When a constitution creates a government, the preamble of that constitution contains the principles and purposes of that government. The preamble may also contain the source of that government’s authority.
Preamble of the Articles of Confederation, 1781
To all to whom these Presents shall come, we the undersigned Delegates of the States affixed to our Names send greeting. Whereas the Delegates of the United States of America in Congress Assembled did on the fifteenth day of November, in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy seven, and in the Second Year of the Independence of America agree to certain articles of Confederation and perpetual Union between the states of Newhampshire, Massachusetts-bay, Rhodeisland and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North-Carolina, South-Carolina and Georgia.
Preamble of the United States Constitution, 1787
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, 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.
Preamble of German Basic Law, 1949 (amended by unification treaty and law of 1990)
Conscious of their responsibility before God and Men, Animated by the resolve to serve world peace as an equal partner in a united Europe, the German people have adopted, by virtue of their constituent power, this Basic Law. The Germans in Baden- Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Hesse, Lower Saxony, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, North-Rhine-Weststphalia, Rhineland-Paltinate, Saarland, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Schleswig-Holstein, and Thuringia have achieved the unity and freedom of Germany in free self-determination. This Basic Law is thus valid for the entire German People.
Preamble of the French Constitution of 1958
The French people solemnly proclaim their attachment to the Rights of Man and the principles of national sovereignty as defined by the Declaration of 1789, confirmed and complemented by the Preamble to the Constitution of 1946. By virtue of these principles and that of the self-determination of peoples, the Republic offers to the overseas territories that express the will to adhere to them new institutions founded on the common ideal of liberty, equality and fraternity and conceived with a view to their democratic development.
Preamble of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, 1993
We, the multinational people of the Russian Federation, united by a common destiny on our land, asserting human rights and liberties, civil peace and accord, preserving the historic unity of the state, proceeding from the commonly recognized principles of equality and self-determination of the peoples honouring the memory of our ancestors, who have passed on to us love of and respect for our homeland and faith in good and justice, reviving the sovereign statehood of Russia and asserting its immutable democratic foundations, striving to secure the well being and prosperity of Russia and proceeding from a sense of responsibility for our homeland before the present and future generations, and being aware of ourselves as part of the world community, hereby approve the Constitution of the Russian Federation.
Preamble of the Constitution of Uzbekistan, 1992
The people of Uzbekistan, solemnly declaring their adherence to human rights and principles of state sovereignty, aware of their ultimate responsibility to the present and the future generations, relying on historical experience in the development of Uzbek statehood, affirming their commitment to the ideals of democracy and social justice, recognizing priority of the generally accepted norms of the international law, aspiring to a worthy life for the citizens of the Republic, setting forth the task of creating a humane and democratic rule of law, aiming to ensure civil peace and national accord, represented by their plenipotentiary deputies adopt the present Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan.
Preamble of the Constitution of Iran, 1979
The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran advances the cultural, social, political, and economic institutions of Iranian society based on Islamic principles and norms, which represent an honest aspiration of the Islamic Ummah. This aspiration was exemplified by the nature of the great Islamic Revolution of Iran, and by the course of the Muslim people's struggle, from its beginning until victory, as reflected in the decisive and forceful calls raised by all segments of the populations. Now, at the threshold of this great victory, our nation, with all its beings, seeks its fulfillment.
Preamble of the Constitution of China
The People’s Republic of China is a unitary multinational state built up jointly by the people of all its nationalities. Socialist relations of equality, unity and mutual assistance have been established among them and will continue to be strengthened. In the struggle to safeguard the unity of the nationalities, it is necessary to combat big-nation chauvinism, mainly Han chauvinism, and also necessary to combat local national chauvinism. The state does its utmost to promote the common prosperity of all nationalities in the country.This Constitution affirms the achievements of the struggles of the Chinese people of all nationalities and defines the basic system and basic tasks of the state in legal form; it is the fundamental law of the state and has supreme legal authority. The people of all nationalities, all state organs, the armed forces, all political parties and public organizations and all enterprises and undertakings in the country must take the Constitution as the basic norm of conduct, and they have the duty to uphold the dignity of the Constitution and ensure its implementation.
Preamble of the Constitution of Japan, 1946
We, the Japanese people, acting through our elected representatives in the National Diet, determined that we should secure for ourselves and our posterity the fruits of peaceful cooperation with all nations and the blessings of liberty all over this land, and resolved that never again shall we be visited with the horrors of war through the action of government, do proclaim that sovereign power resides with the people and do firmly establish this Constitution. Government is a sacred trust of the people, the authority for which is derived from the people, the powers of which are exercised by the representatives of the people, and the benefits of which are enjoyed by the people. This is a universal principle of mankind upon which this Constitution is founded.
Comparing Preambles of Constitutions
Preambles of constitutions set forth the principles and purposes of government.
We selected preambles for this resource that can be compared for their similarities and differences.
Some examples are historically based while others are culturally based or ideologically based. Most are an interesting mix of those three factors.
Similarities and Differences
The U.S. Articles of Confederation preceded the U.S. Constitution of 1787. Both provide for a union. The source of authority for the former union is the states; for the latter, it is the people.
The German Basic Law may seem similar at first to the U.S. Articles because it includes a list of German lander or states, but the source of authority in the German preamble is clearly "the German people" who adopted it.
Historically, the German Basic Law was written under the close supervision of the Allied Powers after World War II, but the German people can still be credited with its adoption. There are interesting parallels between the German and Japanese documents. Both were written under Allied control, both lasted for decades thereafter, and both contain indirect references to the past war and clear expectations of future peace.
The French Preamble of 1958, written amidst decolonization, is an interesting document. With one hand, it reaches back in time to the Republic’s first Constitution of 1789 and its Declaration of the Rights of Man and to the ideals of "liberty, equality, and fraternity." With another hand, it extends an olive branch to its colonies by promising to support their claims to self-determination if they in turn abide by France’s principles and the principle of democracy.
The Preambles for Russia and Uzbekistan in Central Asia are similar in the sense that both were written after the collapse of the Soviet Union. (During Soviet times, Uzbekistan was a Soviet republic.) There are interesting similarities in the text (like the stated commitment to human rights). But note the Uzbek aspirational goal of a worthy life, which represents the re-introduction of a religious (Islamic) theme long suppressed by the Soviet regime.
The Uzbek Preamble, however, does not create an Islamic state; the Iranian Preamble does. Hence, these two documents can more closely be compared. The Chinese Preamble can be compared with other constitutions in several ways. Like the classic Communist constitutions of the Soviet past (not contained in this Resource), it contains strong statements of nationalism and ideology.