Founding Principles of a Constitution

Founding Principles of the Constitution can be described as:  “those values that citizens commit themselves to their adherence.  They are the foundations of the Constitution and they reflect the manner in which the people desire to be governed.”


Many constitutions contain underlying principles which are fundamental to the entire constitutional structure.  Sometimes these principles are unstated and have to be inferred from the provisions of the constitution, but often — particularly in modern constitutions — they are stated expressly.  The Constitution of the United States may have served as a model, with its preamble stating the following constitutional objectives: “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”  And of course there is the famous statement in the American Declaration of Independence, that everyone is endowed with certain unalienable rights, among them “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.

Purpose of Statement of Principles

A statement of principles is not mere window-dressing, because if the principles are set out clearly enough they may prevent governments from enacting constitutional amendments that run counter to them.  This is the so-called “pillars of the Constitution” argument, which maintains that it is not permissible to amend a constitution in such a way as to remove any of its pillars or core values.  If the Founding Principles are stated clearly they become the framework in which the Judiciary interpret the Constitution.  The argument was developed by the Indian Supreme Court in interpreting the Constitution of India, and it has been adopted elsewhere.  Sometimes, to put the inviolability of the principles beyond doubt, a constitution states expressly that they cannot be abrogated [repealed or cancelled].  The French Constitution, for example, prohibits any amendment that affects the republican form of government.  And the German Constitution prohibits any limitation on the constitutional protection of human dignity, or any constitutional amendment that changes the democratic and law-based nature of the German state.  The Namibian Constitution prohibits any amendment that would limit or abolish the rights protected in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.  


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