The President and the Constitution

Tomorrow we’ll witness a miracle. It happens every four or eight years in the U.S. It’s a peaceful (acquiescent if not voluntary) passing of authority from the most powerful person in the world to another person, often of an opposing worldview. It truly is a miracle.

Even if the President, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, decided he didn’t want to leave office and commanded the Armed Forces to enforce his wishes, America’s Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines would laugh him out of office. Why? Because the President is subordinate to the Constitution; and that is deliberate and intentional.

A recent NPR Morning Edition story (the audio is more complete than the text) interviewed Marvin Pinkert, executive director of the National Archives Experience about the development of the President’s Oath of Office. It reads:

“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.”

The earliest extant version of the Oath, on George Washington’s working copy of the Constitution, states “I ________ solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States.” Washington had manually added a note about “defending the Constitution,” as proposed by George Mason and James Madison. This is very important, because it subordinates the President to the Constitution.

The final draft was near the current form, except that after the final version was printed, there was a revision added replacing “to the best of my judgment” with “to the best of my abilities [later changed to “ability”]”. This made the President further subordinate to the Constitution, because he could not use his judgment to second-guess or undermine the Constitution.

Why is this relevant today, when we have 220 years of peaceful transfers of power? Because our outgoing President subverted the Constitution in SO many ways, and would have done more if not half-heartedly stopped by the Legislature and Judiciary.

The whole justification for preferring a republic over a pure democracy is that republics move slowly and are not as likely to be swayed by the temporary opinion of the majority. A President who makes decisions behind closed doors and outside the parameters of the Constitution is a majority of one. WE THE PEOPLE cannot permit this ever again.

I have hope that President Obama (T minus 17 hours) will, through his exploration and knowledge of the Constitution as a Constitutional Law professor, have more respect for the document—and the President’s subordination to it. This is the CHANGE for which I HOPE most as another miracle occurs tomorrow.


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