Lesson Plan - Get It!
Modern-day politicians are known for giving speeches.
Watch this quick clip from Ronald Reagan's famous "Tear Down this Wall" speech.
Although short, Reagan's speech was extremely impactful.
Before television, radio, and the internet, politicians expressed themselves through the written word.
The Preamble to the Constitution is an example of a short but very impactful document.
James Madison wrote the Constitution of the United States.
The United States was originally governed by the Articles of Confederation; however, this document did not establish a strong enough government for the new country. For example, the federal government could not collect state taxes.
The Founding Fathers developed a new framework for the American government to combat this chaos.
James Madison, who was extremely well-educated, was tasked with putting all these ideas into writing.
- How did Madison start this monumental document?
In just 52 words, he laid out the purpose of the U.S. Constitution while referencing the common theme at the time of liberty.
Look at the text!
We the People of the United States, 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 States of America.
- What is being said in this text?
The beginning and end of the Preamble can be read as a single, simple sentence.
We the People of the United States do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
- Is that sentence very enlightening?
- Does it give the document purpose or meaning for existing?
Not really. Instead, what is written in the middle of that statement gives the document its purpose.
The Preamble explains that the purpose of the Constitution is to modify the current country to create a better government.
The goal of the Constitution is to establish a judicial system, ensure peace and negotiation domestically, create a military, ensure the government acts in the interests of all people, and maintain the government to ensure the country's descendants also benefit.
Remember, this document was meant to replace an already established government completely, so it had to have a good reason for existing.
For the new Constitution to become law, nine of the original 13 states had to ratify it.
- What themes did Madison utilize to persuade those states and the other Founding Fathers to accept it?
The document starts with "We the people." This is significant because it represents the idea that the government is of, for, and by the people. The new Constitution may have given more power to the government than the Articles of Confederation, but it would still be a government made up of citizens.
At the time, all the European governments had strong kings and queens. The United States was the first instance of a government made up of elected officials.
Another theme present in this Preamble is the idea of liberty.
It cannot be easy to establish a single definition because the word means different things to different people. However, even back in the late 1700s, all Americans wanted liberty, even if they disagreed on what that meant.
- Do you think if you lived in the 1700s, the Preamble would have persuaded you to ratify the Constitution?
But wait, this text has one more characteristic!
Rhetorical devices are powerful tools to enhance one's writing.
Politicians typically use them in speeches by calling others to action, as Ronald Reagan did above.
- Do you see any in the Preamble to the Constitution?
The main rhetorical device present in this document is parallelism.
You probably recognized it even if you did not know its name. Parallelism is when a text is organized in a parallel or repetitive way.
In the Preamble, Madison uses parallelism when listing what the country will do to create a more perfect union. The United States will:
- 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,
The verbs are in bold and the nouns are italicized.
- Do you think this rhetorical device strengthens the meaning of the Preamble to the Constitution in any way?
Keep this question in mind as you head to the Got It? section.