What Is the Preamble to the United States Constitution?


Quick Answer

The preamble to the United States Constitution begins with the famous words, "We the People," and it serves to introduce the aims and scope of the articles and later amendments that follow it. It can be viewed at the websites of the Cornell University Law School and the National Constitution Center.

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Full Answer

The preamble was added to the text by Gouverneur Morris when he came to draft the Constitution in its final stages. It was the first document of its kind to refer to citizens as "the People" and to the U.S. as a single political unit without subsequent formal identification of its constituent parts. The ostensible reason for this was that the preamble was written before all 13 states had ratified the Constitution.

Although the preamble clearly lays out the purpose of the Constitution as a means to "establish Justice" and promote "general Welfare" among other goals, it was determined by the Supreme Court in 1905 that it could not be considered a technical part of the Constitution itself. That is, it cannot legally be used as a basis for determining the limits of federal power or the extent of citizen rights. Nevertheless it neatly summarizes the Constitution while guiding its interpretation by successive generations of policymakers, enshrining as it does the original values of its founding authors.

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