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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 Seven Secure the Blessings of Liberty to Ourselves and Our Posterity


From the start, Americans have been lovers of liberty. The independence of spirit that is required to cut all ties with home and start a new life elsewhere are still highly valued today. Liberty, however, may be curtailed or denied in a representative government. Adler and Gorman (1975) quote Charles H. McIlwain, from Constitutionalism: Ancient and Modern (1940): “The two fundamental correlative elements of constitutionalism for which all lovers of liberty must yet fight are the legal limits to arbitrary power and a complete political responsibility of government to the governed” (109). But as the Framers well knew, power conceived in liberty but conferred upon representatives can lead to abuses of power. James Madison (1961) warned as much in Federalist #51:

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, a primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

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This understanding motivated the Framers to place legal limits on the powers granted to the elected representatives, to separate those powers among the three branches of the new government, and to build in checks...

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