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Kadya Chavkin’s essay, “Congress and the Preamble,” won first place in the written word category in the annual “Your Rights, Your Reasons” contest, sponsored by the League of Woman Voters of Evanston with School District 65:
In 1781, America was in big trouble. Although the United States had won the War of Independence against Great Britain, they were not really united. They were more like thirteen smaller countries, not one big powerful United States. They were not really capable of defending themselves again external enemies. There were many fights between and within states over boundaries, land claims and tariffs. Each state was in competition with the other states, and there was no effective way to work together for the nation’s best interests. They lacked one that that really held them together.
The Constitution of 1787 created one stronger national government that held everyone together. The first article of the new constitution concerned Congress, the legislative branch. Under the Articles of Confederation there was also a Congress, but this Congress was different. Under the new Constitution, Congress could uphold the goals identified in the preamble: provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and insure domestic tranquility. The Constitution also limited the power of the new Congress so that the national government would not become tyrannical and take away the freedoms the people had won during the Revolution. Most importantly, the new Congress was a real national legislature. The legislative branch provides for the common defense. The Constitution says, “The Congress shall have Power … To declare War…” The majority of Congress, not the states, made the decision. The people were deciding things as a nation, not thirteen little countries. Congress allows everyone to be protected in other ways. For one thing, Congress can declare war. Congress also provides and maintains a navy as well as raising and supporting an army. They can punish piracies and can call forth state armies, called militias, to fight for the nation. This is important because they are taking all the armies and making them into one big army; instead of defending just their state, they are defending everyone. In these ways, Congress provides for the common defense.
Congress helps insure domestic tranquility by setting common rules and making certain things are the same for people in every state. For example, Congress can make post roads and a postal service. A national postal service allows someone in Georgia to communicate with someone in New York using the same system. By using the same thing, Congress reinforces the idea that we are part of one nation, not thirteen separate states. Another important way that Congress insures domestic tranquility is through the power to regulate commerce “among the several states.” Under the Articles of Confederation, Congress did not have the power to make laws about preventing tariff fights between the states. The Constitution gave Congress this power. “To promote the Profess of Science and the useful Arts,” Congress could issue patents to promote new discoveries and protect ideas throughout the nation. The patents were for a limited time, however so that ideas could benefit everyone in the United States.
The legislative branch also promotes the general welfare. For example, “Congress shall have the power…To coin Money…” During the Articles of Confederation, the States were coining their own money and there was no national currency; if someone took their Pennsylvania money to Georgia, they couldn’t use their money and they were at a disadvantage in another state. With a national currency, trade was easier between states, and people were encouraged to trade more. Congress also had the power to create and collect taxes. Most people do not think of taxes as promoting the general welfare, but the taxes go to help the entire nation do important things that are just too big for one state to do by itself.
With the adoption of the new system of government, the Congress could meet the aims talked about in the preamble. To provide for the common defense, the United States decided to declare war together. To insure domestic tranquility, the Congress creates general rules. To promote the general welfare, the Congress has the power to do good things for the whole country. For the first time, Americans could make decisions for the entire nation as a single country and not as 13 little countries. To quote our nation’s motto, “e pluribus unum,” out of many, one.
Excerpt from “An Alien’s Rights”
By Hannah Hayat
In “An Alien’s Rights,” Hannah sets up a conversation between herself, a professor of history, and Lurp, an alien from planet Zooleeplahmeep who is contemplating a move to the United States.
“[Lurp:] ‘How are the elements of the constitution presented in the Constitution?”
“[Hannah;] ‘They are presented in the preamble. … The last element is to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” An example of this is in Amendment 1. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This shows that they are ensuring the favors of freedom or independence to ourselves and our future generations by letting us believe whatever we want to believe. We can have freedom.’”
[Lurp:] I think I might stay here permanently!”
Excerpt from “Article V”
By Eliza Segal
In “Article V” Eliza explains how Article V, which “addresses amending the Constitution,” supports the preamble’s goals.
“Not only does Article V support these goals, it also supports the goal of the Preamble to “insure domestic tranquility,” because the government allows the people to change the Constitution by adding more Amendments, and prevents protesting and possible civil wars, because people can have a say in what laws they follow and privileges they have. For example, if the government makes a law that the people think is unfair, they can work to repeal that law or Amendment instead of starting a war.”