January 7, 2011 •
The 112th Congress convened on Wednesday, January 5th. With its arrival came the swearing in of each member of the U.S. House and Senate.
There is a great deal of discussion surrounding what this new Congress will bring. There has also been some attention surrounding the oath of office, with two House Members apparently voting without having attended the official swearing-in. Here is a nice piece by Politico describing the situation.
The United States Senate Web site offers a great history of the oath of office. On the Web site of the Office of the Clerk of the United States House of Representatives, there is also a description of the oath for House Members. For those who need a refresher, you will find a nice primer on the U.S. Senate Web site called, “What Happens When a New Congress Begins.”
Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution states that “members of Congress shall be bound by an oath to support the Constitution.” But it does not offer a text for such an oath. From the first congress in 1789, the oath that was used was short and simple: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States.”
For many years, this oath was deemed sufficient. But the oath we are accustomed to hearing is much longer and goes as follows:
“I, (name of Member), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or 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 Senate Web site describes the reason for the change that occurred over 70 years after that first congress:
“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.”
In honor of the 112th Congress, here is a link to C-Span’s coverage of the 112th Congress. Have a wonderful weekend!
Photo of Vice President Richard Nixon administering the oath of office to Senator Gale McGee in 1959, and the United States Senate in session in their new chamber (1859) courtesy of the U.S. Senate Web site.
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