Article II Section 1 Clause 8 of the Constitution of the United States requires the President of the United States to “ preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”. This is considered by many the most sacred trust of the only nationally elected official in our country. There have been a number of times when Presidents have been faced with major crisis and lack of clarity as to their power to take action - but during those times of crisis great Presidents have risen to the occasion and protected our constitution and our nation.
In 1831 the state of South Carolina threatened by legislative action to bar collection of federal taxes at its ports and to nullify federal laws within its borders. President Andrew Jackson told the South Carolinians that he would lead the army himself and hang all of them if they dared challenge the United Sates government. South Carolina backed down and the union was preserved.
In 1861 seven states seceded and President Buchanan, from Pennsylvania, declared they did not have the right to do so but he had no power to stop them. President Abraham Lincoln, from Illinois, asserted his oath of office and called for volunteers and fought a four year civil war which ultimately preserved the union, and emancipated the slaves. The Constitution provided that the Writ of Habeas Corpus could be suspended during time of rebellion but didn’t indicate who could suspend it. Lincoln again asserting his oath of office suspended the Writ. By the time the courts dealt with the question the war was over and the Union had won.
In 1946 after World War II the nation was beset with labor strikes. President Truman seized control of the railroads and threatened to draft the workers into the armed forces, the strike was settled. And in April 1952 he ordered the government to seize the steel mills to assure munitions supplies. He did these acts under his power as Commander in Chief and in accordance with his oath of office. The Supreme Court ultimately by a 6-3 vote ordered the return of the steel mills to the private owners but Truman had made his point. As he did when he issued an Executive Order integrating the armed forces - he didn’t seek or wait for Congressional action. (It was reported on one MSNBC news show that at one point in his term President Truman invoked the 14th amendment to increase government borrowing.)
Now the United States faces a fiscal crisis. Our economy is sinking into lethargy and a depression could occur. Due to the partisan gridlock in Congress the federal government has less revenue coming in than bills to pay pursuant to appropriations and laws passed by the Congress. Section 4 of Amendment 14 of the Constitution states that “The validity of the public debt of the United States ...shall not be questioned”. And Supreme Court decisions have held that clause is operative in post civil war America and did not solely apply to civil war debt. The President has the obligation to preserve the constitution. If the Congress won’t then only he can. He should order the payment of all bills and obligations of the government that are based on appropriations and federal laws (e.g. the Social Security Acts). Let the market regulate the debt ceiling – the ceiling will in effect be the point at which investors are no longer willing to invest in the United States.
Amendment 14 was declared in effect July 28, 1868 just one hundred and forty-three years ago. In all those years even during the Great Depression the full faith and credit of the United States was never questioned. Our currency is based on that faith and credit. And the fact that America meets its obligations is what enables us to borrow money.
As long as investors, which could include the American people as it did during both World Wars, are willing to buy US bonds, the President should borrow whatever he needs to meet the obligations incurred by law.
Republicans say if the President enforces the 14th Amendment they’ll impeach him. Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman didn’t worry about impeachment. They concerned themselves with preserving, protecting and defending the constitution. Now it’s Barack Obama’s turn to step up to the plate and preserve the Constitution and the Union.
28 July 2011