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A Message from James Madison to the People of the United States (transcribed by A.B. Schmookler)

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"More than two centuries ago, along with the other Founders of this Nation, I embedded in the founding document of these United States a message to the American people. It is because the present generation of Americans has apparently become deaf to that message that I am now breaking my long-standing silence to call your attention back to that implicit message.

"The message I am talking about is the oath of office that the Constitution requires the president to take in order to be granted the considerable powers of the presidency:

'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. '


"(Initially, the Constitutional Convention was going to include only that first part of the oath, but my fellow Virginian, George Mason, and I persuaded our colleagues to include the second clause regarding the preservation, protection, and defense of the Constitution of the United States.)

"Do you suppose we put that oath into the Constitution simply to bind the oath-taker by a solemn commitment?

"An honorable person might be so restrained, but the honorable person is not the one with whom the Constitution is concerned. The fear behind the Constitution, rather, concerns what an unprincipled and ruthless person will do.

"And for such a person, the oath will be no great barrier to the usurpations the Constitution is supposed to prevent.

"And does not the American experience of recent years bear this out? Is it not evident that the kind of people who will withhold and distort information from Congress on the gravest of national issues; who will trample on laws duly passed by Congress; who will transgress the nation 's Treaty obligations; who will put forward arguments to justify their lawless conduct that are but transparent rationalizations for their usurpations --that such individuals will not be restrained by the mere recitation of an oath, however solemn and however public the occasion on which it is taken?
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"So, if the oath is no barrier in precisely that case where it is most needed --and if it be posited that we were not fools who crafted this document for the protection of the lives and liberties of our heirs --why would we bother to put such an oath into this document?

"It was to serve as a message to you, our descendants and heirs, about what is the key to the preservation of the blessings of freedom and self-government we bequeathed to you.

"It was a way of telling you, indirectly, that the Constitution is the heart and soul of this American Nation. By requiring the president to promise not that he 'll defeat America 's external enemies, not that he will maintain the nation 's "standard of living, " but rather that he 'll be a guardian of the Constitution, we were telling the generations of Americans to follow us that it is the Constitution that is the foundation for the nation 's well-being.

"It is the Constitution that has given a dozen generations of Americans not only liberty and self-governance, but also a degree of domestic tranquility exceptional by historic standards, and a level of general welfare that has been the envy of other nations.

"But now, when that Constitution, with its carefully constructed system of checks and balances, is under unprecedented assault, it seems that you, our heirs, are not taking that vital message to heart. It seems that the high price of your fuels is of far greater concern to you than the unconstitutional usurpation of power.
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"But which of your blessings do you think would survive the dismantling of this Constitutional system? If the tyranny that the Constitution was framed to prevent were allowed to arise, how long do you think it would be before the historic norm in the distribution of wealth almost all for the ruling few, and mere subsistence for the exploited many --would arise here in America? How long before the expansive feeling of the free human spirit was constrained into the abject posture of the subservient?

"It is time, my fellow Americans, to wake up and get the message."

 

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
 

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