A Brief Enquiry

A Brief Enquiry


The history of the preamble itself ought to have convinced our author,that the inference which he draws from it could not be allowed.On the 6th of August,1787,the committee appointed for that purpose reported the first draft of a Constitution.The preamble was in these words:"We,the people of the States of New Hampshire,Massachusetts,Rhode Island and Providence Plantations,Connecticut,New York,New Jersey,Pennsylvania,Delaware,Maryland,Virginia,North Carolina,South Carolina and Georgia,do ordain,declare and establish the following Constitution,for the government of ourselves and our posterity."(1Elliott's Debates,255.)On the very next day this preamble was unanimously adopted;and the reader will at once perceive,that it carefully preserves the distinct sovereignty of the States,and discountenances all idea of consolidation.(Ib.263.)The draft of the Constitution thus submitted was discussed,and various alterations and amendments adopted,(but without any change in the preamble),until the 8th of September,1787,when the following resolution was passed:"It was moved and seconded to appoint a committee of five,to revise the style of,and arrange the articles agreed to by,the House;which passed in the affirmative."(Ib.324.)It is manifest that this committee had no power to change the meaning of anything which had been adopted,but were authorized merely to "revise the style,"and arrange the matter in proper order.On,the 12th of the same month they made their report.The preamble,as they reported it,is in the following words "We,the people of the United States,in order to form a more perfect union,16to 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."(Ib.326.)It does not appear that any attempt was made to change this phraseology in any material point,or to reinstate the original.The presumption is,therefore,that the two were considered as substantially the same,particularly as the committee had no authority to make any change except in the style.The difference in the mere phraseology of the two was certainly not overlooked;for on the 13th September,1787,"it was moved and seconded to proceed to the comparing of the report from the committee of revision,with the articles which were agreed to by the House,and to them referred to for arrangement;which passed in the affirmative.And the same was read by paragraphs,compared,and,in some places,corrected and amended,"(Ib.

338.)In what particulars these corrections and amendments were made,we are not very distinctly informed.The only change which was made in the preamble,was by striking out the word "to,"before the words "establish justice";and the probability is,that no other change was made in any of the articles,except such as would make "the report of the committee of revision""correspond with the articles agreed to by the House."The inference,therefore,is irresistible,that the convention considered the preamble reported by the committee of revision,as substantially corresponding with the original draft,as unanimously "agreed to by the House."

There is,however,another and a perfectly conclusive reason for the change of phraseology,from the States by name,to the more general expression "the United States";and this,too,without supposing that it was intended thereby to convey a different idea as to the parties to the Constitution.

The revised draft contained a proviso,that the Constitution should go into operation when adopted and ratified by nine States.It was,of course,uncertain whether more than nine would adopt it or not,and if they should not,it would be altogether improper to name them as parties to that instrument.

As to one of them,Rhode Island,she was not even represented in the convention,and,consequently,the others had no sort of right to insert her as a party.

Hence it became necessary to adopt a form of expression which would apply to those who should ratify the Constitution,and not to those who should refuse to do so.The expression actually adopted answers that purpose fully.

It means simply:"We,the people of those States who have united for that purpose,do ordain,"&c.This construction corresponds with the historical fact,and reconciles the language employed with the circumstances of the case.Indeed,similar language was not unusual,through the whole course of the Revolution."The people of His Majesty's colonies,""the people of the united colonies,""the people of the United,States,"are forms of expression which frequently occur,without intending to convey any other idea than that of the people of the Several colonies or States.

It is,perhaps,not altogether unworthy of remark,in reference to this inquiry,that the word "people"has no plural termination in our language.

If it had,the probability is that the expression would have been "we,the peoples,"conveying,distinctly,the idea of the people of the several States.But,as no such plural termination is known in our language,the least that we can say is,that the want of it affords no argument in favor of the author's position.

Abel Parker Upshur