect to be at Paris about the middle of next month. By that time we may begin to expect our dear Polly. It will be a circumstance of inexpressible comfort to me to have you both with me once more. The object most interesting to me for the residue of my life, will be to see you both developing daily those principles of virtue and goodness which will make you valuable to others and happy in yourselves, and acquiring those talents and that degree of science which will guard you at all times against ennui [boredom or restlessness], the most dangerous poison of life. A mind always employed is always happy. This is the true secret, the grand recipe for felicity. The idle are the only wretched. In a world which furnishes so many employments which are useful, and so many which are amusing, it is our own fault if we ever know what ennui is, or if we are ever driven to the miserable resource of gaming, which corrupts our dispositions, and teaches us a habit of hostility against all mankind. We are now entering the port of Toulouse, where I quit my bark; and of course must conclude my letter.

Be good and be industrious, and you will be what I shall most love in the world.

Adieu my dear child.
Yours affectionately,
Th. Jefferson