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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 Six Promote the General Welfare


Among the objectives listed by the Framers, none is more heavily debated than the last two words of the title of this chapter. That phrase stems from the third article of the Articles of Confederation, and it occurs not only in the Preamble but again within the body of the Constitution, in the first paragraph of Article I, Section 8: “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.” (National Archives 2020). Its meaning in the Articles of Confederation was unclear, and its use and meaning in the Constitution is repeatedly debated by politicians, academics and the judicial branch of the federal government.

The main underlying issue of concern is the size of government. Given the “sweeping clause” that was placed at the end of Article I, Section 8 (that Congress shall have the power “to make all Laws which shall be ←59 | 60→necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof”), the combined powers of taxing (and spending) and making laws can rightly lead many to be concerned with limiting those powers. Fear of such sweeping power being held by the government formed the basis of anti-federalist opposition to the new Constitution and led to the federalists compromising by adopting the...

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