Oath of office

From Academic Kids

An oath of office is an oath or affirmation a person takes before officially assuming an office. Most of the time an oath of office is taken before assuming an office for the state or for some religion. It is usually administered at an inauguration, coronation, enthronement, or other ceremony of taking up office.

Oaths of office are usually a statement of loyalty to a constitution or other legal text, as well as an oath to the state or religion the office holder will be serving. It is often considered a treasonous or highly illegal offense to betray one's oath of office.

see also: oath of allegiance, oath of enlistment

United States

 being sworn-in aboard  by federal judge , following the assassination of .
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Lyndon B. Johnson being sworn-in aboard Air Force One by federal judge Sarah T. Hughes, following the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

In the United States, the oath of office for the President of the United States is specified in the U.S. 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 oath may be sworn or affirmed. Although not explicitly present in the text of the Constitution, it has been conventional for Presidents to add "so help me God" at the end of the oath, as that is the traditional way of taking any oath. George Washington did this at his inauguration in 1789.

For other officials, including members of Congress, that document specifies only that they "shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation to support this constitution." At the start of each new U.S. Congress, in January of every odd-numbered year, those newly elected or relected Congressmen - the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate - must recite an oath:

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.

This oath is also taken by the Vice President, members of the Cabinet, and all other executive officers and federal employees other than the President or military officers. While the oath-taking dates back to the First Congress in 1789, the current oath is a product of the 1860s, drafted by Civil War-era members of Congress intent on ensnaring traitors.

Back in 1789, the First Congress had reworked the constitutional requirement into a simple fourteen-word oath: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States."

For nearly three-quarters of a century, that oath served nicely, although to the modern ear it sounds woefully incomplete. Missing are the soaring references to defending the Constitution "against all enemies, foreign and domestic;" to bearing "true faith and allegiance;" to taking "this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion;" and to "well and faithfully" discharging the duties of the office.

The outbreak of the Civil War quickly transformed the routine act of oath-taking into one of enormous significance. In April of 1861, a time of uncertain and shifting loyalties, President Abraham Lincoln ordered all federal civilian employees within the executive branch to take an expanded oath. When Congress convened for a brief emergency session in July, 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.

When Congress returned for its regular session in December 1861, members who believed that the Union had as much to fear from northern traitors as southern soldiers again revised the oath, adding a new first section known as the "Ironclad Test Oath." The war-inspired Test Oath, signed into law on July 2, 1862, required "every person elected or appointed to any office ... under the Government of the United States ... excepting the President of the United States" to swear or affirm that they had never previously engaged in criminal or disloyal conduct. Those government employees who failed to take the 1862 Test Oath would not receive a salary; those who swore falsely would be prosecuted for perjury and forever denied federal employment.

The 1862 oath's second section incorporated a more polished and graceful rendering of the hastily drafted 1861 oath. Although Congress did not extend coverage of the Ironclad Test Oath to its own members, many took it voluntarily. Angered by those who refused this symbolic act during a wartime crisis, and determined to prevent the eventual return of prewar southern leaders to positions of power in the national government, congressional hard-liners eventually succeeded by 1864 in making the Test Oath mandatory for all members.

The Senate then revised its rules to require that members not only take the Test Oath orally, but also that they "subscribe" to it by signing a printed copy. This condition reflected a wartime practice in which military and civilian authorities required anyone wishing to do business with the federal government to sign a copy of the Test Oath. The current practice of newly sworn senators signing individual pages in an elegantly bound oath book dates from this period.

As tensions cooled during the decade following the Civil War, Congress enacted private legislation permitting particular former Confederates to take only the second section of the 1862 oath. An 1868 public law prescribed this alternative oath for "any person who has participated in the late rebellion, and from whom all legal disabilities arising therefrom have been removed by act of Congress." Northerners immediately pointed to the new law's unfair double standard that required loyal Unionists to take the Test Oath's harsh first section while permitting ex-Confederates to ignore it. In 1884, a new generation of lawmakers quietly repealed the first section of the Test Oath, leaving intact today's affirmation of constitutional allegiance.

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