This little-noticed phrase in the Preamble to our Constitution has profound significance for laws and governing. If taken seriously it could force us to think entirely differently about laws and government.
The Preamble justifies our Constitution as the basis for forming a more perfect union, establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare, and securing the blessings of liberty “to ourselves and our posterity.” Most scholars, though not all, conclude that “our posterity” applies to securing the blessings of liberty. Some believe we must take into account “our posterity” in achieving all of the Constitution’s purposes.
Either way, the idea that future generations have a stake in carrying out the Constitution’s objectives is profound. When we go to war or even just buy weapons, when we act or do not act on climate change, when we do or do not reform health care, when we preserve wilderness or extract non-renewable resources, when we bail out banks and industries, when we do these and many, many more things, we do so not only for ourselves but also for our posterity, as far into the future as we can imagine generations.
Though political figures often acknowledge “our children and grandchildren” in their speeches, when you listen to political arguments today they almost always have to do with how will this or that affect me, right now, in my life. Almost all of our concerns are about the impact of decisions on ourselves and our lives.
Assuming our Founders to have been serious people and most of all those who chose words carefully who knew they were writing for the ages, we can assume they meant what they said. We are to take into account the impact on our posterity’s achievement of the blessings of liberty, and perhaps much more, when we make important public decisions.
We all leave some kind of legacy. For the fortunate it is often money and property. For the humble it is usually just our example. That is our private legacy. Why can we not also see that we also leave a public legacy, our nation, its resources, a peaceful or warlike planet, the global environment, and much more.
By adding “…and our posterity,” the Founders placed upon us a profound moral duty.