Steve G.

Constitutional Oaths and A Plea to President Obama

In Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Constitutional Rights, Law, US Government on March 28, 2009 at 7:41 pm

Weekend’s guest column by Rhys M.Blavier. His work can be found here.

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

This simple thirty-five word Oath of Office is specified by The Constitution of The United States as the one, single oath which much be taken by every person who is going to serve this nation as our President. After this oath is taken every four years, however, no one seems to ever pay much attention to it, but it is important enough that it is the ONLY oath spelled out word for word in The Constitution. And, yet, I can find no evidence of ANY case laws from our Supreme Court which has ever addressed this oath, even in passing or in dissent. NONE! This oath has only two specific obligations which it places on a President; to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States”, and to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” to the best of their ability.

While no other oath is specified in The Constitution, it DOES state in Article VI, clause 3 that:

“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

For other federal officials, including members of Congress, it specifies that they “shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation to support this constitution.” By federal statute, the oath which must be taken by all members of The House of Representatives and The Senate, as well as by The Vice President, members of the Cabinet, and all other civil and military officers and all federal employees other than the President is:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

The taking of oaths by all other federal officials in addition to the President dates back to the fourteen word oath created by the first United States Congress in 1789 (“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support The Constitution of the United States.”), but the current wording is based more on the oaths written during The War Between the States which were intended to allow treason charges to be leveled against those who supported the south or didn’t support the union.

The first Congress also specified, in The Judiciary Act of 1789, the oath which would be required of all federal judges in the United States:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm), that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent on me, according to the best of my abilities and understanding, agreeably to the Constitution, and laws of the United States. So help me God.”

In fact, federal judges are currently required to take not just one, but TWO different oaths:

“I, _________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as ______ under the Constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God.”

And:

“I, _________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

Federal statute specifically states that this second oath “does not affect other oaths required by law.”

Within the military forces of The United States, the oaths required of both officers and enlisted men are statutory and are prescribed in Section 3331, Title 5 of the United States Code. The oath which officers are required to take is:

“I, _________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

While enlisted men are required to take this oath:

“I, _________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

An important distinction between the oaths required of officers when compared with that required of the enlisted ranks is that the oath taken by officers does not include ANY provision to obey orders. While enlisted personnel are bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice to obey LAWFUL orders, officers in the service of the United States are bound by their oath to disobey ANY order that violates The Constitution of the United States.

As far as I can tell, these are all of the oaths required by our federal government for any person who is in any way obligated to serve The United States of America (I am obviously not aware of any secret oaths which might exist within the shadowy corridors of secrecy which our country tries to keep hidden from its citizens). I am not including the oaths taken by members of the National Guard or by any officials of the various states as doing so could fill a small book, needless to say, all of those oaths meet the same Constitutional requirements which these federal oaths do.

At this point you are probably wondering why I have spent almost a thousand words just to tell you what the different United States federal oaths are. It is very simple. OATHS MATTER! Whether we pay attention to them or not, our Constitution requires them and many people take them, which means MANY people are BOUND by them. Now, as you read through them, you might have noticed that there is only one thing which they ALL have in common (aside from all being very short and all starting with the word ‘I’). I’ll give you a minute to look back through them in case you haven’t noticed it yet.

Every single oath required by or contained within The United States’ Constitution and/or federal statue, EVERY one, obligates the taker to preserve, protect, defend, uphold, support and/or administer justice agreeably to The Constitution of The United States; not the nation, not the people of, not the business interests of, not any person, concept, idea or entity other than THE CONSTITUTION itself. Furthermore, where any of the oaths mention enemies, it specifies enemies foreign AND domestic, ALL enemies of The Constitution, not enemies of the nation or of the people but of THE CONSTITUTION. Thus, by my personal interpretation (and, I assume, that of everyone who demands a strict, literal interpretation of The Constitution), while the economy, national security, foreign policy, healthcare, etc. are important concerns of our federal government, as provided for WITHIN The Constitution, the SINGLE most important duty of the President and of every member of our federal government is to ensure the health of and obedience TO that Constitution. ALL other considerations come after that one and NO duty or obligation is higher than it.

Every time I hear our President say that he “wants to look forward”, I want to cry. He cannot look forward or move forward by ignoring the past. What he is trying to do is build a wonderful new house upon a foundation that is very badly and structurally damaged. In such a case, it doesn’t matter how well you construct the house, it will not last because it MUST have a solid foundation. In fact, the bigger the house, the more important the integrity of the foundation must be. Oaths matter, but so do the principles demonstrated by those who take those oaths. No matter what words we might choose, words are not actions and principles are demonstrated by our actions. A principle is only a principle if it is something you do even when it is difficult, inconvenient or when it could cause you personal damage. If principles only required us to do things when they are easy or convenient, when there is no real cost associated with following them, then EVERYONE would be principled. Principles DO matter and what is shown to us by a person’s very real actions is what tells us what their principles truly are, not the words they say to us.

Therefore, I call upon Mr. Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, to uphold his Constitutional oath of office, and to preserve, protect and defend The Constitution of The United States. I call upon him to repair the damage done to our constitutional government by past administrations and officials, elected and appointed. I call upon him to define what his powers as President are under The Constitution and to specifically repudiate those which are not consistent with the provisions of The Constitution, including the power to single handedly declare that he will not obey, uphold or be bound by laws or treaties enacted by Congress simply because he doesn’t like them, or to claim dictatorial powers to dispense with constitutional provisions (like habeas corpus, cruel and unusual punishment, the right to speedy trials, legal advice and hearing all evidence presented against the accused) upon his own whim and, especially, the power to declare war, which is reserved solely for Congress. I call upon him to publicly repudiate the entire concept of the Unitary Executive and to acknowledge the Constitutional invalidity of all such excesses by ALL Presidents going back at least to the administration of Harry Truman. I call upon him to investigate and prosecute ALL officials and officers of The United States, in every branch and department of our government who have ever done grievous harm or serious damage to The Constitution, including by refusal to abide by our legal and treaty obligations, up to and including war crimes committed within The United States and/or in the name of The United States by anyone in or working on behalf of The United States, up to and including former Presidents and Vice Presidents of The United States.

To Mr. Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States, I would like to personally say this:

“Mr. Obama, I know that you were elected to be President of The United States for many reasons… our economy is bad and people thought you could fix it; our national reputation is tarnished and people thought you could improve it; we needed hope for the future rather than fear of it and people thought you could give that to us; and for so many other reasons both important and trivial. However, there were many people in this country, including me, who voted for you because our Constitution and our constitutional government have been threatened and even horribly damaged over the course of the last eight years, if not over the last quarter of a century, and we believed that you could and would work quickly and aggressively to undo and/or repair that damage, as well as to prosecute and punish those guilty of violating their own oaths to it and of doing such harm to it.

“Please remember that no damage has EVER been done to our Constitution by any EXTERNAL enemies of our nation. Those who attacked us on September 11, 2001 might have hurt our nation and killed our citizens, but they did not hurt our Constitution. The same is true of Timothy McVeigh and the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995. He attacked the people of the United States but he did not threaten or harm our Constitution. No external enemies of our nation ever did any damage to our Constitution in the 50s, 60s, 70s or 80s. All of the damage which was done to it was done by domestic enemies who were attacking The Constitution from within… McCarthy, the House Un-American Activities Committee, J. Edgar Hoover, the Nixon administration, the Reagan administration, and by many, so many others. No damage was ever done to our Constitution by the Soviet Union or by ‘international communism’ but rather by those Americans who thought that communism was such a dangerous threat that they had the right to violate our own laws as well as our Constitution in order to fight it. But, out of fear of communism, many threats to our Constitution resulted from the actions of our own Congress and from administrations from Truman to Reagan. No foreign enemy has EVER harmed or even threatened our Constitution over the entire course of our history as a nation, but many domestic enemies have, and they have done so while wrapped tightly in the flag of and holding the symbols of The United States of America, going back to at least 1798 with The Alien and Seditions Acts. AMERICA may have been threatened many times in its history by enemies foreign and domestic, real and imagined, but no threats to our Constitution have ever come from external forces attacking us, those threats have ALWAYS been the result of our own internal rot.

“I know that this will be difficult to do. I know that it will cause political problems and turmoil, for you, for Congress and for the Judiciary. I know that it could precipitate a political civil war within this country. I know it would detract from other areas which you need to address, such as our economy. None of that matters, however. The oath which you took upon assuming the office and responsibilities of President of The United States obligates you to do this. It isn’t a choice, it is your duty, and no one should get to pick which duties they will fulfill based on which ones are more difficult or unpleasant than others, or upon which ones they like or don’t like. Remember, please, that you are the person who is charged by the Constitution to execute the provisions of and laws according to it, no one else, just you. In the end, your most important and lasting legacy will not be our economy, our wars, or our energy policies, or our healthcare system; those things are all transitory. In the end, your most important and lasting legacy will be what you demonstrate to the American people about what our Constitution and our constitutional government really are and what they really mean. There is no one else, Mr. President, except you upon whose shoulders this duty falls on. Please, do not let our nation… no, not our nation… Please, Mr. President, do not let our CONSTITUTION down. I don’t think we can survive if you do.”

Rhys M. Blavier
Romayor, Texas

  1. I am going to post comments which have been made to my original posting of this article in order to have a dialog which builds instead of covers ground which might have been covered elsewhere. I hope no one minds.

  2. robertlyn-schultz

    Hy Rhys,

    I liked the overall tone of this piece, however as a student of military history I must point out a historical inacuracy in the body of your text, and that is:

    No foreign enemy has EVER harmed or even threatened our Constitution over the entire course of our history as a nation
    You don’t know how this hurts me to do, but I will quote from a speech made by Hillary Clinton way back in 1999, to shed a bit of light on a brave and independent Washington Clerk who worked for the people of the United States in 1814.

    Stephen Pleasanton, a State Department clerk in 1814, who received word that the British forces were coming and that the should take care of the papers in his office.

    Now, when he asked the Secretary of War, the Secretary told him he shouldn’t be so worried because it was unlikely that the British would break through the line. But as I have often told the story in the White House, we know, indeed, that the British did, and burned the White House to the ground.

    And, thankfully, Mr. Pleasanton did not listen to those optimistic reports. Instead, he and others gathered up the Declaration of Independence, laws, letter from George Washington and the unpublished journals of Congress, and brought them to a grist mill two miles from Georgetown. But he decided that that was not far enough away from danger, so he found wagons and took the documents another 35 miles, to Leesburg. He made sure they were safe in an empty house. He locked the doors and he went to bed, exhausted.

    When he woke up, he did hear the news that Washington had been set on fire the night before, our public buildings had been burned to the ground. But, thankfully, our founding documents were unharmed because he had saved them.

    Other than that good work expressing your call for our new Pres. to live up to his obligation to that oath.

    Have a good’un,

    Aloha

    Fri Mar 27, 2009 3:56 AM CDT

  3. Rhys M. BlavierRobertlyn,

    I thought very carefully about the War of 1812 when I was writing this article. The conclusion I came to was that out nation was threatened and, if we had lost that war then The United States would have probably ceased to exist as a nation and, as a result, our Constitution would no longer have been our governing document but the British were not at war with us over our constitution and a PHYSICAL threat to the piece of paper on which the original constitution was written was only a threat to that piece of paper. The Constitution would not have ceased to exist if that piece of paper had burned up, any more that it would if today the piece of paper within its protective case were to burn up or disintegrate because of some accident. The Constitution is not the piece of paper, it is the words written upon that piece of paper, and there is no shortage of records of those words.

    As a result, I do not think that the threats to Washington by the British were because there were enemies of our constitution, they were enemies of our nation, just as we were not enemies of the Parliamentary form of government, we were enemies of the British nation and people. Throughout the whole of The War of 1812, The Constitution continued to function exactly as it was supposed to, just as the Parliamentary System continued to Function in Great Britain. Our constitutional form of government did not have to hide from British soldiers, although quite a few people who were part of that government did. IF The Constitution had become non-functional, it would simply have been a consequence of our nation failing to win the war, not of the British fighting to destroy our Constitution (the war was primarily a war which was the result of economic and diplomatic conflicts).

    Our Constitution is not the physical document that was written in 1789, it is an idea, a design for a better form of government, and the application of that idea and design. The loss of the actual document would be a loss to history, archival records, symbols and memorabilia of our nations, but would not threaten how our government works. I still stand by my view that the Constitution of The United States has never been threatened by ANY foreign enemy throughout our entire course of history.

    As always, it is good to see comments from you regarding any of my articles. I appreciate your time and effort to read it and your thoughts and input.

    Rhys M. Blavier

    Fri Mar 27, 2009 4:52 AM CDT

  4. estela2008Rhys, thanks for the article and the link. I was reading a case recently about the taking of oaths as a requisite for certain officials. I cant remember the case off hand, but I recall it was a first amendment challenge by Dr. Newdow (who sued to have the words “under God” removed from the pledge of alligance Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow). He’s now brought a new case about oaths. Its so recent I cant locate it in any (of my law school-aged) reporter. But keep an eye out for it. If you should find it, please send me a link.

    My point is that there is some discussion about oaths and officials in current events.

    Sat Mar 28, 2009 4:14 PM CDT

    Rhys M. BlavierEstela,

    What bothers me about the people wfor soho advocate fior so many things from either ed of the political spectrum get bogged down in the same the same tired old arguments. I want people to see that if you look at some of this stuff from a whole different angle you can find soe really interesting potential argument points (like my one about using the 13th Amendment to control the questions of how to deal with corporations).

    If I see anything about the case you have mentioned, I will immediately post the relevant info or link.

    In the meantime, thanks again for reading my stuff,

    Rhys

    Sun Mar 29, 2009 4:31 AM CDT

  5. Rhys M. Blavier

    Robertlyn,

    I thought very carefully about the War of 1812 when I was writing this article. The conclusion I came to was that out nation was threatened and, if we had lost that war then The United States would have probably ceased to exist as a nation and, as a result, our Constitution would no longer have been our governing document but the British were not at war with us over our constitution and a PHYSICAL threat to the piece of paper on which the original constitution was written was only a threat to that piece of paper. The Constitution would not have ceased to exist if that piece of paper had burned up, any more that it would if today the piece of paper within its protective case were to burn up or disintegrate because of some accident. The Constitution is not the piece of paper, it is the words written upon that piece of paper, and there is no shortage of records of those words.

    As a result, I do not think that the threats to Washington by the British were because there were enemies of our constitution, they were enemies of our nation, just as we were not enemies of the Parliamentary form of government, we were enemies of the British nation and people. Throughout the whole of The War of 1812, The Constitution continued to function exactly as it was supposed to, just as the Parliamentary System continued to Function in Great Britain. Our constitutional form of government did not have to hide from British soldiers, although quite a few people who were part of that government did. IF The Constitution had become non-functional, it would simply have been a consequence of our nation failing to win the war, not of the British fighting to destroy our Constitution (the war was primarily a war which was the result of economic and diplomatic conflicts).

    Our Constitution is not the physical document that was written in 1789, it is an idea, a design for a better form of government, and the application of that idea and design. The loss of the actual document would be a loss to history, archival records, symbols and memorabilia of our nations, but would not threaten how our government works. I still stand by my view that the Constitution of The United States has never been threatened by ANY foreign enemy throughout our entire course of history.

    As always, it is good to see comments from you regarding any of my articles. I appreciate your time and effort to read it and your thoughts and input.

    Rhys M. Blavier

    Fri Mar 27, 2009 4:52 AM CDT

  6. And not a single mention of perjury among all those words.

  7. Black Bloke, no, there isn’t. Perjury is the one crime associated by the average person with an oath. I thought about it and decided that I was trying to emphasize things about oaths that people DON’T seem to consider. Needless to say, aside from everything else, anyone who violates their oath of office can and should be prosecuted for perjury, as well.

    Thanks for your comment

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