What Oaths Meant to the Framers’ Generation: A Preliminary Sketch

2009 Cardozo L. Rev. de novo 273 (2009)

University of Arkansas Research Paper No. 14-12

12 Pages Posted: 13 Dec 2012 Last revised: 19 Apr 2014

Date Written: 2009

Abstract

To the Framers’ generation, oaths of office were understood as commitments, both public and personal, which stemmed from a source of morality. Recent discussions have raised concerns over whether or not the closing phrase in many oaths of office, “so help me God,” demonstrates a possible preference by the Framers for religious leaders and commitments to God. Oaths are not only an acceptance of an office itself, but also the acceptance of the office’s obligations. While oaths state an office’s obligations generally, the obligations include all that could be reasonably inferred from the nature of the office, including the use of one’s best efforts and performance in good faith. The Framers acknowledged morality’s importance in taking oaths. Breaching the commitments one took under oath would constitute an immoral act, which a moral person strives to avoid. Even though the phrase “so help me God” introduces religious language into an oath, it would be a mistake to think of oaths as purely religious commitments. Instead, the Framers’ generation understood oaths as obligations taken subject to one’s own source of morality, whatever source that may be.

Keywords: oaths, morality, so help me God, Framers, obligation, commitment, office, legislative, executive, judicial, Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803)

JEL Classification: K00, K1

Suggested Citation

Sheppard, Stephen M., What Oaths Meant to the Framers’ Generation: A Preliminary Sketch (2009). 2009 Cardozo L. Rev. de novo 273 (2009); University of Arkansas Research Paper No. 14-12. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2188463

Stephen M. Sheppard (Contact Author)

St. Mary's University School of Law ( email )

One Camino Santa Maria
San Antonio, TX 78228-8602
United States

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