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Dear Jeff,

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You may recall our most recent meeting at the Red Mountain Tea Party, on April 2nd…but then again, you may not.  So let me take just a moment to go over what took place.

You possibly recall my asking “What does your oath, to defend and protect the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, mean to you?”

I must say that I found your response to be quite revealing, to wit:  “It means that I will support…policies…that give effect to that oath which I’ve taken; that I won’t do anything that…would…put me in a position where I’m violating that oath.  That’s what it means to me.”

In order to be fair, Jeff, perhaps we could review together exactly what that oath contains.  Here it is:

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I do solemnly swear (or affirm) 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; 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.

Oops!  Looks like I misspoke, Jeff.  I said “defend and protect,” when it actually reads “support and defend”!  How clumsy of me…but the meaning, of course, is identical!  There’s obviously more to it – “that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same,” for example, and I presume that that is what you were referencing in your eloquent answer.

My question, however, clearly went to the first stipulation of that sacred oath (which you have now had administered to you by various Speakers five times over the past ten years.)  So I didn’t ask if you yourself would “support…policies…that give effect to that oath,” Jeff, but rather, “What…your oath, to defend and protect the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, means to you….”

I don’t know if you were “reading ahead,” anticipating where I was going with that question, and thus avoided answering directly…or whether you had simply not considered that critical component of your oath…”So help [you] God.”   I’m sure you know the history of the oath you took, Jeff, starting with the oath taken by the very first Congress in 1779, but we’ll review it just the same.

The stipulation for such an oath was, of course (and still is, of course) contained in Article VI of the Constitution itself.  Here it is:

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 or Affirmation, to support this Constitution….

Being very particular to follow the recently ratified Constitution, the first Congress which had sufficient Representatives present by April 1, 1789, to form a quorum, appointed a committee on April 6 to draft a bill on how the oath of office was to be administered.  It was entitled An Act to regulate the Time and Manner of administering certain Oaths, and was signed into law on June 1, 1789, becoming “Statute I,” the first official law in the “Laws of the United States.”  Here is the original language contained in the oath:

I, A. B. [a Representative of the United States in the Congress thereof,] do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) that I will support the Constitution of the United States.

Apparently, the position held by the various parties taking the oath was added at some point for clarification.  This oath remained intact until the time of the Civil War.  From the Senate website (referenced and quoted earlier) we find:

The outbreak of the Civil War quickly transformed the routine act of oath-taking into one of enormous significance. In April of 1861, a time of uncertain and shifting loyalties, President Abraham Lincoln ordered all federal civilian employees within the executive branch to take an expanded oath. When Congress convened for a brief emergency session in July, members echoed the president’s action by enacting legislation requiring employees to take the expanded oath in support of the Union. This oath is the earliest direct predecessor of the modern oath.

The first qualification added was that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”  While I wasn’t actually there, Jeff, that part seems to stick in my mind of late…. I wonder why?

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