Civics on Saturday: The Constitution, Part I – The Preamble

Happy Saturday, Everyone!

I’m continuing my investigation of the founding documents of the United States of America. We had a close look at the Declaration of Independence a few weeks ago (and please, continue to comment – there’s no such thing as a closed Civics on Saturday post) and, after your generous granting of an extension, I was able to put up a reasonably coherent post about the Articles of Confederation last week.

This week, we’re going to begin our study of the United States’ Constitution. It’s likely going to take us a good long while to make our way through this document – it’s a pretty complex piece and I like to pace myself, so we’re going to take it bit by bit. Ready? Okay! Here we go!

We start out with the Preamble. I LOVE the Preamble. Well, more specifically, I love the Schoolhouse Rock lesson about the Preamble.

I learned a lot of my elementary English rules and civics facts from Schoolhouse Rock. For those of you who may not know what Schoolhouse Rock is (is there anyone over the age of 30 who doesn’t know what Schoolhouse Rock is?), it was a series of cartoon shorts set to music which were aired on Saturday morning during the prime cartoon hours. They were usually sandwiched between commercials – there’d be one or two technicolor cereal ads, then a Schoolhouse Rock bit, then a few more commercials, then back to Scooby Doo or The Road Runner.

Schoolhouse Rock segments, like this one, were incredibly catchy. I’m 38 (and 9/12ths) and can still sing almost ALL of the songs – and not just because I’ve bought the CDs and videos for my children, either. The History Rock segments featured events like the Pilgrims’ landing, the “shot heard ’round the world,” the Lewis and Clark exploration, and women’s suffrage. The one about the Preamble to the Constitution is the reason that I don’t have to look it up to post it here for you – I can write it by heart:

We, the People of the United States of America*, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United Sates of America.

Seriously. If you call me, I can sing it for you.

This bit is pretty straightforward. The Founding Fathers are following through on the promise they made with the Declaration of Independence – they were putting their proverbial money where their mouths were: government exists because we say it does. It’s the PEOPLE who give the government power, not the government which gives people rights.

The Preamble also puts out what purpose that government will serve. We the People are establishing this government to do these specific things – we want government to exist to help hold the individual states together better than the Articles of Confederation did – to form a more perfect union; we want it to establish and enforce laws to establish justice and insure domestic tranquility; we want the government to provide for the common defense – to establish a federally funded and maintained military – and to promote the general welfare (which, to my mind, didn’t really happen until FDR’s New Deal days, but we can talk about that later). Not only did we want government to DO all that, but we wanted it to KEEP doing it – secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity – so that our children – and their children – could live in a free and democratic society.

That’s a pretty tall order, but we seem to have pulled it off… at least, to this point.

We’ll get into the rest of the Constitution later – I think that the preamble is enough for today. Besides, I want to let you live with that catchy little tune in your head for a while…

“We the People, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility….”

Happy Saturday, Everyone!

*cute little side-story: when I was in – oh, I don’t know.. fifth grade? – we were learning about the Constitution and, as part of the lessons, we were asked to memorize the Preamble. When I got my quiz back, I had been marked off for leaving “of the United States of America” out of my writing of the sentence. I went back to my teacher during recess and sang the Preamble to her, and I got those points back.  Funny how I did manage to keep some childhood memories….



Filed under Civics and Citizenship, Learning

4 responses to “Civics on Saturday: The Constitution, Part I – The Preamble

  1. What a wonderful post! Thanks for posting the story and the youtube clip! Are you also using this in your own history class? I imagine that today’s students will also love to learn about the preambule in this way.

  2. I would TOTALLY use it in my history classes – if I taught history. I’m an English teacher, but I have to confess that I DO try to sneak in a civics or history lesson here and there – all of my students get a class on the First Amendment and freedom of expression early in the semester, anyway, and there’s usually a lesson about the end of WWII and a mini-biography of Albert Speer when I teach his final statement to the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal. I do the best I can….

  3. Well, I think it’s debatable whether or not we’re living up to that whole promoting the general welfare business. Broken levies, dying soldiers and undereducated children might help to form an initial argument against.

    Its a beautifully simple paragraph, isn’t it? Too bad we don’t have politicians now who can honestly say so much with so few words. The preamble was, apparently, the original political sound byte. Much better than those we get now.

  4. I, too, can sing the Preamble to the Constitution from memory. It is amazing how those things stick.
    I think the most powerful thing to remember is that this is OUR government. If we don’t like what we’ve got it’s our fault. From the local school board to the President, we get to choose.
    Another blogger I read talked about going to vote in a local NYC primary election and only being the second person to show up to vote…

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