Building a Nation: The US Constitution and the President's Oath of Office

Seminar Paper, 2009

17 Pages, Grade: 1


Table Of Contents

1 Introduction

2 The Genesis Of The USA & The Constitution
2.1 From colonial times to independence
2.2 The articles of Confederation and the Constitution
2.3 The Constitution of The United States
2.3.1 Overview
2.3.2 The articles and their sections
2.3.3 Article I – The legislative branch
2.3.4 Article two – The executive branch
2.3.5 Article three – The judicial Branch
2.3.6 Article four – The States
2.3.7 Articles five, six and seven: amendments, debts, supremacy, oaths and ratification
2.4 The “Bill Of Rights” and other amendments to the constitution

3 Addressing „His“ Nation: Barack Obama’s Inaugural speech

4 „The Audacity Of Hope“: Barack Obama’s Thoughts On The Constitution

5 Summary

6 References

1 Introduction

If one would try to identify the two most important documents in the history of the United States Of America, I’m sure even Europeans would soon point to the „Constitution“ and the „Declaration Of Independence“. Probably, they would also think about a picture taken in the moment the first hamburger was made or, being seriously asked for typical symbols for the US, say something about the flag of the USA which is presented almost everywhere in public and is being honored by a daily „pledge of allegiance“ in school classes. You can also find the „star spangled banner“ in churches right alongside with the flag of the Holy See on the right and the left side of a tabernacle in a catholic church as well.

There are many differences in their attitude towards religion in public life between european and US-citizens and even though there is an agreement on the separation of church and state on both coasts of the Atlantic, the difference in how much of their own belief politicians are allowed to express when executing a public office seems to be as huge in scale like the water mass of the ocean between the two continents. No politician in the US could successfully run for a public office without at least some reference to God during his campaign and no european politician could achieve the same doing so.

It’s not only the importance of civil religion in everyday’s life that draws a line of separation between Europe and the USA, there is also a great divide in how much of their own historical genesis is reflected among Europeans and Americans. For Americans, being true to the spirit and the intention of their “founding fathers” seems to be much more important than a European would agree to evaluate his or her being true to some spirit of the politicians that signed the “Contracts of Rome” in 1957 that created the beginning of today’s European Community they are living in.

The tremendous amount of discussion, negative and positive propaganda, political analysis and reservation among the people related to create a constitution (with or without any reference to God) for Europe too is only a small hint for how different and sensitive the public opinion is about being part of any legacy of foundation that was bequeathed by our ancestors in order to keep a dream alive they were fighting for long time ago. It is the constitution any new president of the United States has to swear an oath on the bible for and it might be an interesting task especially for an european citizen like me to take a closer look on this important document of US history, which is often referred to in many movies or television series (for instance “The West Wing”). After some historical background information about the United States of America I’ll present an overview of the Constitution itself and how it has been expanded by a total of 26 amendments so far. After this historical excursion, I’ll have a short look on how the new president of the United States Barack Obama thinks about the constitution and how important it has always been for him since his childhood. Finally, there will also be a brief analysis of his inaugural address given on January 20th.

2 The Genesis Of The USA & The Constitution

2.1 From colonial times to independence

The history of the United States begins with the colonial period at the beginning of the 17th century, when the “pilgrim fathers” (and I suppose, “mothers”, too, even if they are not mentioned in this historical term) reached the eastern shore in Cape Cod in 1620, many years after Christopher Columbus discovered the continent in 1492.[1] Starting with farming and craftsmanship, the new colonies were growing especially on the eastern coast with its big cities New Amsterdam (nowadays New York), Boston, Plymouth etc. Apart from producing tobacco, meat and cereals the new colonies were exporting “naval stores”[2] like masts and parts of ships to the old world. Colonial exploitation by the Crown and the suppression of the colonies’ claim for more independence caused the tension between the old and the new world to grow until the American colonies declared their independence from their British suppressors on 4th of july 1776, strongly supported by the French.

2.2 The articles of Confederation and the Constitution

The „Declaration of Independence“ marked an important first step in the history of the United States, because it provided the colonies with a perspective for future development and the implementation of national constitutions. Kings shouldn’t rule the people any more, but the people should rule themselves. Beginning with national republican constitutions right after becoming independent the 13 “Articles Of Confederation” from 1777 were another important step towards the formation of the later union. Each state maintained its sovereignty but all member states agreed on free trade, free travel and common citizenship for everyone living in one of the union states[3]. The signatory states were: Connecticut, Virginia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Delaware, South Carolina, North Carolina, New York, Georgia and New Jersey.[4] The articles also established a parliament for the union, the congress and provided some regulations for mutual defense between all member states as well as a centralized treasury for all member states. No state is allowed to go to war unless attacked, each state is responsible for keeping up its militia. Furthermore, Canada was invited to join the union in article 11. The union agreed to pay for all debts of the member states prior to the installation of the articles and the articles were declared supreme law on the union’s territory.

Just like the European Union’s contracts the articles suffered from similar loopholes and problems: first, the number nine that was assigned for all important decisions (like the approval of new members) represented a two-thirds-majority. Each time, a new member had joined the union, the number had to be adopted to 11, 13, 14 and so on, each time requiring a unisonous vote in congress, which enabled any member state to veto the decision. Another bug in the regulation was, that federal government had no real power to impose sanctions for member states which refused to pay for the bills sent to them in order to balance the federal budget. When Virginia called for a meeting on these issues in may 1786, only five states had sent delegates to the congress, which made it impossible for the congress to change anything. At the same time, federal forces had to deal with an uprising in Massachusetts lead by a farmer called Daniel Shays that managed to terrorize the Massachusetts area for six months before they were finally beaten up by federal forces.[5] Obviously, this shamefully slow reaction of the federal forces due to the problems in governing caused by the articles was necessary to proof the necessity of a change, which resulted in the congress’ ratification of a new document based on the suggestions made during the convention of only a few member states earlier in may. This document was the “U.S. Constitution”.


[1] Vereinigte Staaten von Amerika. Article in: DTV Lexikon Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag 19995 (19), 122 – 133, esp. 127.

[2] Verify same page.

[3] Refer to:

[4] For details about the signers of the articles see:

[5] See:

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Building a Nation: The US Constitution and the President's Oath of Office
University of Graz
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Constitution, Office Of The President, USA
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Mag. Markus Löhnert (Author), 2009, Building a Nation: The US Constitution and the President's Oath of Office, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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