Goals of the Constitution of the United States

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The Constitution of the United States outlines the legal power of the American government and rights of the American people, but it was based on six simple goals. In this lesson, we'll talk about those goals and what they mean to America.

The Constitution of the United States

How do we know what the founding figures of the United States wanted our government to look like? We can't ask them, unless you secretly have a time machine, in which case please tell me, because as a historian I have soooo many questions I need answered! No time machine? Bummer. Well, then how do we know what the founding figures had in mind? We know because they wrote it out in the Constitution of the United States, the document that formally and legally gives the government its structure and power. The power of the government, the rights of American citizens; it's all in there. But in order to understand this, we need to know what the founding figures were thinking when they wrote the Constitution, and that means understanding their goals. Unless you have a time machine. No? Okay then, let's do this.

The Constitution of the United States


Let's take a step back into the 18th century, the world of America's founding figures. At the time, American colonists were really into a philosophical movement called the Enlightenment, based on the belief that every single person had individual, human rights, regardless of their wealth or social status. These ideas convinced American colonists that the British king was a tyrant, and that they had the right to fight for control of their own lives. So, they declared independence and founded a new nation on Enlightenment ideologies. The Americans' first government was outlined in a document called the Articles of Confederation, which created a Continental Congress to govern the states. However, it was pretty weak, and the Americans quickly realized they could do better. So, each state elected delegates to come together and draft a brand new constitution.

The signing of the US Constitution

Goals of the Constitution

Between the philosophical ideology of the Enlightenment and the problems of the Articles of Confederation, the early Americans had a pretty good idea of what they wanted this new government to look like. In particular, they had six specific goals in mind, goals which defined the American Constitution, government, and nation.

Goal #1: Form a More Perfect Union

When the 13 colonies declared independence, it was actually unclear whether they were doing so as one unified nation or as 13 smaller nations. While the Articles of Confederation identified the 13 states as a single nation, it didn't really provide any structure, and most states thought of themselves as basically being independent from each other. So, one of the main goals of the constitution was to form a more unified nation, or a more perfect union of the states. This meant that the new Constitution had to create a stronger central government, with an executive leader, the President of the United States.

Goal #2: To Establish Justice

The next goal of the Constitution was to make a nation based on the idea of justice. This was one of those Enlightenment ideas which said that the law needs to be the same for every person, regardless of wealth or class. Under England, the colonists didn't always have equal access to fair trials, so they didn't have a true sense of justice. In the Constitution, the founding figures created a system of federal courts, the Judicial branch of the government, to make sure that everyone was treated fairly and equally before the law.

Goal #3: To Ensure Domestic Tranquility

The next goal of the Constitution was to ensure domestic tranquility, which basically just means peace at home. With the Articles of Confederation being so weak and the nation so fractured, there were some major rebellions and outbreaks of violence. The Constitution gave more power to the federal government so that it could create national unity and have the power to maintain peace throughout the nation.

Goal #4: To Provide for the Common Defense

Now, when the United States became independent, that didn't mean that suddenly they were safe. The Spanish Empire was still in control of large parts of North America, the British Empire was up in Canada, and even France could possibly one day turn against the Americans and invade. So, the government needed the power to raise armies in order to protect the American nation and people from being attacked.

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