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The Preamble as Policy

A Guidebook to Governance and Civic Duty

Robert Irons and Jim Twombly

In The Preamble as Policy: A Guidebook to Governance and Civic Duty the authors show that the Preamble to the Constitution is more than an introduction to the document; it sets the tone for the rest of the document and how it should be viewed and interpreted. It is also a list of goals for a new government and a tool for holding our elected representatives accountable for their efforts on our behalf. The Preamble as Policy looks at the history of the development of the Constitution to show how the Preamble can be used to judge the laws and policies enacted by the federal government. The Preamble as Policy weaves political thought, history, and current events together allowing for examination of an oft forgotten part of the Constitution. It provides a unique framework and firm foundation for class discussions or social interactions about what we have achieved as a nation and where we might have come up short.

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Chapter Five Provide for the Common Defense


Of all the items on the Framers’ list of objectives, few would argue at the inclusion of safety, regardless of their position on the political spectrum. At present, however, there is likely to be disagreement over which specific threats are conspiracy theories and which are of real concern. Certainly, what constitutes the means by which a common defense has evolved over the course of history, both in terms of the perceived need for a standing military and the expansion beyond the simple “army and navy” specified in the main body of the Constitution to include an air force. Not even the great inventor of the founding eras – Benjamin Franklin – would have conceived of an air force, let alone a space force.

In Federalist #3 John Jay (1961) declared “Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention, that of providing for their safety seems to be the first.” While the framers appreciated that the defense needed to be provided against enemies both foreign and domestic, there were questions pertaining as to how ←51 | 52→the defense would be “common,” where the authority to provide for the defense would be placed within the constitutional powers, and how that authority could be kept in check in case the tools of defense were used to threaten other objectives, such as liberty. James Madison (1961) made this case in Federalist #41:

The veteran legions of Rome were an overmatch for the...

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