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Just dropping by... The Preamble to the Constitution and the Boy Scouts

Yevet Tenney Published on 30 August 2010

(Click here to listen to the podcast of this column.)

A few weeks ago, I was privileged to act as a merit badge councilor for a group of Boy Scouts. I have been a merit badge councilor for Citizenship in the Nation (a merit badge) for over twenty years. I went to the dentist the other day to get a root canal, and the young dentist said, “Do you remember when you taught us about the Constitution in Boy Scouts?”

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I vaguely remembered sitting around my kitchen table in Wickenburg, Arizona, struggling through the information for the first time. I had no idea anyone would remember. The young doctor proceeded to tell me that merit badge had been the basis for his Constitutional studies in college.

He loves the country and has a profound respect for the founding principles of our nation. He was distressed about the heath care issue and how it would shift our economy into a more socialistic form of government. I could see the worry in his eyes about his new practice and being able to provide for his family in a Robin Hood economy where the haves are forced to give to the will-nots.

I am all for charity. I believe that we should take care of the widows and the orphans. That is why I have five adopted children. I believe that everyone at times needs a helping hand, but I don’t believe charity can be mandated by the government. If it is demanded, then it can never be charity. Government-controlled charity hacks at the very roots of Christianity.

Back to the Boy Scouts; as a councilor, I have met with hundreds of boys. Their abilities and preparation range from not being able to string a sentence together verbally to one scout who memorized the Declaration of Independence. I thought he was pulling my leg until I quizzed him about the Constitution. He knew more than I did after my many years of study. I was impressed beyond measure!

Many of the boys come to me able to quote the Preamble to the Constitution. I know why. A local school teacher requires them to recite it every morning. I always know the boys who have come from her class. They can stand with confidence and say:

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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.

During the course of the merit badge training, each boy must give the meaning of each part of the Preamble. Most of the boys stumble over the enormous words and changed meanings of particular phrases, but before they leave my class, they can tell me what is expected of our government based on the original intent of the Constitution.

I remember when I first read the Preamble to the Constitution, I was confused with the flowery language and fancy strokes of the pen, but as I broke it down line by line and word by word, I understood and was impressed by the content, and how well our founders were able to articulate their intentions in so few words.

We the People of the United States,

Of course this phrase is easy to understand. It means the people of the United States, those who are citizens, those who were born here, or who have become naturalized through obeying the laws.

...in Order to form a more perfect Union,

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The founders were abandoning a form of government under the Articles of Confederation, that didn’t work. They wanted something more perfect to govern themselves. The word perfect, to me, doesn’t mean without fault, it means whole or complete. The founders wanted something better, something that would address the complete needs of the people – not just the elite or the rich, but every man, woman and child in the United States.

...establish Justice,

Justice under the rule of kings and dictators is whimsical and subject to the mood of the man in charge. Laws can change from one minute to the next. What is acceptable and right one day, can be the complete opposite the next. The founders wanted the idea that “man was created equal” to really mean something.

They wanted every man to be equal under the law. Did they establish a government where everybody owned the same amount of property? Did they ensure that every business was owned by the government so wages could be meted out equally? No! They knew that people came into the world in different stations in life. Some were rich and some were poor, but they wanted everyone rich or poor to be treated with the same respect in the sight of the law.

...insure domestic Tranquility,

Domestic means home and tranquility means peace. The founders wanted peace at home. They had just fought a war with a king who would force them to give housing to soldiers. His appointed officers could come into their homes without warrant and ransack their belongings and take whatever they wanted. The founders wanted the peace of knowing that their homes were safe from government intervention and tyranny.

...provide for the common defense

The word, common, in this context, means everyone. Provide means to make available. The government is to make preparations to defend everyone. It doesn’t say that soldiers will be stationed in every town. It doesn’t say the government will take care of everyone. It says that they will make things available. In other words, they will allow people to use resources they have provided, but the people are expected people to defend themselves.

...promote the general Welfare,

This one gets a little confusing because the word, welfare, has a totally different meaning today. When a boy thinks of welfare, he thinks of someone living on the dole being totally dependent on the government for their support. In our founders’ time, welfare meant the well-being of individuals. It meant safety, security, and help when needed. The word promote doesn’t mean to give. Rather, it means to educate, motivate and applaud the efforts of someone. Promoting means that the individual is still in charge of their own choices and consequences.

...and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,

The word secure means to obtain something, but it also means to make safe. The choice of words here is intentional. The founding fathers wanted the blessings of liberty to last forever, and they wanted them to be safe in the hands of their posterity. They wanted people to be governed by a document that would never be outdated. They wanted every man to answer for himself and not be bound by the decisions of someone else. In other words, freedom implies responsibility. If you are free to succeed, you are also free to fail.

Our founding fathers didn’t expect people to stand in line for health care, education, living quarters, or government bailouts. They expected them to take this new-found freedom and rise above every setback and obstacle. They knew that each generation would build upon the principles of the past to chart a new and better life for themselves, because they were free to do so. They would be horrified at the thought of a dictator or king upon this land. The blood of every soldier that died in every war for freedom would cry from the dust in opposition to such an atrocity. We are a free people, but the freedom we hold dear was bought with a price. We cannot sleep and let the whims of dull-minded short-sighted government destroy the blessings of liberty given to us by the innocent blood of the 1700s.

...do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

These are the reasons why the Constitution was written. The rules that are set up in the Constitution, if followed, have given us the greatest country in the world. We have a greater opportunity for wealth and happiness than any other time period on the face of the earth. Even some of the poorest among us have more than all the kings who ever lived. We don’t know what it is like to wake up with fear in the pit of our stomachs, or to hear the sounds of war crashing around us.

Most of us rise in the morning to complain about the news and to search through the refrigerator among the plethora of food to decide what we want for breakfast. Never thinking for a moment that we must be vigilant or it will all be taken from us. Thank God for the Boy Scouts of America and for patriots who remember what the Constitution is all about. PD

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