I was researching the Ohio Constitution a couple of days ago to find an answer to a question that I had been pondering for a while when I took notice (for the first time) of the State’s Preamble: “We, the people of the State of Ohio, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, to secure its blessings and promote our common welfare, do establish this Constitution.”
Naturally, I was a bit perplexed. “We, the people of Ohio, are grateful to Almighty God for our freedom?” Wow, I thought, that was news to me. Other than those words constantly spewing from the mouths of the country’s ultra-orthodox Christians and revisionist loons, I had never heard that claim seriously being made by anyone. For as long as I could remember the only thanks I’ve been asked to give for my “freedom” was to a vet, and I always felt my intelligence assaulted when that trope was hurled at me.
I was also immediately struck with the notion that the portion of the Preamble reading, “grateful to Almighty God” might not have been part of the Preamble when it was originally written and had been deliberately injected into it before its passage. Sure enough. I learned that Ohio (so far) has had three Constitutions – 1803, 1851 and 1912. I discovered that the reference to a “thankfulness” to an “Almighty God” was not always part of its short Preamble.
During my research I discovered a lot of very interesting things but these findings are best reserved for another time. Here I wish to focus exclusively on Ohio’s Preamble and how it stacks up to the other 49 States.
Here is what I learned:
Firstly, there’s a website that does a really great job at making the Constitutions of all 50 States accessible to anyone who wishes to learn more about them: https://ballotpedia.org/Preambles_to_state_constitutions. This page specifically lists the Preambles of each State Constitution but has links to the full text of each Constitution. (There’s also a lot of historical information that one could find via Google and Wikipedia that could take one on an intellectual journey for days.)
Here are the most interesting facts that I’ve discovered during my brief study:
- Three States do not have a Preamble to their Constitution: New Hampshire, Vermont and Virginia.
- Only one State in the Union contains a purely secular statement – Oregon.
“We the people of the State of Oregon to the end that Justice be established, order maintained, and liberty perpetuated, do ordain this Constitution.”
- The Preambles to all of the other Constitutions contain references to a supernatural deity, much in the same flavor of Ohio’s. I found these words embedded in all of them:
Divine goodness (DE)
Divine Guidance (HI). Hawaii does not acknowledge a “supreme being” but does expresses its thankfulness for “divine guidance.”
Divine providence (WV)
Supreme ruler of the Universe (CO, IA, MO, WA)
great Legislator of the universe (MA). It’s hard to tell if these words were inspired by the deism of the State’s founders or their Native American captives!
Sovereign Ruler of the Universe (ME, CO). Maine’s Preamble also implores “God.”
God (all of them except as already noted)
Almighty god (the vast majority)
Our Lord (TN). Uses “… in the year of our Lord” seven times in the most bizarre Preamble that I found.
Here are some examples of State Preambles:
”We the people of Alaska, grateful to God and to those who founded our nation and pioneered this great land, in order to secure and transmit to succeeding generations our heritage of political, civil, and religious liberty within the Union of States, do ordain and establish this constitution for the State of Alaska.”
We, the People of the State of California, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, in order to secure and perpetuate its blessings, do establish this Constitution.
“We The People of the State of New York, grateful to Almighty God for our Freedom, in order to secure its blessings, DO ESTABLISH THIS CONSTITUTION.”
“WE, the people of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of civil and religious liberty, and humbly invoking His guidance, do ordain and establish this Constitution.”
“We, therefore, the people of Massachusetts, acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the goodness of the great Legislator of the universe, in affording us, in the course of His providence, an opportunity, deliberately and peaceably, without fraud, violence or surprise, of entering into an original, explicit, and solemn compact with each other; and of forming a new constitution of civil government, for ourselves and posterity; and devoutly imploring His direction in so interesting a design, do agree upon, ordain and establish the following Declaration of Rights, and Frame of Government, as the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”
“We, the people of Hawaii, grateful for Divine Guidance, and mindful of our Hawaiian heritage and uniqueness as an island State, dedicate our efforts to fulfill the philosophy decreed by the Hawaii State motto, “Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono.”
We reserve the right to control our destiny, to nurture the integrity of our people and culture, and to preserve the quality of life that we desire.
We reaffirm our belief in a government of the people, by the people and for the people, and with an understanding and compassionate heart toward all the peoples of the earth, do hereby ordain and establish this constitution for the State of Hawaii.”
After becoming more aware of these facts, I’m left wondering what led Michael Newdow to believe that he stood a chance in hell with his attempt to remove the words, “In God We Trust” from US currency.