The United States Constitution includes two oaths of office. The first, and better known one, is the presidential oath in Article Two, which reads, "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." Why does it include “affirm” in parentheses? Because the Framers understood that an incoming president might object to “swearing,” which could indicate an oath before God. This might also explain why the Constitution does not add “so help me God” at the end, although most modern oath-takers do so.
The second oath, in Article Six, similarly requires all national and state officials to “be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution.”
Why are these provisions important? One answer is that our 18th-century forbears deeply believed in the magnitude of swearing oaths before God: violating an oath, after all, might lead to Divine, as well as secular, wrath.
Furthermore, note that allegiance is sworn to the federal Constitution. Before the Revolution, colonial officials swore fealty to the king. Afterward, but before the Constitution was ratified in 1788, state legislatures required members to swear loyalty to their particular state. As John Adams had said, “Massachusetts is our country.” The Framers debated which of these to follow—state or federal—and even whether to require oaths altogether. James Wilson of Pennsylvania argued that they were unnecessary because “a good government did not need them and a bad one…ought not to be supported.”[i] Requiring allegiance to the federal government was a major step.
But there is another crucial question: Can we tell when someone is, or is not, obeying the oath? What does it mean, “to the best of my ability, [to] preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States?” Donald Trump was impeached twice by the House of Representatives. Did he live up to the terms of his oath or not? How do we decide?
Presidents will always insist that they complied with the oath. Office-holders as varied as Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt, among others argued that they had the power to interpret the Constitution to do what they believed counted as preserving, protecting and defending it. Other people say the Supreme Court is the “ultimate interpreter” and presidents must abide by the justices’ rulings. The South African Constitution, for example, makes it clear that that country’s Constitutional Court takes precedence over any contrary assertions by the President. Would you support that?
Many of the political issues we struggle with today have their roots in the US Constitution. Husband-and-wife team Cynthia and Sanford Levinson take readers back to the creation of this historic document and discuss how contemporary problems were first introduced―then they offer possible solutions.
"A fascinating, thoughtful, and provocative look at what in the Constitution keeps the United States from being “a more perfect union.” " Kirkus Reviews - Best Middle Grade Nonfiction of 2017
It is a confusing and frustrating time to be an American. And being an American youth is the most confusing role of all. In the four years of the 45th president’s term, our democracy was gradually taken from us even as the thieves absconding with it called themselves “patriots.” A patriot does not seek to undermine their country’s Constitution.
This all came to a head when number forty-five directed his followers to storm the Capitol. They compared themselves to our founders.
Our founders built our government. Forty-five and his minions sought to demolish it.
The people who stormed the Capitol are traitors, trying to upend a democratic election. What really motivated these people, and all the people who support number forty-five?
The answer is hate. Number forty-five promoted hate from the moment he took office. It’s like when Voldemort took over in Harry Potter.
But this vile man did not invent greed and hate. These things have festered in America since it was founded. Number forty-five made it safe for too many of our citizens to reveal themselves in a way that shocks us—but it should not surprise us.
Our country was flawed from the start. We stole land from indigenous Americans and slaughtered them. We kidnapped human beings from Africa and enslaved them. We denied women the right to vote.
Thomas Jefferson, primary author of The Declaration of Independence, enslaved over 600 human beings during his life—some his own children.
We have continually dehumanized and tortured people. Look at George Floyd. Look at the children in cages at our borders. Hate has been continually cooked on the stove of American culture. Every time it has come to a boil, we’ve lowered the heat, but we have not extinguished the flame. What will we do this time?
There is no stolen election. That lie that was propagated by a narcissistic leader who could not admit his own defeat. Now we have a new leader, but the country is torn apart. It will take much work to mend what’s broken—not just stick a bandage over it.
Study history so you can learn about humanity—flaws and all. Be aware of what came before so that you can positively impact what comes next.
The power to banish hate in America rests in your hearts and hands. Love trumps hate.
Selene Castrovilla is an award-winning, acclaimed author of five books on the American Revolution for young readers, including The Founding Mothers of the United States (Scholastic) and Revolutionary Friends: General George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette (Calkins Creek Books). Her upcoming books include The Civil Rights Movement: 1960 (Scholastic, 2021), Seeking Freedom: The Untold Story of Fortress Monroe and the End of Slavery in America, illustrated by E. B. Lewis (Calkins Creek Books, 2022) and Boy Meets Groove: Savion Glover Finds His Funk, illustrated by Laura Freeman (Holiday House, 2022). Selene has been a meticulous researcher of American history since 2003. A frequent speaker about our nation's evolution, she is equally comfortable with audiences of children and adults. Please visit: selenecastrovilla.com.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the lives of Japanese Americans instantly changed.
As the US declared war on Japan, public scrutiny focused on the 120,000 Japanese Americans living along the Pacific Ocean. Would they help Japan if it attempted an invasion of the coast? A hateful, racist anti-Japanese American campaign swept the nation, and the government decided that for “public safety” Japanese Americans must be isolated in “internment” camps.
With little warning, the roundups began. They were forced to sell their homes and possessions for whatever they could get and to give away their pets. They were allowed just two suitcases each as they boarded trains and buses to over-crowded assembly centers, where they waited for months in primitive conditions until the ten permanent camps were ready.
Those camps were in isolated, inhospitable locations where the internees lived behind barbed wire, guarded by armed soldiers. Each family was assigned one room in a flimsy wooden barrack furnished only with iron cots. Everyone waited in long lines to use the restrooms and to eat. The children attended schools that were started in the camps. But jobs were scarce and adults had little to do.
While they could have sunk into despair, nearly all Japanese Americans wanted America to win the war, and if their confinement helped the war effort, they decided to cooperate and make the best of it. To stay busy they organized scout troops and baseball teams. They hosted talent contests, movie nights, dances, festivals, and celebrations. They started newspapers, libraries, poetry clubs, choirs, bands and orchestras. They took up woodworking and sewing and planted Victory Gardens. In some camps internees were allowed to grow crops to supplement their government surplus food.
Each morning they saluted the flag and said the Pledge of Allegiance. Many participated in Red Cross blood drives and knitted socks and scarves to send to soldiers. The young men from the camps who served in the war distinguished themselves with their bravery and helped ensure an Allied victory.
After the war, Japanese Americans began the difficult task of rebuilding their lives. Many had lost all their belongings and could not find jobs. Worst of all was the shame they felt over their country’s distrust of them. But they had proved their loyalty. And in spite of this terrible injustice, they raised their children to be good Americans.
Andrea Warren is the author of nine books of nonfiction for young readers and young adult readers. Each centers on young people who have faced grave challenges in difficult periods of history. Her latest, Enemy Child: The Story of Norman Mineta, a Boy Imprisoned in a Japanese American Internment Camp During World War II, published by Holiday House, received starred reviews in School Library Journal and The Horn Book. It was selected as a 2019 Best Book by School Library Journal and is the recipient of the Bank Street College best nonfiction award. It has also has been honored by the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Warren is a previous winner of the Horn Book Award and the Sibert Honor Award. You can read Vicki Cobb's review here.
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
The NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Committee is pleased to inform you
that 30 People Who Changed the World has been selected for Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2018, a cooperative project of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) & the Children’s Book Council