There’s been a lot of talk recently about the Constitution, its Bill of Rights, and the document’s relevance to our world today. There was even an op-ed in the New York Times recently by a “professor of constitutional law” that argued citizens should “give up on the Constitution.” (I won’t link to the article or state who wrote it because its not worth your time and I don’t want to provide him with any more “hits” than he’s already gotten. If you want to read it, a simple Internet search will find it.) Suffice to say that in my opinion (and this is my personal opinion), his students are wasting their money.
As a member of the United States Armed Forces, I must remain a-political in this space; so, I won’t engage in debates about the politics of today. I am simply writing about what the Constitution means to me as an officer and musician in the United States Army. (Hint: It means everything.)
The Oath of Commissioned Officers
I, Domingos Robinson, having been appointed an officer in the Army of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of Major, do solemnly 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 reservations or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter.
See what I mean? When I took my oath to serve, I didn’t pledge allegiance to a person or even a country; it was to protect and defend the Constitution. The Constitution is the United States of America; without it, we cease to be the United States. Why? It is often said that America is a nation of laws, not men. Ideally, and in our founding, this is true. I’m a history nut, and in particular, I am very well-read on the Revolutionary Period. If there’s a book on the Founding Fathers, I’ve either read it or it’s in my queue. So, I could bore you with an in-depth history lesson on how the Constitution came to be and why it’s unique in human history, but you can get that elsewhere. I want to keep this post confined to my context as an officer and musician so I will try and keep this relatively short.
Ideas run the world. The history of the world is the history of ideas — collectivism, individualism, religion, the Enlightenment — it is the institution and clash of these ideas that moves history. What made the United States unique in human history was the philosophy upon which it was founded.
Before the signatories of the Declaration of Independence listed the many grievances they had against King George III, they made a bold and unprecedented statement of the philosophy driving their Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That when any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it…
Read that again. Now think of every society you’ve ever studied about in history class. The Founding Fathers stated unequivocally that Man’s rights are his based on his nature (rather than from a soveriegn or other leader) and are unalienable — which means they cannot be given or taken. This incredible statement by a group of farmers, businessmen, land speculators, lawyers, and one scientist (Franklin) is the greatest philosophical statement by a group of people ever recorded. It not only states that Man’s rights are his at birth no matter where he lives because it’s based on his nature, it states that the purpose of government is to secure these unalienable rights, not provide them. Most importantly for us, the Declaration provided the philosophical foundation for the document charged with securing the form of government described — the Constitution of the United States of America.
The Constitution, despite what some “scholars” might say, is an incredible document that outlines with wonderful clarity the role of government in citizens’ lives and how the government will go about securing the rights of the citizens of the United States. If you haven’t read it in a while, I encourage you to do so. Of course, the section that gets the most press is the first ten amendments or the Bill of Rights. They are all integral to one another but the First Amendment is, in my opinion, the lynchpin:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Notice the point of view of the amendment — it is a statement limiting government in its ability to infringe upon the rights of citizens, not a statement providing rights to citizens. This point of view is carried out throughout the document with few exceptions (and in those instances, it is a clarification of the protection of the unalieanable rights of the People — for example, the Thirteenth Amendment, which extends the securing of Man’s rights to those once held in servitude).
The Constitution is a document without equal in human history (except the Declaration of Independence, of course!). It represents the first time a government created a charter not of its powers over its citizens, but of the citizens’ protections against its government. Look at history. Look at the world today. Now read the Constitution of the United States.
Why am I proud to serve in the United States military? Because so long as I swear to protect and defend the philosophy of individual liberty and self-government, I will be proud to wear the uniform of the United States. As an Army band officer, it is my job to understand the ideas behind the Declaration and the Constitution and communicate it — to the citizens of the United States, so that they may feel the same pride I do in our unique place in history and for the military that is charged with protecting their way of life (i.e., the Constitution); to our fellow service members, so that they may know why they serve and that the People support them; to the citizens of the world, so that they may be inspired by our story to chart their own course and join us on the march to freedom.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.