Why in the US military enlistment oath is allegiance sworn to the Constitution and not the country?

The title basically says it all - why in the Oath of Enlistment is the subject of one’s allegiance the Constitution (and President) and not the USA itself?

I would guess that it’s to guard against someone committing illegal acts in the name of the country. For example, “Corporal, you’ve got to help me [an officer] defend this great nation from those who don’t love it as we do. That’s why I’m ordering you to arrest those peaceful, non-trespassing, Al-Qaeda loving protestors over there. We must defend America, defend our home.”

Then again, maybe not.

So, why the Constitution and not the country?


Previous thread

Also, this: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/01/support-and-defend-understanding-the-oath-of-office

Which may well be in the previous thread.

I think your example is spot-on.
Also, from the Pesidential Oath of Office:
“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.”
It appears that the Constitution pretty much defines the country. YMMV.

ETA: Bugger! I hate posting via iphone. I’m slow as hell.

If that’s not the actual reason, it should be.

Probably what the OP suggested. It’s too easy to misdirect loyalty if it’s pledged to an abstract concept like the country. So soldiers and other government officials swear to uphold the Constitution, which is a concrete legal document. A military coup couldn’t kid itself that it’s upholding the Constitution by disbanding Congress and arresting the President.

Defend against enemies, both foreign and domestic. If the government was usurped by some terrorist group, the military would not be obliged to give allegiance to it, but rather to the Constitution and the laws contained therein. The Constitution gives Congress the right to call out the military (militia), to declare war, etc. Also, allegiance to the country is a rather vague term, IMO.

It may also have something to do with the fact that when the Constitution was written, the United States really wasn’t a unified country yet. People in the immediate post-revolutionary period thought “my country” meant Virginia or Connecticut or Pennsylvania, but not the “United States.”

Thanks. Seems I may have been on the right track.

kurtisokc:Your point hinges on what “really wasn’t a unified country” means. After all, the country had existed for some eleven years before the Philadelphia convention was even held - and it took a LONG time for the various states to ratify it afterward.

I figure if they had written an oath where soldiers swore allegiance to the “country”, they would have made a point of mentioning the United States by name.

Well, the opening of the first sentence is “We the People of the United States,. . .”

As an interesting contrast, in the Commonwealth Realms, most enlisting military personnel swear allegiance to the monarch, heirs and successors, presumably in acknowledgment of the monarch’s position as a symbol of the country.

I think loyalty oaths in the United States were composed to avoid citing allegiance to any one person or group; one reason might be that we lack a purely ceremonial head of state. By citing fealty to the President, the text could be construed as placing the person solely on an equal footing with the entire country. I don’t know what it is but it seems that with a ceremonial head of state that would be easier to swallow. Nonetheless, United States military are all strictly obliged to obey the President like anyone else in their command chain.

One minor nit, we do not swear loyalty or allegiance to the President. We swear to follow the orders of the President and those appointed over us. You then get an extremely detailed and thorough set of lessons on what constitutes a lawful order. That’s what separates us from dictatorships–we’re not loyal to/defending a man, we’re loyal to/defending an idea.

I lean towards the right, but I still say Ollie North was a shame to the uniform because he put his loyalty to the President above his oath.

In contrast to MacArthur who despised Truman and attacked him publicly but then bowed to civilian control of the military because he cherished his oath to the constitution.

Publicly attacking your commander in chief isn’t bowing to civilian control of the military, it’s the exact opposite. If he had cherished his oath so much, he wouldn’t have been insubordinate. That he accepted being relieved of command is hardly proof of anything, what else could he have done? Refused to leave? Declare that he was no longer obeying the orders of the commander in chief? His own staff would have placed him under arrest.

MacArthur had a rather long history of deciding he knew better than, and being insubordinate to his commanders in chief. He led the assault on the Bonus March in 1932, and defied President Hoover’s order to stop the assault:

A lot of people only remember Harold Russell for his performance in The Best Years of Our Lives. But after his movie appearance he went back to college, earned a degree, and became active in veterans affairs. As such, he spoke out in defense of President Truman’s decision to fire MacArthur when it occurred and addressed veterans groups all over the country about the importance of the military remained subordinate to civilian control.

It is the customary form of oath of office in the United States, prescribed by the Constitution.

From the United States Constitution, Article Six, Clause Three:

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; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Of course, the question now is why the drafters of the Constitution decided to specify such language. I suppose from a philosphical standpoint, the “country” (whatever that nebulous term means) only exists because of the Constitution, and not the other way around. So it makes sense to officials are bound to support the ultimate source of authority.

Indeed, and the idea that all MacArthur did was publicly attack his commander in chief, and that this alone wasn’t an act of blatant insubordination are patently untrue. He issued a communiqué on March 23rd, 1951 on his own authority offering a ceasefire to the Chinese, containing barely veiled threats to expand the war into China. To quote Truman on the matter, bolded bit mine as it’s rather pertinent to the issue being discussed:

MacArthur’s letter to Congressman Martin openly critical of Truman’s policies being read on floor of the House can also hardly be called bowing to civilian control of the military; it was an overt political attack on the sitting president and commander in chief by a general, the exact opposite of bowing to civilian control of the military. He was a general defying the orders of his civilian commander in chief and inserting himself into the civilian political process.

The Constitution is the embodiment of the principles of the country, and enacted as the supreme law of the land. As dense a thicket as constitutional law is, the constitution is a lot more specific and concrete than some bozo saying he has the only interpretation of what is good for the fatherland.