'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."
Those words from the Preamble to the United States Constitution, ratified 225 years ago today, are among the most famous in American history -- perhaps surpassed by only the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, "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."
Surprisingly, the Preamble was little more than an afterthought. Pennsylvania's Gouverneur Morris (who was known for his wooden leg, his prodigious womanizing -- and resulting venereal diseases -- and his death, brought on by his decision to stick a piece of whale bone through his urinary tract to relieve a blockage) slapped the intro onto a nearly final draft of the Constitution.
What wasn't an afterthought, though, were the powers granted and the protections guaranteed by the document.
With the nation's independence secure, the framers of the Constitution weren't facing the same pressures of strategic timing or threats to their lives and property as the signers of the Declaration of Independence 11 years earlier. The 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention spent an entire summer, from May to September, considering and deliberating the proper role of government. As a result, each power granted to the government was born out of careful reflection.
In the Constitution, the framers were quite clear that government's rights came from the people, as opposed to the rights of the people coming from the government. This notion flies in the face of what many of today's self-important bureaucrats and power-hungry lawmakers would have you believe.
The Preamble makes it obvious that "We the People... ordain and establish this Constitution." That's "We the people," not, it should be noted, "We the government." With those words, Morris forcefully declared that all federal powers come from the people. Any exercise of those powers by the government is strictly limited by the articles, sections and amendments that comprise the Constitution.
The first sentence after the Preamble -- the beginning of Article I, Section 1 -- furthers that point by stating, "All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress." In other words, any powers that Congress has are listed in the Constitution and they're not allowed to do anything else.
Unfortunately, the framers' guarantee that, in America, the government has only the small amount of power outlined in the Constitution is too often disregarded by government. Still, just because some government leaders don't properly respect the Constitution doesn't mean Americans should give up on the document.
Remember, according to the Constitution, the people are the ones with the power to give. Power isn't government's to take. Therefore, it is crucial that the Americans remain vigilant in ensuring that government is permitted to take only as much authority as we've granted in the supreme law of the land.
That dogged defense of the Constitution has sustained this great nation 225 years and with continued vigilance, the Constitution will guide the United States 225 more.