Vanderbilt Law Review


John W. Davis

First Page



The place of the Constitution in American life nowhere appears more clearly than in the form of our oaths of allegiance. These do not run to any personal sovereign, or to any nation or government by name. They pledge only the support of the Constitution of the United States, to which is sometimes added the promise to defend it against all enemies foreign and domestic. It must be and it is something more than a mere document which is sanctified by such oaths. It is the embodiment and symbol of nationhood, of a form of government and of a way of life.

The document in which these things are enshrined has now been in existence for more than a century and a half, in war and peace. It has survived many crises; it has undergone amendments and additions, and the shelves of many libraries are filled with writings and commentaries concerning it. And yet constitutional questions still persist and controversies continue to rage over the bearing of the Constitution on this or that set of facts.

In one of the articles in this Symposium the author (Mr. Curtis) speaks of the Constitution as an "ambulatory document." As a figure of speech the phrase is arresting. Yet the apparent movement is not so much in the Constitution itself as in the changing circumstances to which it is to be applied. There are changes, too, in the reasoning and sentiments of the men by whom it is to be interpreted. But the movement, real or apparent, has its limits. Innovation must halt, interpretation must pause, desire for change must be put aside, at the boundary set by an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. Protected by such an oath the Constitution remains the Ark of the Covenant of our national life.