IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government….
The Constitution of the United States
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.
We the People of the United States
The Framers were an elite group - among the best and brightest America had to offer at the time. But they knew that they were trying to forge a nation made up not of an elite, but of the common man. Without the approval of the common man, they feared revolution. This first part of the Preamble speaks to the common man. It puts into writing, as clear as day, the notion that the people were creating this Constitution. It was not handed down by a god or by a king - it was created by the people.
in Order to form a more perfect Union
The Framers were dissatisfied with the United States under the Articles of Confederation, but they felt that what they had was the best they could have, up to now. They were striving for something better. The Articles of Confederation had been a grand experiment that had worked well up to a point, but now, less than ten years into that experiment, cracks were showing. The new United States, under this new Constitution, would be more perfect. Not perfect, but more perfect.
Injustice, unfairness of laws and in trade, was of great concern to the people of 1787. People looked forward to a nation with a level playing field, where courts were established with uniformity and where trade within and outside the borders of the country would be fair and unmolested. Today, we enjoy a system of justice that is one of the fairest in the world. It has not always been so - only through great struggle can we now say that every citizen has the opportunity for a fair trial and for equal treatment, and even today there still exists discrimination. But we still strive for the justice that the Framers wrote about.
insure domestic Tranquility
One of the events that caused the Convention to be held was the revolt of Massachusetts farmers knows as Shays' Rebellion. The taking up of arms by war veterans revolting against the state government was a shock to the system. The keeping of the peace was on everyone's mind, and the maintenance of tranquility at home was a prime concern. The framers hoped that the new powers given the federal government would prevent any 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 one of the United States could go it alone. They needed each other to survive in the harsh world of international politics of the 18th century.
promote the general Welfare
This, and the next part of the Preamble, are the culmination of everything that came before it - the whole point of having tranquility, justice, and defense was to promote the general welfare - to allow every state and every citizen of those states to benefit from what the government could provide. The framers looked forward to the expansion of land holdings, industry, and investment, and they knew that a strong national government would be the beginning of that.
and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity
Hand in hand with the general welfare, the framers looked forward to the blessings of liberty - something they had all fought hard for just a decade before. They were very concerned that they were creating a nation that would resemble something of a paradise for liberty, as opposed to the tyranny of a monarchy, where citizens could look forward to being free as opposed to looking out for the interests of a king. And more than for themselves, they wanted to be sure that the future generations of Americans would enjoy the same.
do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America
The final clause of the Preamble is almost anti-climatic, but it is important for a few reasons - it finishes the "We, the people" thought, saying what we the people are actually doing; it gives us a name for this document, and it restates the name of the nation adopting the Constitution. That the Constitution is "ordained" reminds us of the higher power involved here - not just of a single person or of a king, but of the people themselves. That is it "established" reminds us that it replaces that which came before - the United States under the Articles (a point lost on us today, but quite relevant at the time). http://www.usconstitution.net/consttop_pre.html
… that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Abraham Lincoln – The Gettysburg Address , November 19, 1863