To Form a More Perfect Union

Principle #2 from the Enacting Clause (Preamble) of the United States Constitution

Full Episode Transcript

Abraham Lincoln steadfastly believed that the Constitution should be interpreted in a manner that is faithful to its purposes. Today, the legacy of Lincoln stands as an inspiring example against the pernicious sophistries of those who seek to undermine what John Wycliffe described in the Preface to his translation of the Latin Vulgate into Middle English. He wrote: “The Bible is for government of, by and for the people.” Lincoln later expressed the hope, shared by all people of authentic good will, that such an evolved form of government “shall not perish from the earth.”

The Constitution is a contract with the people of the United States. In 1819, then Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court John Marshall wrote an Opinion in the case Sturges versus Crowninshield. It was a case involving a federal question about the obligations of contract and the extent to which such obligations might be discharged as a result of insolvency or bankruptcy.

Marshall referred to controversies about the Contract Clause when he wrote:

“Before discussing this argument, it may not be improper to premise that although the spirit of an instrument, especially of a constitution, is to be respected not less than its letter, yet the spirit is to be collected chiefly from its words. It would be dangerous in the extreme to infer from extrinsic circumstances that a case for which the words of an instrument expressly provide shall be exempted from its operation.”

Eighty-six years later Associate Justice John Marshall Harlan blunted the spirit of the law, and its operational effect, when he wrote the opinion in Jacobson versus Massachusetts.

Harlan acknowledged the prior work of Marshall with out-of-context phrasing when he wrote: 

“While the spirit of the Constitution is to be respected not less than its letter, the spirit is to be collected chiefly from its words.”

But then he quashed the essence of the Enacting Clause, effectively excising and excavating under it, when he wrote: 

“The United States does not derive any of its substantive powers from the Preamble of the Constitution. It cannot exert any power to secure the declared objects of the Constitution unless, apart from the Preamble, such power be found in, or can properly be implied from, some express delegation in the instrument.”

Harlan’s personal confusion concerning the difference between inference and implication notwithstanding, this was also the time of the Fuller Court. Chief Justice Melville W. Fuller and his cohorts in 1905 were consistently expressing contempt for, the Ninth Amendment which clearly states:

“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”