The Purpose of the U. S. Constitution
On September 17, 1787, 39 men stood up in Independence Hall, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and signed the United States Constitution. Its 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.”
What is the purpose of the Constitution?
After the American War for Independence concluded with the Battle of Yorktown (1781) and the Treaty of Paris (1783), the United States was under a weak form of government established by the Articles of Confederation. Actually, that sentence should read “… the united States were …” because they were hardly a unit or nation; instead they were a loosely united confederacy of sovereign and independent states, and according to the Articles of Confederation, were united merely by “a firm league of friendship.” (1) One can understand how 13 different colonies, with different state governments and different interests, after a long, hard war, would be competing amongst another for superiority in matters of interstate trade, in matters of legislation in the Continental Congress, and other important matters. It became clear that the states were extremely unwilling to sacrifice their own local interests for the sake of the unity of the Union. To many Americans, but particularly to the Founders who had fought during the Revolutionary War – men like George Washington, Henry Lee, Alexander Hamilton, Noah Webster, and others, who had suffered under such an unstable government – that a more energetic form of government was necessary to fix the problems of the Union.
After a long train of complicated events, a meeting was called at Annapolis, Maryland, in the year 1786, which convened mainly for the purpose of solving trade problems between the states. All of the states were asked to send delegates to this meeting, but, as illustrative of the dominant self-interest of the states, only five of the states fulfilled the request. Only New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Virginia sent delegates to the Annapolis Convention.
The implications of this meeting were far greater than merely resolving trade disputes between the states, however; it was this Convention that led directly to the convention which framed the Constitution. The resolution of the meeting was a petition to Congress, that a Convention be held in May of 1787 which would revise the form of government as given through the Articles of Confederation, which would “provide for the exigencies of the Union.” (2)
This resolution was adopted by Congress, which required the states to send delegates to Philadelphia in order to revise the Articles of Confederation in order to “provide for the exigencies of the Union.” This time, all the states sent delegates to the convention, with the exception of Rhode Island, which feared that the Convention would be dominated by the bigger and more populous states.
As history shows, the delegates did more than just “proofread” the Articles. During the Convention, it became clear to all the delegates that merely improvising the Articles of Confederation would not “provide for the exigencies of the Union”; they would have to create a new document altogether. And so they wrote the United States Constitution, which delineated a constitutional federal republic. It would consist of three separate but equal branches which were not only designed to perform separate and distinct duties, but to keep each other in check, preventing one from gaining arbitrary power. All of these branches were to be checked by the standard of law set forth in the Constitution, which each officer of the government must swear to uphold. If those officers should fail to keep their oath of office, then it is not only the right but also the duty of those who chose those officers to remove them. The success of this form of government depends heavily upon the vigilant and attentive execution of these duties.
Today, much of the Framers’ original intent over the purpose of government in general and the federal government in particular has been lost after many years of the indoctrination of American citizens in the socialist dogma. Socialism maintains, among many things, the fallacious principle that government is responsible for the material welfare of society. Socialism claims that the government is responsible for the quality of human life, that the government is responsible for protecting “minorities,” and that it’s purpose is to be the beneficent provider of those under its jurisdiction. This principle is certainly attractive and sounds commendable and noble, but only one who fails to take into account the self-centeredness of human nature would enforce such a doctrine with good intentions. This principle is a dreadful departure from the true aim of government: to enforce justice and punish the evildoer. This principle of the true purpose of government is set forth in the Bible, in Romans 13: 3-4:
“For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same. For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”
Because we have lost the concept of the true purpose of government, we have lost the concept of the purpose of our Constitution. The Constitution is not the right-giver of the American people; it is the outline of our form of government, and keeps the government within its proper bounds – therefore, the Constitution is in effect the right-protector. The Framers of the founding documents understood that government and laws and constitutions do not give people rights; they merely recognize and protect those rights by punishing evil and encouraging justice. For instance, Framer Alexander Hamilton wrote:
“The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records; they are written, as with a sunbeam, on the whole volume of human nature by the hand of Divinity itself, and can never be obscured by any mortal power.” (3)
Also consider the portion of the preamble of the Declaration of Independence, upon which the Constitution was based:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident [obvious to everybody through our consciences]: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights …” (4)
The Founding Fathers recognized that the basic rights of individuals – the rights to life, liberty, and private property – were not granted by the government, and so when the Founders penned the Constitution, they were not granting new rights to people, nor was it their goal to tell Americans what their rights are; it was just to create a stable form of representative republican government that would insure that the basic rights of mankind were less likely to be trampled upon. The goal of the Framers was not to create a radical form of “democracy” (which the Founders despised for its strong tendency to throw off the rule of law) in which everybody had the same kind of say in government or in which nobody felt as if they were in a minority. More from Constitution-framer/signer Hamilton:
“[T]he Supreme Being gave existence to man, together with the means of preserving and beautifying that existence. He endowed him with rational faculties, by the help of which to discern and pursue such things as were consistent with his duty and interest; and invested him with an inviolable right to personal liberty and personal safety. Hence, in a state of nature, no man had any moral power to deprive another of his life, limbs, property, or liberty; nor the least authority to command or exact obedience from him, except that which arose from the ties of consanguinity. Hence, also, the origin of all civil government, justly established, must be a voluntary compact between the rulers and the ruled, and must be liable to such limitations as are necessary for the security of the absolute rights of the latter; for what original title can any man, or set of men, have to govern others, except their own consent? To usurp dominion over a people in their own despite, or to grasp at a more extensive power than they are willing to entrust, is to violate that law of nature which gives every man a right to his personal liberty, and can therefore confer no obligation to obedience.” (3)
Wow. That statement eloquently sums up the whole concept of proper government. It was this concept that the Framers of the Constitution acted upon. You may read more of this document, “The Farmer Refuted,” to get an even greater insight into the Founders’ concept of government and the purpose of the American Revolution.
This subject requires more discussion which I will continue in my next post. Stay tuned! If you have any questions or remarks, please post them in the “Comments” section below.