“[W]here is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation deserts the oaths…?” –George Washington
Publisher’s Note: This essay is the second of a two-part seminal treatise on Constitutional Rule of Law in advance of Constitution Day, 17 September, the 222nd anniversary of our national Constitution. (Read part one, Rule of Law.) The combined essay is published as the forward to our new Constitution booklets. On Constitution Day, The Patriot will announce a major education initiative promoting the Right construction of our Constitution and Rule of Law.
A “Wall of Separation”?
George Washington wrote in his Farewell Address of 1796, “Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation deserts the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in the Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the opposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
Our Founders affirmed that the natural rights enumerated in our Declaration of Independence and, by extension, as codified in its subordinate guidance, our Constitution, are those endowed by our Creator.
Thomas Jefferson proclaimed, “The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time. … Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever.”
Alexander Hamilton insisted, “The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”
“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…” These are natural rights — gifts from God, not government.
Moreover, it was with firm regard to this fact that our Constitution was written and ratified “in order secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” As such, it established a constitutional republic ruled by laws based on natural rights, not rights allocated by governments or those occupying seats of power.
John Quincy Adams wrote, “Our political way of life is by the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God, and of course presupposes the existence of God, the moral ruler of the universe, and a rule of right and wrong, of just and unjust, binding upon man, preceding all institutions of human society and government.”
Notably, the conviction that our rights are innately bestowed by “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” is enumerated in the preambles of every state constitution of our Union.
But, for many decades, those who advocate a “living constitution” have used the “despotic branch” to remove faith from every public quarter, ironically and erroneously citing the “Wall of Separation” metaphor — words that Jefferson wrote to denote the barrier between federal and state governments, not to erect a prohibition against faith expression in any and all public venues.
The intended consequence of this artificial barrier between church and state is to remove the unmistakable influence of our Creator from all public forums, particularly government education institutions, and thus, over time, to disabuse belief in a sovereign God and the notion of natural rights. This erosion of knowledge about the origin of our rights, the very foundation of our country and basis of our Constitution, has dire implications for the future of liberty.
A republic … if you can keep it…
At the close of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin was asked if the delegates had formed a republic or a monarchy. “A republic,” he responded, “if you can keep it.”
To that end, as a warning for future generations to beware of “cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men,” Washington wrote, “A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position.”
John Adams cautioned, “A Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.”
Today, our Constitution is the oldest rule-of-law charter governing a sovereign republic. It authorizes a republican form of limited government with the express aim of defending individual rights, which are the gift of God.
Unfortunately, and at great peril to our liberty, our Constitution has for years suffered at the hands of “cunning, ambitious and unprincipled” politicians and judges who recognize only vestiges of its original intent for governance. Consequently, constitutional Rule of Law has been undermined by those who have deserted their sacred oaths to “support and defend” the same.
Our legacy of liberty, bequeathed to us by generations of American Patriots, is at risk. If we are to extend liberty to the next generation, we must renew our commitment to this animating contest of freedom as ordained by God, and as set forth by our nation’s Founders in the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution.
While the words “conservative” and “liberal” are ubiquitously used to describe party alliances, these words more essentially describe whether one advocates for the Rule of Law, or the rule of men; for the conservation of our Constitution as the Founders intended, or its liberal interpretation by “progressive” legislators and judicial activists.
It is well past time that we each ask of ourselves: “Which do I advocate?”
The role of, and limitations upon, our central government were and remain defined by the supreme law of the United States, our Constitution, as adopted, and aptly defended in The Federalist Papers.
Those of us who endorse the most basic tenets of our Republic, “That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” are called to honor that heritage and set about the formidable task of restoring individual liberty and constitutional limits upon the branches of our national government.
The words of these Patriots ring as true today as they did at the dawn of our nation:
“The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure Virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People … they may change their Rulers, and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting Liberty.” –John Adams
“Honor, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us. We cannot endure the infamy and guilt of resigning succeeding generations to that wretchedness which inevitably awaits them if we basely entail hereditary bondage on them.” –Thomas Jefferson
“A nation which can prefer disgrace to danger is prepared for a master, and deserves one!” –Alexander Hamilton
“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” –Benjamin Franklin
“If you love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands, which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.” –Samuel Adams
“Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” –Patrick Henry
“If there must be trouble let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.” –Thomas Paine
To support and defend…
The last line of our Declaration of Independence reads, “For the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
Indeed, many first-generation American Patriots died fighting for American liberty.
A decade later, their liberty won at great cost, our Founders further codified their independence and interdependence by instituting our Constitution, which specifies in Article VI, clause 3:
“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 [emphasis added] or Affirmation, to support this Constitution…”
The Constitution prescribed the following oath to be taken by the president-elect: “I do solemnly swear 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 [emphasis added] the Constitution of the United States.”
Regarding the Presidential Oath of Office, Justice Joseph Story wrote: “[T]he duty imposed upon him to take care, that the laws be faithfully executed, follows out the strong injunctions of his oath of office, that he will ‘preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.’ The great object of the executive department is to accomplish this purpose.” Story wrote further that if the president does not honor his oath, his office “will be utterly worthless for … the protection of rights; for the happiness, or good order, or safety of the people.”
Members of Congress and commissioned military personnel are also required by statute to “solemnly swear, that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic: [emphasis added] that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.”
The oath for enlisted military personnel repeats the preceding affirmation, “that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same,” and concludes with, “I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
The subtle distinction between officer oath and enlisted oath is that officers are bound to disobey any order that violates our Constitution, while enlisted personnel are bound to obey only lawful orders.
Notably, these oaths mandate the preservation, protection, support and defense of our Constitution as ratified, not a so-called “living constitution.” And by extension, every American Patriot who has taken such an oath is bound by his or her pledge to also support and defend the Constitution’s foundation, the Declaration of Independence, and the Declaration’s basis, Natural Law.
As we speak, and while uniformed Americans serving our nation defend our Constitution with their lives, many elected officials debase it by enacting extra-constitutional empowerments of the central government, invariably to appease special constituencies or to perpetuate their office. Or to do both.
Though military service personnel who violate their oaths are remanded for courts-martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, politicians who violate their oaths are often rewarded with re-election. However, those who do not abide by their oaths, elected officials first and foremost among them, must rightly and justly be removed from office, posthaste, and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
If you have ever taken an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” [emphasis added] and you remain steadfast in your pledge to “bear true faith and allegiance to the same,” then take time to administer that oath to those who have not.
If you are among those who have not yet taken this oath, request its administration from a fellow Patriot who has, and stand ready to abide by it when duty calls.
If there is to be a peaceful transfer of liberty to our posterity, then we must return to principium imprimis, or First Principles.
Short of another American Revolution to remove by force those who do not abide by their oaths, our freedoms cannot long endure unless we, the people, reaffirm what was well understood by our Founders: that our Creator is the only eternal assurance of liberty.
The primacy of faith must be restored in order to preserve the conviction that, as Jefferson wrote, our “liberties are the gift of God”; traditional families and values must be restored as the foundation of our culture; individual rights and responsibilities must be restored as the underpinning of republican government; free enterprise must be unbridled from government constraints; and constitutional authority over each branch of government must be restored to ensure liberty, opportunity and prosperity for a civil society.
The Cycle of Democracy has been accurately summarized as:
From bondage to spiritual faith;
From spiritual faith to great courage;
From courage to liberty (rule of law);
From liberty to abundance;
From abundance to complacency;
From complacency to apathy;
From apathy to dependence;
From dependence back into bondage (rule of men).
Our Founders established a democratic republic, not a democracy, in order to enfeeble this cycle, but with the erosion of constitutional authority, our Republic is now in grave peril of following the same cycle as have all other democracies in history. Only intervention by citizens and leaders who advocate for the primacy of constitutional authority, those committed to supporting and defending that authority above their self-interest, can save the Republic for the next generation.
Irrevocably linked to liberty ensured by constitutional Rule of Law is economic liberty.
Nineteenth-century historian Alexis de Tocqueville once observed, “[Democratic Republics] and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.”
In 1916, a minister and outspoken advocate for liberty, William J. H. Boetcker, published a pamphlet entitled The Ten Cannots:
You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich.
You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
You cannot build character and courage by taking away man’s initiative and independence.
You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.
You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.
You cannot establish security on borrowed money.
You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they will not do for themselves.
Fact is, the central government cannot give to anybody what it does not first take from somebody else.
And none can claim the name “American Patriot” if they comport with or adhere to laws and regulations which violate our Constitution.
At its core, the word “patriot” has direct lineage to those who fought for American independence and established our constitutional Republic. That lineage has descended most directly through our history to those who have pledged “to support and defend” our Constitution — those who have been faithful to, and who have abided by, their oaths, even unto death. On behalf of those gallant souls, Samuel Adams asked, “Contemplate the mangled bodies of your countrymen and then ask yourself, What should be the reward of such sacrifices?”
The time is at hand when Patriots must inquire with a unified voice, “If there is no constitutional authority for laws and regulations enacted by Congress and enforced by the central government, then by what authority do those entities lay and collect taxes to fund such laws and regulations?”
On July 4th, 1776, our Declaration of Independence, this nation’s supreme manuscript of incorporation, asserted, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…”
Our Declaration’s principal author, Thomas Jefferson, also wrote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. … Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.”
While one hopes and prays that liberty can be restored and extended to our posterity without discord or rebellion, history does not favor such prospects.
Fellow Patriots, until the next Continental Congress is convened, I implore you to make no peace with oppression, and I leave you with these words of encouragement from the Father of our Nation, George Washington: “We should never despair. Our situation before has been unpromising and has changed for the better, so I trust, it will again. If new difficulties arise, we must only put forth new exertions and proportion our efforts to the exigency of the times.”
Semper Vigilo, Fortis, Paratus et Fidelis!
P.S.: If this essay has inspired you to action, then I invite you to purchase our Declaration and Constitution booklets, which contain both parts of our Rule of Law essay as its forward, and distribute them as widely and to any forum you can access. If you have a young family member who is a student, consider purchasing these in bulk for distribution to their entire class or grade level.
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