Thursday, June 5, 2014

Literal Authority of the Preamble


       I am not the first citizen to imagine fulfillment of the preamble to the constitution for the USA, but like other American-underground ideas[1], recent suggestions are hard to find. There was an auspicious beginning, especially in summer, 1787.
            Foremost, the signers of the 1787 Constitution were a unique 12 states' delegation, with 1/3 of participants dissenting and not signing. The Continental Congress authorized delegates to strengthen the Articles of Confederation of States, but they did more. In the early debates, delegates agreed that a nation was needed—a confederation of states was insufficient. Perhaps they were led by George Washington, who in his circular farewell[2] said:
[U]nless we can be enabled by the concurrence of the States, to participate of the fruits of the Revolution, and enjoy the essential benefits of Civil Society, under a form of Government so free and uncorrupted, so happily guarded against the danger of oppression, as has been devised and adopted by the Articles of Confederation, it will be a subject of regret, that so much blood and treasure have been lavished for no purpose, that so many sufferings have been encountered without a compensation, and that so many sacrifices have been made in vain.
The delegates positioned themselves to consider global political theories and apply good ideas to the unique characteristics of the American situation:  diverse people, abundant, distinct land, geography, isolation by oceans, natural resources, and a common language. Some delegates were reluctant to limit state powers or relinquish the confederation and did not trust collaboration by the people,  an anathema to the British. Some even left the convention intending to preserve the confederation, American theism, and over nonsense like "consent of the governed." The possibility for self-discipline by “We the People of the United States,” empowered with a republican form of government emerged. The document that authorized and limited a federal government in duality with the states’ governments, with the people giving up nothing[3], was signed by only 2/3 of the delegates on September 17, 1787.
But as soon as the proposed Constitution was published, popular politics came into play, and intentions changed to traditional governance under a god, as if such a thing exists. The problem is that no one who knows a god can collaborate with either people who know a god or people who claim they don’t know a god. That contradiction against reality has raged ever since, but has become false pride in "freedom of religion," held to be unique to America. Yet it is a false pride, based on a false claim: everybody should know my god---the only god.[4]
            Despite theism, the preamble has survived, and it literally states that willing people’s purpose is to establish a culture using civic goals. The civic goals do not exclude anyone’s god, and thus accommodate everyone’s god or none if the goals are observed. Yet the preamble denies imposing religious goals on the people.
            Theists and believers have labeled the preamble "secular," meaning any of anti-religious, anti-faith, anti-doubt, or areligious: It is none of those rather is civic. By "civic" I mean people collaborating for mutual living more than for the municipality, a tradition, or an ideology. The fact that political regimes throughout the nation’s history have imposed religious goals, be they “ceremonial”[5] or not, does not mean that the people cannot fulfill the civic goals. A civic people[6] who accept the civic contract of the preamble, perhaps updating the 1787 essence for current living, may require elected and appointed government officials to fulfill the preamble, assigning the various religious institutions to the private responsibilities for the believers.
            The Federalists seemed to hope that’s the way it would be, and we think Benjamin Franklin said: you have a republic if you can keep it. The First Congress ended the Franklin hope, by establishing governance "under God." Prior inhabitants left to our generation the privilege to establish republican governance instead of governance "under God," if we want to. I consider it our generation's opportunity and privilege.
            Alexander Hamilton3 addressed Anti-Federalist's objections that the 1787 constitution for the USA did not include the customary Bill of Rights. Hamilton mentioned familiar Bills, in some states and by Great Britain. He argued that a Bill is not necessary, because the constitution limits governance by the Union, limits the states, and leaves all other governance to the people; people are expected to discipline themselves. He wrote, in Federalist 84:

Here, in strictness, the people surrender nothing; and as they retain everything they have no need of particular reservations. "WE, THE PEOPLE of the United States, to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ORDAIN and ESTABLISH this Constitution for the United States of America." Here is a better recognition of popular rights, than volumes of those aphorisms which make the principal figure in several of our State bills of rights, and which would sound much better in a treatise of ethics than in a constitution of government.

(I don’t think “WE” is followed by a comma on the signed 1787 Constitution.) There is no reason to think the statement "the people surrender nothing"excludes any of the gods:  The people surrender nothing to the gods. It is tragic that the Federalists bargained a Bill of Rights in return for some states’ promises to ratify the Constitution, because the Bill of Rights politicized an otherwise promising Constitution, and without that bargain a different nine ratifying states might have emerged. The religion clauses alone have kept this country entrapped in Plato’s cave.[7] However, with understanding, we may recover.
It is important for theists to perceive Plato’s psychological prison, so that they can understand that in civic forums, non-theists consider god constructs weak arguments. Theists, like everyone else must establish their civic points, because religion has no standing in civic governance. That is not a US Supreme Court (USCS) opinion, but it is an opinion that represents civic justice. Civic governance requires collaboration, while collaboration is out of the question among religions, so far (see below). Religious institutions speak of “tolerance,” but none will brook tolerance: each person demands respect, despite conflicts with civic governance. But some theists claim their god authorizes them to kill infidels. Others claim their god commissions them to proselytize. Non-theists, who number some 75 million Americans, are reflecting, “Theists, please step out of your cave and enjoy what light does for your civic perceptions, despite your personal beliefs.” At least five US Supreme Court (USCS) justices suffer the cave of American “ceremonial religion, and perhaps all nine are so constrained.”[8] Personally, four are Catholic, 3 are Jewish, and one is Protestant/Catholic.
Lastly, upon citing the preamble, by skipping the other goals, especially "establish justice," Hamilton exercised a fatal exuberance of the post-revolutionary time:  failure to follow George Washington's 1783 message to citizens, in my paraphrase:  Your liberty is won, now you must establish domestic justice (farewell letter, June 8, 1783). All regimes since the 1789 beginning have resisted the establishment of domestic justice for Machiavellian reasons stated in "The Prince," Chapter XI: when your god is on your side, why worry? Look at 2017's dysfunction!
            The religion clauses in the First Amendment, imposed on America during the political negotiations of the First Congress, alone, has imprisoned America in untold billions of dollars in writing, research, and most of all lawsuits, let alone inhabitant's lives lost and delusional offenses against other nations. The First Amendment is a cause of domestic alienation and a deterrent to personal liberty.  David Hume would place little/no value on it.[9] All of that energy is spent on intellectual constructs about what nobody knows. Yet factions work the ignorance for political division. Factional Protestants vs Catholics; non-native Americans vs natives; black liberation theology for black supremacy vs white supremacy regardless of other skin colors; the Supreme Court vs the people. The 75 million non-religious are the largest, most long-term repressed minority in America!
The Supreme Court’s ceremonial religion was defined in 1776: "[R]eligion or the duty which we owe to our Creator . . . .”[10] But, if a plaintiff has standing, the court will hear plaintiff’s definition of religion, then judge the case based on the practical Constitution—the long history of religion cases. Each person’s religion is their psychological construct for how to accept the eternal unknowns (so far undiscovered), especially their personal beforelife and afterdeath.[11] It is a private deliberation into which believers may invite others or not, share or not, but not collaborate. Since the deliberation involves unknowns, anyone who claims to know is either delusional or intends to take advantage of the other person’s reluctance to accept uncertainty on their own volition. Mimicking a sentence from Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, "Woe unto the world because of [fear]; for it must needs be that [fears] come, but woe to that man by whom the [fear] cometh." Initiating and fostering fear of the unknowns is the blood of institutional religion. 
For these reasons and more, the First Amendment should be revised to protect each person’s duty and opportunity to develop integrity rather than civically supporting religion, a long-standing institution of fear (of what is speculated and yet unproven, perhaps false). Reviewing my published letters to the editor, my first proposal in this regard, on August 7, 1999, was to modify the religion clauses to: “Congress shall make no law respecting religion,” which, taking "respecting" to mean "attending to" or "protecting," would make law strictly civic (neither religious nor its antonym, secular[12]). But it seems President G. W. Bush taught us that an arrogant administration can conclude, “Hey, the First Amendment limits Congress, not [the administration],” and take action regardless of the possibility of a Supreme Court over-call. All three branches should be prevented from imposing religion on a person’s thoughts. Every person could understand this tyranny, but many have been indoctrinated to fear and have not reformed to discover themselves and their opportunity to develop integrity
Many people want religion---either contrived or imposed fear---for their reasons, such as "comfort," and that is fine, as long as they do not impose it on others. No one can persuade me to fear my death. Both elected and appointed officials of all governments in the US should not impose religion, even ceremonial religion, on others. Imagine the Supreme Court condoning ceremonial slavery in order to maintain an American tradition! They cannot, in domestic justice, impose ceremonial religion, fear of the unknown, on the people. Government needs a monopoly on public force, but has no authority for religious force, and this has been expressed by many writers. Yet the supreme court upholds legislative prayer in Greece v Galloway. The supreme court is bemused by Judeo-Christian tradition.
On searching the Internet for past celebrations of “We the People of the United States,” William Randolph Hearst, Jr. is frequently cited, and is credited in the history leading to Constitution Day, September 17. Here’s perhaps the key reference:

In 1939, the New York City news tycoon William Randolph Hearst suggested the creation of a holiday to celebrate American citizenship. [I]n 1940, Congress designated the third Sunday in May as "I am an American Day." President Harry Truman present (sic.) the resolution, setting aside this date in honor of the American people, especially those who had recently become citizens of the United States.
The holiday quickly gained support and popularity through the efforts of the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service. Additionally, in 1944, Hearst sponsored a 16 minute film titled I Am an American, which was featured in American theaters, and subsequently became a top news story. Within 5 years, the governors of the existing forty-eight states had issued state proclamations in agreement with the national holiday.
In 1953 . . . both the Senate and the House of Representatives . . . overturned . . . "I am an American Day" [which] became "Citizenship Day" and moved to September 17.[13]

I want to learn more about "I am an American Day," and how the day and its demise may have affected public regard for the preamble. Popularity of the parades and celebrations is evident through opinion letters, perhaps published in Hearst newspapers. For example:

William Randolph Hearst, McCloud, Calif. Maryland is greatly indebted to you for your sponsorship of patriotic exercises yesterday marking "I Am an American Day." Throughout state at various celebrations hundreds of thousands of citizens joined in impressive ceremonies. These stimulating events have instilled more intense American spirit in our people redounding to country's benefit through united patriotic action in every American endeavor. HERBERT R. O'CONOR, Governor of Maryland. Baltimore, Md., May 22, 1944.[14]
Neither of two biographies I researched mentions this activity by Hearst. He was so controversial; perhaps after his death in 1951 regimes discredited his legacy. I did find confirmation of legislative and executive approval of "I am an American Day" and its conversion to "Citizenship Day," soon after Hearst died:

Joint Resolution authorizing the President of the United States of America to proclaim I Am An American Day, for the recognition, observance, and commemoration of American citizenship, Chapter 183, 54 Stat. 178, May 3, 1940.
Joint Resolution designating September 17 of each year as “Citizenship Day,” Chapter 49, 66 Stat. 9, February 29, 1952.[15]

My curiosity about how the preamble was treated remains.

           I am not the first inhabitant to take the preamble seriously. For example, according to my understanding, “redslider” commented,[16] considering the words in the preamble--not yielding to other opinion:

More interesting to me . . . is the real standing of the Preamble itself. Often dismissed in technical or legal argument as 'not being law' or 'a statement of purpose or intent' or merely, 'introductory remarks', I give the Preamble a greater and preeminent place in the [sequel] from which the U.S. constitution is drawn. If you consider the place of the Preamble as both before and superior to the constitution then it begins to look very much like the essentials of the social contract from which the legal foundations of the country are derived and to which each clause of the Constitution must be measured and weighed. Indeed, I generally regard the constitution not so much as a guarantor of certain powers which the government may exercise and certain rights which I reserve, but rather as a barometer that can only measure our distance toward or away from the terms of the social contract.

Taking the Preamble as the social contract . . . casts a whole new light on the possibilities for fulfilling the range of terms enumerated in the Preamble: liberty, justice, domestic tranquility and so forth. Indeed, one such possibility permits us to end welfare altogether and yet guarantee that no citizen will ever lack the basic necessities of life. Another possibility is to focus on providing a country that works to be inviting to posterity (children, grand-children and beyond) instead of borrowing money for adult satisfactions. I’d like to hear redslider’s proposal for guaranteeing each citizen “the basic necessities of life.”
It seems unlikely that the preamble mediated the debates leading to the Constitution’s provisions in the articles, because it was composed at the end of the convention, when the committee of forms, led by Gouverneur Morris, did its work. However, Morris revised, "We the people of the states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts …." See Nevertheless, “taking the preamble as the social contract,” is similar to what I propose, except that my focus is on a civic contract, which does not limit harmless social associations, except by collaboration, so as to preserve each other’s personal pursuits of individual liberty with civic morality.
            The preamble can guide civic conduct of associations and thereby expedite just governance. The preamble charges the people to discipline self and supervise state and union according to stated civic goals. The articles that follow and comprise the constitution for the USA recognize that no one can directly govern each state and union, so each person’s duty is to stay informed and help elect  representatives with demonstrated integrity. Also, some people will not accept and make use of the goals, some even committing crime. Some persons do not even accept self-discipline, and if their errant behavior becomes evident to the public, they may suffer the law. These principles can be applied to associations. Associations are comprised of citizens, and informed citizens can make certain their associations accept and make efficient use of the goals in the preamble. If so, the branches of the US government could fulfill the preamble. The media could fulfill the preamble. Religious institutions could flourish in America, without civic division. Thus, the three major religions reportedly derived from perhaps a historical person, Abraham, son of Terah, would consider how they can accommodate each other as well as other religious and non-religious citizens and still serve their believers. For the sake of US domestic justice, each US religious institution would make those changes in their doctrine and make certain their doctrine conforms to statutory justice in the USA. Global management of those institutions could follow suit, perhaps leading to global religious peace and eventually global civic peace.
Citizens of 20178 are not constrained to the signers’ views on slavery, women’s rights, discrimination, theism, religion, protected classes, and many other controversies and downright civic errors. Citizens of 2018 have no obligation to maintain the tradition of claiming government divides them, when the preamble asserts personal duty to collaborate with each other, protecting no-harm private pursuits like personal gods and other art forms. On the preamble's agreement citizens divide themselves as willing citizens and dissident citizens.
If a super-majority, say 2/3 of citizens are committed to the civic goals of the preamble, adapted for 2018’s diversity, a people may discipline representatives to fulfill the preamble. That can happen if those citizens communicate directly, candidly collaborate for personal autonomy and mutual civic accommodation, requiring that avocations, religion, art, sports, travel, and other private interests be personal affairs that support civic integrity—do not conflict with civil law. No government sanctions are needed for people to volunteer to fulfill the preamble, both personally and through their personal associations. The super-majority could each set aside a day of each month to check a website, to consider what willing people are considering in order to fulfill the preamble, and then offer suggestions to which others could commit. Come voting time, they would maintain their independence—their personal liberty by voting according to their opinion. However, a civic people would promote voting.
            A civic people of the United States, the subject of this blog, have the opportunity to turn Abraham Lincoln’s vision of 1863 into reality. I mimic his dream: Collaboration of by and for a civic people will emerge.
            The preamble is a legal sentence, and a civic people can give it power, energy, and authority.

Copyright©2014 by Phillip R. Beaver, revised July 14, 2017. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted for the publication of all or portions of this paper as long as this complete copyright notice is included. Revised on July 2, 2018.

[1] For example, the idea that non-theists, perhaps author Susan Jacoby, have equal citizenship and are important in civic governance. Still suppressed are ideas of Ralph Waldo Emerson, especially in “Divinity School Address” (1838), Thomas Paine, and Robert Ingersoll.
[2] Washington’s circular letter of farewell to the army, June 8, 1783, online at . It disappoints me that Washington did not in his farewells as General did not thank the French for their contributions to the deciding victory at Yorktown, Virginia. However, the necessary treaties had not been signed, so his action is understandable.
[3] Alexander Hamilton. Federalist 84.
[4] James Madison. Memorial & Remonstrance. June 20, 1785, just two years before the Constitutional Convention. "Before any man can be considerd as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe."
[5] United States Supreme Court. Greece v Galloway, online at
[6] Note that this is a definition: a people is that portion of the people who use the preamble as a civic contract. There may need to be some adjustments for 2015 living. For example, the phrase “form a more perfect union,” may not be appropriate since the states are united and the people are diverse: no longer 99% Protestant and 1% Catholic excluding black-skinned inhabitants of 1789, the first year of federal government under the planned Constitution.
[8] Greece v Galloway.
[9] David Hume. An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Ed. 1777. “When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.”
[10] George Mason. Virginia Declaration of Rights. 1776.
[11] Afterdeath is defined here as that vast time after the mind, body, and person have stopped functioning. It’s probably akin to beforelife, defined here as that vast time before the person could make choices.
[12] A glance at any thesaurus would cause an open-minded person to resist her or his thoughts being labeled “secular.” See, e.g., . Whether a person wants to be considered open-minded is a matter of choice.
[16] redslider, online at: , coment by “redslider” April 17, 2004.