Two Preambles

This is the preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America, ratified in 1789.

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 nouns are capitalized as they are in the Declaration of Independence, an 18th century convention which is continued in the German language today.

This following is the preamble to the Constitution of the Confederate States of America, ratified in 1861.
We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to form a more permanent federal government, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the Confederate States of America.

There are a number of changes between these two paragraphs. The first is that the Confederate Preamble immediately introduces the concept of States Rights. Each state is recognized as “sovereign and independent.” Other provisions of the Confederate Constitution reinforce this concept. Instead of pledging to form a “more perfect union,” the Confederate Constitution is established to form a “more permanent federal government.” The concept of a “union” is too strong for the Confederates who, after all, seceded from the Union over their concept of the rights of individual states, the most important of which was the right to enslave Negroes.

Two omissions from the Confederate Preamble meet the eye immediately. They are: to “provide for the common defence” and “promote the general Welfare.” Again, the idea of the federal government acting for the common defence is too strong. The individual Confederate states are “sovereign and independent.” The deletion of “promote the general Welfare” is also striking. This again is a phrase that invokes the common good as a national organizational principle, very different from States’ Rights. President Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne Division to assist with the integration of the Little Rock, Arkansas schools in 1957. It was the federal government’s idea of the general Welfare, of all Americans, black and white alike, that motivated this interference with the right of individual states to segregate their schools, deny the voting franchise to Negroes, and so forth. In Brown vs. the Board of Education in 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional. This would never have happened in the Confederate States. Promoting the general welfare also leads to programs such as Medicare, Social Security, and so forth which are opposed by conservatives even today.

Then comes a very important addition to the Confederate Preamble, correcting what the framers of the Confederate Constitution saw as a serious omission in the original Preamble to the Constitution of the United States: Almighty God. God is not mentioned in the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution is established solely by “We the People.” In contrast,the “favor and guidance of Almighty God” are invoked immediately by the Confederates. This is clearly in response to a sentiment of fundamentalist Protestants of the South (which remains today) that the United States should be a Christian nation and the Confederate States shall be. Jews, Muslims, and non believers were regularly discriminated against in the United States of the 19th century, but the Constitution did not directly support it and these groups have gradually won full rights of citizenship although there is still plenty of religious discrimination in the hearts and minds of many of our citizens. Today’s arguments, mostly in the South, about whether or not to place the 10 Commandments in government buildings or to pray before high school football games also confirm that the Almighty God mentioned in the Preamble is the Christian God.

Reading these two preambles suggests that we are still fighting the Civil War. The immediate result of the War was the Emancipation of slaves and preservation of the Union. But the ideas enunciated in the Confederate Preamble: states’ rights, a weak federal government, no role in promoting the general welfare, and a formally established Christian nation, are still alive and well mostly in what we call the Red States, particularly in the former Confederacy, and in the Republican Party. This should be a subject for debate and discussion in the current election.

Stephen Baird M.D. October 2012