Friday, December 19, 2014
9: Refine the United States Constitution
The 1787 preamble states that “We the People of the United States . . . do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Now, 227 years later, it was completed in 1791, has been amended often, and is compromised by both judicial opinion and unchallenged federal action. So, if people of today want to modify the preamble for modern purposes, what would be the purpose of the eight goals already discussed, or perhaps the ninth and summarizing goal of a people?
One thought is to refine the Constitution. Discovering and improving both obsolescence and injustice is a winnowing process. This would relieve concern that the American’s Creed states a belief in a government rather than a people.
There’s another problem with the critical last phrase of the preamble: the preposition “for.” The 1787 delegates were sent to Philadelphia by the Continental Congress to improve the Articles of Confederation. The title designated by the Articles of Confederation was “The United States of America.” So, the preposition “for” seems to fulfill the commission, with the exception that the delegates proposed replacement of the Articles of Confederation. The preposition could be taken to imply that “We the People of the United States” does not indicate the inhabitants and is merely a metaphor for the Continental Congress. Again, Patrick Henry’s heartfelt entreaty to replace “We the People of the United States,” with “We the States,” indicates resistance to control by anything but the Union of States, or its designated leadership, the Continental Congress.
However, when nine of thirteen states ratified the 1787 Constitution, on June 21, 1788, the primacy of the Continental Congress was dissolved into powers balanced between the executive, the Congress, and the Court. That balance of powers survived the Bill of Rights, which was ratified on December 15, 1791, completing the intended United States Constitution.
The Constitution grants the federal government limited, designated powers, all other powers being reserved to the States or the people. Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist 84 claims, “Here . . . the people surrender nothing.” This point perhaps clarifies the meaning of the phrase “We the People of the United States,” instead of simply “We the People.” Thus, the people in the states comprise the inhabitants of the nation, and civiclly govern if they will.
The reality that not all persons want to use the principles stated in the preamble is represented by the proposed phrase, a people, to represent those who use it for civic governance, keeping private governance private. Thus, a person may suffer the law on illegal conduct but cannot suffer for either civic opinions or private thougths and practices. Following a tradition of 70% affirmation of the preamble, we hope 70% of inhabitants will be of a people.
As a starting point for discussion, we propose that the predicate phrases in the 1787 preamble be changed to nouns, with the leading prepositional phrase changed from “in order to” to “govern in.” For example, “in order to form a more perfect union” becomes “in unity.” Then, the closing preposition “for” changes to “and refine.” Thus, there are perhaps eight nouns and one verb comprising the goals.
Copyright©2014 by Phillip R. Beaver. 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.