Understanding An Oath to Support the Constitution

David Shestokas, Attorney at Law2024 is the 37th Anniversary of my admission to practice law. The final act of becoming a lawyer is to swear an oath to the US Constitution. As I took that oath in 1987, it crossed my mind that the meaning of this oath was never discussed during law school. I’ve thought a lot about that since.

As a result of that contemplation I’ve written two books: Constitutional Sound Bites and Creating the Declaration of Independence.

An Oath to Support the Constitution’s Purpose

That study and writing led me to believe that an oath to support the Constitution is not an oath to the technical aspects of the Constitution,[1] but to the philosophy and purpose of the Constitution. The Declaration of Independence and its self-evident truths that all men are created equal with inalienable rights is the source. The simple principle is that government does not grant rights, but exists to protect rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It is axiomatic that one cannot support the Constitution without understanding of the Declaration of Independence. An oath to the Constitution is to the WHY of the Constitution. The WHY is found in the Declaration of Independence. [2]

The Declaration of Independence is the inspiration and explanation of why there is an America. The Constitution is the institutional creation meant to breathe life into the Declaration’s promise of the Declaration. Explaining this requires two books.

Constitutional Mechanics and Institutions

Constitutional Sound Bites, available on AmazonConstitutional Sound Bites[3] describes America’s Founding documents in a format familiar to 21st century readers. A simple, easy-to-read presentation takes into account the “sound bite” nature of today’s culture. The Federalist Papers, by John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison explain the Constitution, but such essays are foreign to 21st Century Americans.

Constitutional Sound Bites translates an 18th Century message into a 21st Century format with 150 questions and answers, organized from the Preamble to the 10th Amendment. Unique among books about the Constitution, included are explanations of why various constitutional provisions exist.[4] Every word in the Constitution has a back story and the book contains many such stories.[5]

The book brings home that our shared heritage is not liberal nor conservative, Republican nor Democrat but American. The principal goal of Constitutional Sound Bites is to explain the origins, purposes and philosophy of the document.

While Constitutional Sound Bites is about the Constitution, there are 140 references to the Declaration of Independence. This demonstrates the WHY of the Constitution, as the Declaration is the raison d’etre[6]  of the Constitution.

Keeping the objectives of the Declaration of Independence in mind the Constitution’s provisions are not dry structural definitions of government. They are protections for freedom and liberty. The Constitution cannot be understood disconnected from the Declaration.

Connecting the Constitution and Declaration of Independence

Creating the Declaration of Independence, Available on AmazonCreating the Declaration of Independence provides that connection.

This book journeys into the minds of Richard Henry Lee, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in the month before July 4, 1776.

Richard Henry Lee was the first to publicly propose independence. His trepidation at the moment he offers the proposal is palpable, as he knows proposing American Independence to the Second Continental Congress risks his beheading. Though John Adams was the only congressional delegate to second Lee’s resolution of independence, afterwards he would proceed with caution.

That caution is demonstrated in the secret City Tavern meetings of Adams and Thomas Jefferson to begin crafting the Declaration. It is demonstrated by Jefferson’s initial reluctance to draft the Declaration when no other delegate, including Adams, wished to work on the Declaration. Ultimately, the answers to Jefferson’s inspirations, legal principles, historical precedents and thought process from his legal training are revealed in Creating the Declaration of Independence. Also revealed is a lawyer’s trick that Jefferson used to craft a document of such immortality on such short notice.

When the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor in support of the Declaration it was truly a remarkable act. The possible penalty for that act included being disemboweled, burning, hanged, cut into pieces, beheaded and displaying the head on a pike at the city gates.

Can you imagine being the first one to go out on that limb, or the person assigned to convince millions to join? Creating the Declaration of Independence takes you inside the mind of the man out on the limb, Richard Henry Lee and the mind of Thomas Jefferson, assigned to justify independence to the world, the soldiers of the Continental Army, and the American people.

The purpose of Creating the Declaration of Independence is to pass along some of Jefferson’s message to the millions of others who take such an oath whether military, attorneys, law enforcement officers, firefighters, elected officials or new citizens.

The Oath Eight Times, Mom the Editor, Available on Amazon

Since 1987 I’ve taken the constitutional oath seven more times, and each time I felt more comfortable as I have studied and gained a deeper understanding of the Declaration of Independence.[7]

Cápsulas Informativas Constitucionales es disponible AmazonFinal note as to these books Constitutional Sound Bites and Creating the Declaration of Independence, a principal editor was my Mom, Charlotte Shestokas.[8]  Her message as she made me rewrite:  “Dave, this sounds too much like a lawyer, if you redo this so I understand, then most people will understand.”

The books are available on Amazon. They make good presents for any occasion but the Fourth of July is a particularly good time.  A screenplay is in the works based upon Creating the Declaration of Independence. The working title for the movie is 55 Words: The American Creed.


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[1] For example Art. I defines Congress, Art. II the Executive, and Art. III the Judiciary. These are technical matters creating institutions to protect our natural rights and organize a civil society.

[2] Our military and first responders do not risk their lives so that the President can serve four years, congressmen two years or Supreme Court Justices for life.  They do so in the belief that these institutions will protect our natural rights.

[3] This book is also available in Spanish as Cápsulas Informativas Constitucionales. It is the only book in the world explaining America’s Founding Documents in Spanish.

[4] Why we have impeachment is a favorite:  Ben Franklin proposed an impeachment provision as an alternative to assassinating the president in case, in Franklin’s words, the president became “obnoxious”.

[5] Many stories are shared in greater detail at my website, shestokas.com.

[6] Raison d’être /ˌreɪzɒ̃ ˈdɛtrə/ is a French expression commonly used in English, meaning “reason for being” or “reason to be”.

[7] Why have I done that seven times?  The answer is in Article VI of the Constitution.

[8] We are so blessed, Mom turned 95 on April 15, 2024.  We are now making plans for her 100th birthday.


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