Oaths of Allegiance to a Constitutional Republic by Karl Haigler 2
Oaths of Allegiance to a Constitutional Republic
There are a number of reasons these days that should inspire us as concerned citizens to consult the U.S. Constitution. One reason is the oath federal officials take when elected, which says in part:
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…”
Given this Congressionally mandated oath of office, what happens if there are, in fact, domestic enemies who must be opposed? How would we recognize such enemies if they pledge allegiance to the same flag as we do?
The January 6th Committee’s is focusing intently on issues of sedition and insurrection in a way that invites comparison only with the American Civil War. The oath above to defend the Constitution has been cited numerous times in these hearings as the basis for fulfilling one’s duty to oppose attacks in real time and for holding “insurrectionists” accountable.
The Agora Foundation, headquartered in Ojai, has been inviting conversations in the public square to explore the Foundations of the Republic. In light of the considerations above, a relevant topic in these sessions could be the U.S. Constitution’s provision that establishes the only explicit safeguard for republican government.
U.S. Constitution: Article 4, Section 4:
The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic violence.
Reading this text, we might ask ourselves what is meant by a republican form of government.
The Federalist Papers, published in 1787 and 1788 to promote the ratification of the Constitution, sheds light on the definition.
Federalist Paper #21: “Usurpation may rear its crest in each State, and trample upon the liberties of the people, while the national government [without a guarantee] could legally do nothing more than behold its encroachments with indignation and regret. A successful faction may erect a tyranny on the ruins of order and law, while no succour could constitutionally be afforded by the Union to the friends and supporters of the government….” 2
It is possible to imagine the U.S. Constitution’s Article 4 guarantee to protect a state from “domestic violence” playing out where a powerful “faction” within a state takes steps to undermine its republican form of government. What would be the nature of the public debate in such a scenario, if state government “reforms” would put a state in jeopardy of the federal government invoking the Article 4 guarantee?
The perspective provided by Article 4 may turn upon what we see as the true nature of republican government—as either predominantly the “rule of law” or government by the people. A choice of what clearly constitutes such a government as a practical matter could lead us back to the Founders: how would their wisdom guide us if we were faced with the prospect of federal forces taking to the field against “domestic enemies” in a state seeking to transform its republican form of government?
With prescience and with the record of failed republican governments before them, the authors of the Federalist provide us with these words of caution in seeing things truly, in discerning what action would be worthy of our support:
Federalist #1:“History will teach us that [‘zeal for the rights of the people’] has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than [‘the forbidding appearance of zeal for firmness and efficiency of government’] and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.”
Can there be any question that potential “domestic enemies” of the Constitution might follow the precedent of Civil War rebels and cloak their intentions with appeals to the Constitution, portraying themselves as zealous defenders of their state’s rights and their citizens’ individual liberties? Would we, as interested parties in such a case, favor some judicial settlement to avoid conflict, even if and especially if, such a settlement might lead to significant harm to the opponents of the state’s ruling faction—opponents who might appeal to the federal guarantee in their defense?
The ambiguities that arise in the wording of the Constitutional guarantee of republican government should prompt the need for questions such as these. Do we see the cause of republican government always worth defending even if it calls on us to support decisive action against parties in the states hostile to the Article 4 guarantee?