“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, 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.”

The preamble of the Constitution was not discussed nor debated at the Constitutional convention. In fact, it was added at the last moment by the head of the Committee of Style, Gouvernuer Morris, a delegate from Pennsylvania.

The preamble itself did not have any substantive legal meaning. Yes, you do see “general welfare” in the preamble, but it is the same wording in Article 1, Section 8 that activists have ascribed meaning to.

Preambles at the time, were declaratory only, and what Morris accomplished was to outline succinctly the purpose of the Constitution itself.

The Supreme Court rightfully came to the same conclusion in Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905).

That does not however, preclude the preamble from containing extremely important elements to understanding the Constitution, how it differs from The Articles of Confederation and what the framers were trying to accomplish.

Were they creating a collective nation, a confederacy or a federal constitution?

Prior to the Constitution, the Articles of Confederation did not contain the word “people” and only listed the states as a party to the compact. “We the people of the United States…” was a significant difference to many Americans during that time.

Patrick Henry (anti-federalist) lamented the new phraseology as the federalists intention of creating a “consolidated” national government. Henry, clearly favoring a confederation to consolidation.

But Madison made clear many times that it didn’t solely create a consolidated national government or a confederation, but an amalgam of both. Madison writes in Federalist #39 that the Constitution is “neither a national nor a federal constitution; but a composition of both.”

During the nullification crisis of the late 1820’s, the debate between John C. Calhoun (proponent of state veto or confederated government), and Daniel Webster (proponent of consolidated government) raged on. Calhoun argued that the people in each individual state were sovereign and could veto any federal law they found unconstitutional.

Daniel Webster on the other hand, posited that only the people are the true sovereign and collectively, irrespective of state borders, can rightfully nullify federal law via an Article V convention or their natural law right to overthrow a tyrannical government. To each, there was no “middle course,” it was one way or the other.

James Madison, catching wind of the debate, highlighted the “not uncommon” mistake made by both men. He explained the United States was a “mixture of both” confederated and consolidated governments. “We the PEOPLE of the UNITED STATES in order to form a more perfect UNION…” outlines both the people and the states, creating a union at the behest of the sovereign people. I’ll reiterate, the framers did not create a nation, they created a union.

Dr. Christian Fritz explains:

Neither Webster’s claim that the American people in “the aggregate” were the sovereign who formed the Constitution nor Calhoun’s position that individual sovereign states were the parties creating the Constitution accurately described the federal founding. Rather, “the undisputed fact is, that the Constitution was made by the people…as imbodied into the several States…and, therefore, made by the States in their highest authoritative capacity.”[56] States acting in their highest sovereign capacity were not the sovereign people of each state acting individually. According to Madison, a state acted in its “highest sovereign capacity” only when the sovereign people of the state acted in combination with the sovereign people of other states.