The Oaths of Office for President, Vice President, Judges and Congress

Why We Ask Our Elected Leaders to Uphold the Constitution

The 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives take the oath of office.
Members of the 115th Congress take the oath of office on the floor of the House of Representaives on Jan. 3, 2017. Win McNamee/Getty Images Staff

An oath of office is a promise required of most federal officials to carry out the duties set forth in the U.S. Constitution. The president and vice president, members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, and justices joining the U.S. Supreme Court all publicly take oaths before assuming office.

But what do those oaths of office say? And what do they mean? Here's a look at the oaths taken by top officials in federal government's executive, legislative and judicial branches.

The President's Oath of Office

The president is required by Article II, Section I of the U.S. Constitution to take the following oath of office:

"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."

Most presidents choose to take that oath while placing a hand on a Bible, which is often open to a specific verse that is important to the times or to the incoming commander-in-chief.

The Vice President's Oath of Office

The vice president takes the oath of office at the same ceremony as the president. Until 1933, the vice president took the oath in the U.S. Senate chambers. The vice president's oath dates from 1884 and is the same as that taken by members of Congress:

"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."

Beginning with the swearing in of John Adams in 1797, the oath has been administered by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. For most of the nation's history, inauguration day was March 4. Since President Franklin D. Roosevelt's second term in 1937, that ceremony occurs on Jan. 20, according to the 20th Amendment, which specifies that a president's term should begin at noon on that date of the year following a presidential election.



Not all oaths of office have occurred on inauguration day. Eight vice presidents have taken the oath of office upon the death of a president, while another was sworn in following a presidential resignation, according to U.S. Senate records.

    The U.S. Supreme Court's Oath of Office

    Each Supreme Court Justice takes the following oath:

    "I 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 under the Constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God."

    Oaths of Office for Members of Congress

    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 first members of Congress developed this simple 14-word oath:

    "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States."

    The Civil War led Lincoln to develop an expanded oath for all federal civilian employees in April 1861. When Congress reconvened later that year, its members enacted legislation requiring employees to take the expanded oath in support of the Union. This oath is the earliest direct predecessor of the modern oath.

    The current oath was enacted in 1884. It reads:

    "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 members of Congress 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.

    [This article has been amended by Tom Murse.]