Every one of us can probably recall many times when a cute little child wanted something… maybe it was a tasty treat from the dessert table at Thanksgiving or maybe the church potluck. Often that conversation happens between the child and a parent… it goes something like this, “Can I have a cooookie…” (accompanied by big, cute eyes and a facial expression filled with longing hope) Often Mom will say something like, “What do you say…?” The expected answer is “Please”. Every kid knows that! They know if there is any hope for them to get what they’re trying to get, they gotta say please! Now, we don’t know whether or not their heart is filled with the politeness – whether they even really mean it – they still have to say “Please” to get what they want! This kind of conversation happens everywhere because Mom wants the child to be committed to learning and doing what is right, what is polite. However, sometimes it degenerates into the child just saying what he needs to say in order to get what he wants.
Cookie craving officials?
Sadly, this is often exactly the same thing that happens when elected officials at all levels take an oath to support the Constitution. Hopefully some are sincere in their commitment. For many others, in their heart, they don’t even know the Constitution – they may have never even read it. The particularly evil ones might know the Constitution but have plans to actively subvert it when in office. However, they all know they have to take the oath to get the office they want! So they say the oath… They are the child that gets the cookie, despite what was in their heart. What is the significance of the Oath of Office for our elected officials anyway?
The Significance of an Oath
The significance of the Oath is to ensure that nobody takes office at any level of our government without being committed to our Constitution. The idea is, if they don’t believe in our Constitution – if they aren’t willing to ask God to hold them accountable to their oath – they can’t take office. It’s that simple.
Let’s look at this idea of taking an oath… What is the purpose? How would our government be different if everyone who took office was committed to protecting our proper form of government as defined in the Constitution? Let’s consider some of these ideas and look at a little history from our founding era to shed some light.
What’s the purpose?
What is the purpose – why do elected officials have to take an oath anyway? The short answer to that question is because it is a requirement in the Constitution. Article VI tells us…
“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”– U.S. Constitution (from Article VI)
Committed to What?
The founders of our country wanted to ensure our leaders were committed to the form of limited government that was defined in the Constitution. They knew it wasn’t enough to put good principles into print in the document itself. They knew the most important thing was to make sure the people who took office would stay true to the form of government the founders put in place. In the Patriot Academy classes we host, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention is quoted, John Francis Mercer, who made this point perfectly.
“It is a great mistake to suppose that the paper we are to propose will govern the United States. It is the men whom it will bring into the Government and interest in maintaining it that is to govern them. The paper will only mark out the mode and the form. Men are the substance and must do the business.”– John Francis Mercer, delegate to Constitutional Convention
True to original design
It is critically important for any government – or even any organization – to have its leadership remain true to its original design. Ours is defined in our Constitution. If we don’t have this, if our leadership is working against our Constitution – or even if they are ignorant of the document – is it reasonable to think we will stay on track to what our founders put in place? I think not. In 1788, North Carolina held a convention to consider whether to adopt what is now the U.S. Constitution. In that meeting, Mr. Archibald Maclaine said of the Constitutional requirement for oaths, “Can any government exist without fidelity in its officers? Ought not the officers of every government to give some security for the faithful discharge of their trust?” * Mr. Maclaine understood the importance of the trust people would be placing in those officials who hold public office. In order to ensure the future of our country, it is imperative our leaders are committed to the Constitution, and not working against it. The words of our Lord Jesus Christ recorded in Scripture make a similar point.
“Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand”– Matthew 12:25
The Lord Jesus understands if the leaders of the kingdom are divided – then it will not be able to stand. Ultimately, this is the reason our leaders must uphold our Constitution.
Oh, it must be your political party…
So many conversations about government these days boil down to political party. If I advocate for or against a position on a given topic, then you would quickly be able to categorize me into one of the two major political parties. It seems everything that comes up ends up as a wrestling match between these two forces at work in our society. However, one of the many beautiful things about our Constitution is that it is non-partisan. The Constitution does not belong to the Republicans or the Democrats. The Constitution is there to limit government in the interest of – not a political party, but – “We the People”. It is in the best interest of the people that our government is limited to Constitutional boundaries. It is in this way we have a “Government of laws – not of men”.
“The interest of a king or of a party is another thing: it is a private interest. And where private interest governs, it is a nation of men and not of laws.”– John Adams
nation of laws
So – the pursuit of our Constitutional form of limited government, sworn to be upheld by everyone in every office of all political parties, makes us a “Nation of Laws”. That is good and right for all Americans to pursue. That is not a private interest of a political party – that is American Constitutional government! That is good for all of us! However, when we pursue what John Adams called a “private interest” of a king or a political party, that makes us “a nation of men and not of laws.” Our entire form of government should not hinge upon who is in the White House, or which party controls Congress, or which Justice is nominated to the Supreme Court. Our form of government is defined in the Constitution and everyone – regardless of political party – is sworn on oath to support it. It is the structure and design of our government, with its significant limitations, that must be upheld by all political parties.
Nation of men
I believe Mr. Adams would say we spend way too much time these days fighting over which party would control our “nation of men”, instead of working together with all Americans to ensure we have a “Nation of Laws”. Enforcing the Oath of Office, holding our officials accountable to the oath they took to our proper form of government, would be a great first step in taking this country back to be a “a government of laws and not of men”.
Our elected officials at all levels are sworn to support the Constitution of the United States. We elect these people. We put them in office, and our votes hold them there. We need to hold these officials accountable for supporting the document they are sworn on oath to support. If we have people in office who will not be committed to the Constitution – or even worse – those who have already demonstrated their lack of commitment to our Constitution, then they should be removed from office by impeachment, or at least in their next election, and replaced with someone who will honor their oath.
We need to stop this practice of handing out cookies to those children who say “Please” but don’t really mean it!
* Eliot, Jonathan, The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Second Edition, 1836, volume 4, p. 140