Celebrate the Preamble: Bill of Rights Day

December 15th is Bill of Rights Day in the United States, an occasion to commemorate the 232nd anniversary of the ratification of the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. This day serves as a reminder for all Americans to reflect on the unique freedoms and protections offered by the Bill of Rights, including freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, and protection from unreasonable searches and seizures.

In addition to honoring the Bill of Rights, Bill of Rights Day also provides an opportunity to reflect on the Preamble to the United States Constitution. Penned by Gouverneur Morris, the Preamble declares, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain this Constitution for the United States of America.”

While the language of the Preamble is now universally cherished, at the time of its drafting, it was a subject of intense debate, closely tied to the discussions that led to the creation of the Bill of Rights. Following the ratification of the Constitution, James Madison presented a set of recommendations for a Bill of Rights to a House Select Committee on Amendments in 1789. The very first proposal in the committee’s report was an amendment to the Preamble, aimed at adding the phrase, “Government being intended for the benefit of the people, and the rightful establishment thereof being derived from their authority alone,” before the words, “We the people.”

Some members of Congress argued that “We the People” alone in the Preamble was insufficient. They advocated for further explanation of the source of rightful government and a more explicit connection to the words of the Declaration of Independence to affirm that people are the ultimate source of legitimate governments. This proposed amendment initiated a debate between the Founding Fathers, with James Madison favoring the amendment for the sake of compromise and harmony, while Roger Sherman opposed it, considering the existing wording of the Preamble sufficient.

Sherman and other Founding Fathers recognized the depth and meaning of the Preamble’s language, noting its role as the philosophical foundation of the Constitution. Despite the debate, the Preamble’s original wording, “We the People,” has stood the test of time as a concise and meaningful expression of the document’s principles.

As Americans celebrate the ratification of the Bill of Rights on December 15th, it is essential to remember that these ten amendments serve as an additional layer of protection, with the Preamble and the entire structure of the Constitution already safeguarding these rights. These rights are inherent to citizens and have been enumerated as an extra guard against tyranny, aiming to preserve the essence of “We the people” as proclaimed in the Preamble.

Hans Zeiger, the President of the Jack Miller Center, originally published this article, and it was made available through RealClearWire and RealClearPolicy.

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