We the People of the United States…do ordain
I noted that the preamble really wasn’t the setting down of laws, rights or anything but I purposefully didn’t mention the monumental importance of the language that was used.
The States of the Americas were already labeled “united” in the Articles of Confederations—but nowhere near the way that the Constitution was using the term.
Each state functioned, essentially, as its own country. They could make their own currency. They could enforce their own state constitutions. Honestly, they could even go to war against one another (if attacked by invasion). When they became the united States, they were the individual states which, together, signed the articles to form a confederation—not a new government. In other words, they weren’t forming a new government; they were merely in union with certain purposes.
For example: if a law had to be passed, all the states had to agree to it and then they may or may not implement it in their own states. A strange predicament that. But this makes sense if it was merely a sort of non-aggression contract. This is why the Articles of Confederation even allowed Canada to be part of the united (small “U”) States if they so wished. Canada wouldn’t be giving up her sovereignty; she’d only be in union with the other States.
Imagine the situation: States, functioning independently, making different currencies, different laws that didn’t function across borders—and the horror of an angry overseas enemy constantly looming. Sure the Articles stuffed in some language about no State making a treaty with England but it’s still a shaky concept when you consider the fractured history of Europe. If anything, even though the Articles were helpful, they would ultimately be a failure resulting in a fractured landmass under the constant thread of a powerful enemy and no way to deal with all the problems without all the States agreeing to the fixes first.
Enter the Constitution.
It doesn’t speak in terms of States coming into an agreement and then forming this central government by ending the previous system and accepting all sorts of inequities; rather it speaks in terms of the people collectively decreeing something into existence which wasn’t there before. The People are the ones who are speaking and ordaining this central government and this then becomes the (capital “U”) United States.
This is interesting since the ordaining of the United States doesn’t necessitate all the States agreeing on a change in Confederation—this United States didn’t have much to do with the Confederation as it was. This was a new thing.
We see in Article 7 (which we’ll get to eventually) it doesn’t speak of enforcing this United States over all the States by merely nine States agreeing on it, rather it speaks of the United States grounded on the Constitution coming into being via ordination by nine States ratifying the thing.
In effect, in the Americas, you would have Canada (up north), The United States (made up of whatever nine states did ratify it) and then all the other States functioning as other Countries.
As states ratified the Constitution, they entered into this more perfect union of an ordained Government rather than signing a treaty of peace with this New Country. In this way, Rhode Island continued to exist as a separate entity while the United States marched on with George Washington as her President. Once Rhode Island finally ratified the constitution they didn’t form a contract with the United States, they became part of the country already known as the United States.
Therefore, the importance of this “We the People of the United States…do ordain” is monumental, even if it isn’t establishing rights or laws. There may have been attempts at democratic governments in the past, even in ancient Greece and Rome, but such attempts ended at the State level. This government, ordained by the People and for the people and ratified by the People of the States was a new thing: for good or ill, the world would watch would wonder and realize that it would never again be the same.