Speech delivered at the National Constitution Center, Philadelphia, September 21, 1989; reprinted in Democracy and the Constitution: Landmarks of Contemporary Political Thought (AEI Press, 2006).
On January 20, 1989, George H. W. Bush took the following oath of office, an oath prescribed in the Constitution itself and, because of that, taken on each of the fifty-nine occasions since George Washington first took it in 1789: “I do solemnly swear . . . 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.”
What does it mean to preserve, protect and defend—to say nothing of celebrating—the Constitution? Or, to put the question in a manner that suggests more clearly what is to follow, what is it that the president is sworn to preserve, protect, and defend? And why is it important to do so? President Bush did not say. Indeed, in the inaugural address that he then proceeded to deliver, he made no reference to the Constitution; neither, as it turns out, did most of his immediate predecessors or his immediate successors.
American Enterprise Institute