Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Oath of Office

                    The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday comes from Article II, Section 1, Clause 8:  "Before [the President] enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: -- `I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.'"  The Framers of our Constitution included this clause to guarantee to the citizens of our nation that any new President would commit himself by a sacred vow to uphold the office of President and safeguard the Supreme Law of our land.

                    "The Framers fittingly placed the Oath of Office Clause between preceding clauses that set forth the organization of the executive department and succeeding clauses that specify the contours of the President's executive power.  The President takes the oath after he assumes the office but before he executes it….
                    "The location and phrasing of the Oath of Office Clause strongly suggest that it is not empowering, but that it is limiting - the clause limits how the President's `executive power' is to be exercised."  (See Vasan Kesavan in The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, p. 194.)

                    "The oath was designed as a formal commitment on the part of a new president to perform the duties which the Constitution and the legal agencies of the government assigned to him.  It also commits him to defend the Constitution of the United States, meaning the principles enunciated in this national charter."  (See W. Cleon Skousen in The Making of America - The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution, p. 539.)

                    George Washington was the first President to take this oath of office.  With his hand on the Bible and following the oath, President Washington added the words, "So help me God!"  Washington's example was followed by each succeeding President until 1862 when Congress made those words an official part of the ceremony.

                    President Washington took the oath on the balcony of the Federal Hall in New York City, on April 30, 1789, the earliest date that the new government could be organized.  Thomas Jefferson was the first President to be inaugurated in Washington, D.C.  His inauguration took place in the Senate chamber of the partially completed north wing of the Capital Building on March 4, 1801, as required in the Constitution.

                    The Twentieth Amendment, adopted in 1933, changed the date of inauguration to January 20.  The formal taking of the oath today "usually occurs on a stand built over the east steps of the Capitol.  Tens of thousands attend and the inauguration is presented as a worldwide television spectacular.
                    "However, the oath may be taken at any place and before any officer empowered by law to administer oaths….  When President Roosevelt died unexpectedly, Harry Truman was sworn in at the White House, and when President Kennedy was assassinated, Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in aboard the presidential aircraft by a local federal judge" (The Making of America, pp. 538-539).


  1. The information saying that "President Washington added the words, "So help me God!" is incorrect. Neither Washington nor the next nineteen presidents are known to have added a religious codicil to their oath of office. It's only since FDR's 1933 inaugural ceremony that all presidents have departed from the their constitutional oath by adding "so help me God." The 1862 legislation to which you are referring did not apply to the president. It did apply to all other federal employees, but not the president.

  2. There is no avoiding the fact that the first "elected president" who is reliably known to have added a non-biblical, extra-constitutional religious codicil to their presidential oath of office does not occur until the beginning of the twentieth century.

    The notion that all presidents since George Washington have added "so help me God" is completely false. There's a book, Democracy's Big Day: The Inauguration of Our President, 1789-2013, by Jim Bendat that tells more of the whole story.

  3. Thank you for your comments. I simply rephrased information from the two well-trusted sources listed.

  4. The 1985 "well-trusted" source citing Cleon Skousen to which you are referring is shown at . It is true that the presidential oath is prescribed by the Constitution, Article II.1.7, but it would take much more than an "act of Congress" to make that change. It would require a specific ammendment to the Constitution. That has not happened.

    Most people trust the Library of Congress as a reliable source. Currently, the Sept. 20, 1881 entry for Chester A. Arthur on their website, Inaugurals of Presidents of the United States: Some Precedents and Notable Events ( reads, "Pronounced the words 'So help me, God' after taking the oath; other presidents have followed this example"

    I hope this has been helpful.