Most Republican Lawmakers Have Failed John Quincy Adams — and The Constitution
Millions of Americans tuned in yesterday to watch President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. take the oath of office. In his inaugural address, Biden stressed his duty to protect and defend the Constitution. So the concept of oaths and responsibilities to the office should be on our mind.
In March 1825, President-Elect John Quincy Adams broke with tradition and used a book of laws at his inauguration. He selected the book of laws, rather than a bible, so that he would be taking the oath of office on the Constitution of the United States. JQA’s model serves as a helpful reminder of how elected officials should act, and reminds us how far most Republican lawmakers have strayed from that high standard.
In the twenty-first century, most government officials take the oath of office on a bible. They swear to “support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Most Republicans have abandoned their oath to the Constitution and instead pledged themselves to blind subservience to former President Donald Trump.
The last two weeks have demonstrated their failure to protect the Constitution. After months of spreading harmful lies about the elections results, Republican lawmakers gathered at the U.S. Capitol to certify the election of Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris. On the morning of January 6, at least fourteen senators, led by Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, and more than 100 House Republicans planned to object to the election results.
While Congress was in the middle of debating the Arizona electoral returns, insurrectionists began to attack the Capitol building. By 2:14 PM, they had breached the doors and made their way to the Senate chambers. Hours later, after the building was secured, Congress reconvened to continue certifying the election. The shocking violence persuaded a few senators to change their votes, but not nearly enough. In the early hours of the morning on January 7, six senators and 121 House Republicans objected to the Electoral College returns.
They did so in direct violation of their oath to support the Constitution from domestic threats.
Over the next seven days, reporters and legal authorities uncovered overwhelming evidence to prove two facts. First, the insurrections were well-organized and planned to inflict extreme harm on journalists and government officials. Indeed, initial investigations suggest that the insurrections may have received aid from Republican congressmen. Good fortune and the bravery of a small group of individuals ensured that January 6 did not end in mass casualties. Second, that President Trump’s rhetoric and the encouragement of Republican lawmakers incited the violence.
One week after senators and congressmen fled their chambers, the House reconvened to vote on the article of impeachment. Many Republicans expressed their displeasure with President Trump’s behavior and even acknowledged behind closed doors that they’d like to vote for his removal. Yet, only ten Republican congressmen voted in favor of impeachment. 197 congressmen and women voted against it.
They did so in direct violation of their oath to protect the Constitution from domestic threats.
Free and fair elections, followed by the peaceful transfer of power are the bedrock of our democracy. By promoting lies and demonstrably-false conspiracies about the election, they undermined the sanctity of the 2020 election. After witnessing the power of those lies and the physical manifestation of that dangerous rhetoric, they continued to empower the threat posed by Trump and his supporters.
They failed to do their duty to support the Constitution as they had pledged.
The impeachment proceedings were another opportunity to defend the American people, the U.S. government, and the Constitution from the threat posed by President Trump. By voting against impeachment, they failed to defend the Constitution from domestic threats as they had pledged.
The new session of Congress convened on January 3, 2021. Senators-elect Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff joined their Senate colleagues a few hours after President Biden took his oath. The start of a new presidential administration and the very public oath-taking ceremony offers a good reminder to all public officials of their responsibilities.
When President John Quincy Adams took the oath of office, he had spent most of his life in public service — as his father’s private secretary, a senator, an ambassador, and secretary of state. He was familiar with the symbolism of the inauguration. As president-elect, he knew that he would read an address and then take the oath (the order of the address and oath was changed at President William McKinley’s request). JQA knew the terms of the oath. And yet, he thought the dedication to the Constitution embedded in the oath was so important that he included this pledge in his inaugural address as well: “The principles by which I shall be governed in the fulfillment of those duties my first resort will be to that Constitution which I shall swear to the best of my ability to preserve, protect, and defend.”
An important reminder for Republicans in Congress.