Oaths of Office For Federal Officials

President

Pledging allegiance to American flag
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Incoming Congressmen, Presidents and Supreme Court Justices must take an oath of office, swearing that the official will uphold the Constitution.

The Constitution is quite clear on one aspect of the oath: "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." And yet every oath except the Presidential one -- which is explicitly detailed in the Constitution -- now ends with "So help me God."

The Constitution specifies an oath of office only for the President:

  • US Constitution, Article II, Section 1

    "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 Library of Congress provides information on the date each President was sworn into office, as well as the location and who administered the oath. Another list contains the Bibles and scripture passages used by Presidents when taking the oath of office.


The Oaths Of Office
  • President
  • Vice President
  • Supreme Court
  • Congress
  • Bibles and Scripture Passages Used by Presidents


The Vice President takes the oath of office in the same ceremony as the President. Until 1933, the Vice President took the oath in the Senate. The vice president's oath dates from 1884 and is the same as that taken by Congressmen:
  • I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

    Since 1797, with the swearing in of John Adams, the oath has been administered by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. For most of the nation's history, Inauguration Day was 4 March. Since Franklin D Roosevelt's second term, that ceremony occurs on 20 January (on 21 January for Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1957, and Ronald W. Reagan, 1985). The 20th Amendment to the Constitution specifies that the President's term of office begins at 12:00 pm (noon) on January 20th of the year following an election.

    Not all oaths of office have occurred on inauguration day. From the Senate: "Eight Vice Presidents have taken the oath of office upon the death of a President, while another was sworn in following a Presidential resignation."
    • Vice President John Tyler sworn in on 6 April 1841, following the death of President William Henry Harrison
    • Vice President Millard Fillmore sworn in on 10 July 1850 following the death of President Zachary Taylor
    • Vice President Andrew Johnson sworn in on 15 April 1865 following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln
    • Vice President Chester Alan Arthur sworn in on 20 September 1881 following James Garfield
    • Vice President Theodore Roosevelt sworn in on 14 September 1901 following the assassination of President William McKinley
    • Vice President Calvin Coolidge sworn in on 3 August 1923 following the death of President Warren Harding
    • Vice President Harry Truman sworn in on 12 April 1945, following the death of President Franklin Roosevelt
    • Vice President Lyndon Johnson sworn in on 22 November 1963, following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy
    • Vice President Gerald R. Ford sworn in on 9 August 1974, following the resignation of President Richard Nixon.



    The Oaths Of Office
    • President
    • Vice President
    • Supreme Court
    • Congress
    • Bibles and Scripture Passages Used by Presidents

    The Constitution specifies no details for the oath of office for the Supreme Court:

    • Constitution, Article 6 - Debts, Supremacy, Oaths

      The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.


      According to Title 28, Chapter I, Part 453 of the United States Code, each Supreme Court Justice takes the following oath:
      • "I, [NAME], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as [TITLE] under the Constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God."



      The Oaths Of Office
      • President
      • Vice President
      • Supreme Court
      • Congress
      • Bibles and Scripture Passages Used by Presidents

      At the start of each new Congress, the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate are sworn into office. This oath-taking dates to 1789, the first Congress; however, the current oath was fashioned in the 1860s, by Civil War-era members of Congress.

      The Constitution specifies no details for the oath of office for Congress:

      • Constitution, Article 6 - Debts, Supremacy, Oaths

        The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

        The first Congress developed this requirement into a simple, 14-word oath:
        • "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States."

        The Civil War led President Lincoln to develop an expanded oath for all federal civilian employees (April 1861). That July, when Congress reconvened, "members echoed the president's action by enacting legislation requiring employees to take the expanded oath in support of the Union. This oath is the earliest direct predecessor of the modern oath." ( cite)

        The current oath was enacted in 1884:
        • I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

          The public swearing-in ceremony consists of Representatives raising their right hands and repeating the oath of office. This ceremony is led by the Speaker of the House, and no religious texts are used. Some members of Congress later hold separate private ceremonies for photo ops.


          The Oaths Of Office
          • President
          • Vice President
          • Supreme Court
          • Congress
          • Bibles and Scripture Passages Used by Presidents

          This information on the details of swearing in US presidents is courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol. See the table.


          The Oaths Of Office

          • President
          • Vice President
          • Supreme Court
          • Congress
          • Bibles and Scripture Passages Used by Presidents
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          Your Citation
          Gill, Kathy. "Oaths of Office For Federal Officials." ThoughtCo, May. 16, 2014, thoughtco.com/oaths-of-office-for-federal-officials-3368324. Gill, Kathy. (2014, May 16). Oaths of Office For Federal Officials. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/oaths-of-office-for-federal-officials-3368324 Gill, Kathy. "Oaths of Office For Federal Officials." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/oaths-of-office-for-federal-officials-3368324 (accessed September 24, 2017).