Does Taking an Oath on the Constitution Count for Anything?

News stories are making their way around that newly sworn-in CIA Director John Brennan took the oath of office on the 1787 draft version of the Constitution.

“There's one piece of this that I wanted to note for you,” spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters at their daily briefing. “Director Brennan was sworn in with his hand on an original draft of the Constitution that had George Washington's personal handwriting and annotations on it, dating from 1787.”

Anyone familiar with constitutional history knows that the 1787 version of the Constitution does not contain the first Ten Amendments – the Bill of Rights. Several states would not ratify the Constitution as drafted. They wanted further assurance that the national government would be limited. The full-version of the Constitution that includes the first Ten Amendments (12 were proposed) was finally ratified on May 29, 1790.

Some people see the makings of a conspiracy because the Constitution on which Brannan took his oath did not include the Bill of Rights. Personally, I don’t see it, for three reasons. First, the original Bill of Rights-less Constitution is a document of enumerated powers. If there is no power granted in the Constitution, then the Federal government doesn’t have that power. Some have argued that adding the Bill of Rights was a mistake since it gave the national government the right to rule on the items listed, thus, giving it jurisdiction in decision making. A right given can be a right taken away.

Second, who pays attention to the Constitution these days? The Constitution is a prop. There are politicians who regularly speak against constitutional limitations and freedoms and vote that way as well. The Second Amendment debate is a good example.

Third, oaths are for public consumption. Few people expect politicians to follow the Constitution. In fact, tens of millions of Americans don’t want their elected officials to follow the Constitution because of its built-in limitations. How many times have we heard President Obama lament that he can’t do something because he does not have the constitutional authority. While he says this, he continues to enact laws outside his own limited constitutional authority.

Politicians have pulled a fast one on us by finding a constitutional loophole. The Constitution begins with “We the people.” Patrick Henry argued that the Preamble to the Constitution should have begun with “We the states,” because it was the states that created the national government, not the people generally.

While Article IV of the Constitution “guarantee[s] to every State in this Union a Republican form of Government,” the Preamble turns the governing authority into a democracy.

An oath assumes judicial sanctions. When a person takes an oath to do something, to violate that oath brings with it some form of punishment. What stands above the Constitution in authority? While politicians say “so help me God,” rarely does anybody mean it.

In the end, the Constitution is governed by what the people want. But not all the people. Only a majority of people that politicians can get to vote for them.

Madison and others despised majority rule, but that’s what they gave us, and that’s what politicians and voters have been using to subvert our Republic.

In the Federalist Papers (No. 10), Madison wrote that democracies are “spectacles of turbulence and contention.” Pure democracies are “incompatible with personal security or the rights of property. . . . In general [they] have been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”1

Madison’s aversion to democracies has been subverted by the very document that he helped to draft. Politicians are about getting enough of “we the people” to vote in order to keep them in power. If we continue down this road, there is nothing that can stop this once great nation from becoming like Venezuela.

  1. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, The Federalist, Jacob E. Cooke, ed. (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1961), 61. []

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