Form a More Perfect Union
Under the Articles of Confederation, the United States was a loose alliance of independent, quarreling states. Many states acted like separate nations. One of the main goals of the writers of the Constitution was to get the states to work together as part of a single, united – and thus stronger – nation. For example, the official motto of the United States is the Latin phrase “e pluribus unum,” or “out of many, one.”
To achieve this goal of unity, the Constitution created a stronger federal government, giving it a broad range of powers. For example, Congress – the national legislature – has the power to tax all the people to make laws and create programs for the entire nation. The President – the national executive – is responsible for carrying out all the laws of the nation. And the federal, or national, courts determine one interpretation of the law for the entire nation. By creating a stronger federal government, the Constitution strengthened the unity of the states.
A second goal of the Constitution is to establish justice, or fairness, under the law. To do this, the Constitution creates a judicial branch of government which was lacking under the Articles of Confederation. This federal judicial system includes a Supreme Court as the “highest court in the land.”
The primary duty of the judicial branch is to hear cases and resolve disputes. To do this, courts many times must interpret the disputed law to clarify how it should be applied in real life. Without this national court system, states would be left to interpret national laws. Disputes about the meaning of certain laws would remain unsettled. Confusion, and even injustice, might result.
Justice also requires that the law be applied fairly to every American, regardless of race, religion, gender, country of origin, political beliefs, or financial situation. This notion of “due process” assures that people’s rights are protected.
Ensure Domestic Tranquility
In 1786, Daniel Shays marched on a Massachusetts courthouse with hundreds of protesters. Upon hearing about Shays’ Rebellion, George Washington warned, “We are fast verging to [absence of government] and confusion!” The uprising made it clear that the national government must have the power to ensure domestic tranquility, or peace at home.
The Constitution gives the national government certain powers that allow it to keep the peace. State and local governments can use their own police to enforce national laws within their borders. When crime crosses state borders, however, national police agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), can step in to help protect life and property.
Have you ever seen a news report about a civil emergency, such as a riot or a flood? If so, you probably saw the National Guard keeping the peace. The President can summon such aid if a state or community cannot or will not respond to the emergency.
Provide for a Common Defense
After the American Revolution, the United States had no armed forces to defend itself. Without an army, it could not force British troops to leave the western frontier as they agreed to do in the Treaty of Paris ending the war. Without a navy, it could not prevent Spain from closing part of the Mississippi River to American trade.
The writers of the Constitution realized that armed forces are vital to a nation’s survival. Military power helps not only to prevent attack by other nations, but also to protect economic and political interests.
The Constitution gives Congress the power to “raise and support Armies” and to “provide and maintain a Navy.” Today, the armed forces include the army, navy, air force, marine corps, and coast guard.
At the same time, the Constitution establishes the principle that the military is under civilian, or non-military, control. Article 2 of the Constitution states that the President is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Thus, even the highest-ranking military officer must answer to an elected official.
Promote the General Welfare
The Constitution gives the national government the means to promote the general welfare, or well-being, of all the people. In order to do this, the national government has the power to collect taxes and to set aside money for programs that will benefit the people.
The workplace provides many examples of how the national government – often in cooperation with state governments – has acted to promote the general welfare. Factory owners are required to meet safety standards established by Congress for work areas. Workers who are disabled or unemployed receive financial support. The Social Security system was created by the federal government and is funded through taxes in order to assure all workers receive income after they retirement.
Another way in which the national government helps to promot