The Presidential Oath of Office

Bush oath of office

Bush taking the oath of office

Since today is Presidents Day, I thought it would be appropriate to take a look at the inauguration of the President of the United States into office. It is rightly called an oath of office or presidential oath. Wikipedia defines such an oath:

An oath of office is an oath or affirmation a person takes before undertaking the duties of an office, usually a position in government or within a religious body, although such oaths are sometimes required of officers of other organizations. Such oaths are often required by the laws of the state, religious body, or other organization before the person may actually exercise the powers of the office or any religious body. It may be administered at an inauguration, coronation, enthronement, or other ceremony connected with the taking up of office itself, or it may be administered privately. In some cases may be administered privately and then repeated during a public ceremony.

Some oaths of office are a statement of loyalty to a constitution or other legal text or to a person or other office-holder (e.g., an oath to support the constitution of the state, or of loyalty to the king). Under the laws of a state it may be considered treason or a high crime to betray a sworn oath of office.1

The actual formal act of taking this oath consists of the President raising their right arm to the square, following the lead of the officiator or Chief Justice of the United States who wears the formal ceremonial regalia, the President also usually extends and places their left hand on the Bible or other sacred object, and repeats the oath after the officiator as follows:

I, [insert the name of the one taking the oath], 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 so help me God.2

This mandatory oath is specifically delineated in the Constitution of the United States, Article II, Section 1, Clause 8. The words “so help me God” and the act of putting the hand on the Bible indicate a sacred witness of the action, thus sealing or making the nature of the oath binding under the witness of God Himself. Often the Bible is opened to a specific verse. Indeed, after taking this oath President Abraham Lincoln noted that his act was “registered in heaven.” The breaking of such an oath is considered an act of treason or high crime, the penalty of which is determined by a high court.

Here is a link to photos of several Presidents taking this oath. Here is a link to photos of other government leaders around the world taking similar oaths. Below is a video of the last 13 Presidents of the United States taking this singular oath of office, noting that each time it is considered a highly solemn, sacred and respected moment:

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  1. Posted February 18, 2008 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    It is interesting to note that the addition of the optional “affirm” in the Presidential Oath was put there by the Framers to facilitate different religious views. At the time of the Constitutional Convention and the early days of America, there were popular religions who would not take an “oath” to anything other than their God, as they believed this to be placing that organization above God. So, the Framers put the optional “affirm” language in the Presidential Oath to allow a person who felt that way to “affirm” those things in the Presidential Oath(/Affirmation), instead of take an “oath”.

  2. brian
    Posted March 19, 2011 at 5:16 am | Permalink

    Actually in the U.S. Constitution, it is 35 words that make a president and not 39 words as shown at the top of your video of President Ford taking his Oath of Office. Many presidents do add “so help me God” and there is nothing wrong with that. However it is not required by the Constitution.

    Also there are a number of presidents who did not say the actual oath. Rather they said “I do” after being asked if they swore “To faithfully execute the office of President …”

    Furthermore it is not required that a bible or other sacred book be used. Both Franklin Pierce and Theodore Roosevelt did not use any book, and John Quincy Adams used a law book. Nothing wrong if a holy book is used and/or the words “so help me God” are added. But it is not a requirement and not doing so does not prevent someone from being President.


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