There’s a curious thing about the oath taken by every member of our armed forces. Those who defend our country never swear to “support and defend” the United States Government. They never swear to “support and defend” the United States of America. The only oath they take is to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” The same oath is taken by every member of the government, from school board to President
There’s a reason for that. The American Founders understood that if we ever lose our Constitution, we will have already lost our country. It is the Constitution that establishes the processes that make self-government possible and that restrains not only the madness of the crowd but also the natural craving of human beings to lord power over their fellow human beings.
Here’s another curious thing. Although there are penalties for breaking every law passed under the Constitution, there is no penalty for breaking the Constitution itself. Why is that? It’s because the Constitution is designed to be self-enforcing – that’s all the checks and balances we all learned about in school. But those checks and balances depend on something else.
The National Archives preserves every government document created since 1776. In it, there is only one document that does not belong to the government. Its ownership is made clear in the first three words: “We, The People.” That’s a reminder that the Constitution, and the freedoms it protects, belongs to us, and depends on every citizen insisting that every person who administers its powers at home — or defends it abroad — remains obedient and faithful to it.
Our Constitution has endured through the ages because whenever it has been threatened from abroad, generations of Americans have stepped forward to place their lives on the line to defend it. We celebrate those few, those happy few, that band of brothers, on this day.
And whenever our Constitution has been threatened from within, the American people, drawing inspiration and instruction from the example of our veterans, have defended it at the ballot box here at home.
I raise these points because we celebrate this Veterans Day as a divided nation amidst an ongoing dispute not only over the recent election, but over the fundamental principles upon which our country was founded. I don’t need to tell any of you that this makes these unsettling and unsettled times. But we can take great confidence that our Constitution provides the best means yet devised to resolve such disputes and that this process is unfolding as it should.
Abraham Lincoln said it best when he asked, “At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it? Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.
“At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”
That’s why this Veteran’s Day is so important. We thank our veterans for their service to our country – for the sacrifices they made, the hardships they endured, the dangers they faced to defend our Constitution from foreign enemies. But most importantly, this year as citizens in the greatest Republic in the history of the world – “the last best hope of mankind on this earth” (as Lincoln put it) – we must each take inspiration from the example of our veterans, and stand by the Constitution that provides the mechanisms to resolve the hottest disputes and most bitter disagreements that arise in human societies – and that guarantees liberty and justice under law, and all the blessings that arise from it.
Congressman Tom McClintock
November 11, 2020