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.)
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.
So, if the oath is no barrier in precisely that case where it is most neededand if it be posited that we were not fools who crafted this document for the protection of the lives and liberties of our heirswhy 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 hell defeat Americas external enemies, not that he will maintain the nations standard of living, but rather that hell 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 nations 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.
"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 manywould 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."