What’s in a typical oath of office? Is the same oath of office taken for different civilian and military positions of leadership? Are there common elements between different oaths of office?
The oath of office is SO important to American ideals, rights, liberty, and freedom — to the very fabric of our society itself — that it is required of everyone who holds any civilian, military office, or law enforcement office, from townships on up to the highest levels of our government. It’s even required of all immigrants who desire to become U.S. citizens.
We’ll begin by listing the various oaths of office. We’ve highlighted the legal basis for these oaths, as well as some common elements of all oaths throughout the United States of America:
Presidential Oath of Office: “Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:–‘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.'” – U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 1
Civil Office Oath: “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” – U.S. Constitution, Article VI. This catch-all requires all state governors, as well as both state and federal legislators and members of the judiciary to take an oath of office. Traditionally, this has almost invariably been extended to the municipal level, if not informally, then by state Constitution or legislation.
From Article VI, federal legislation was passed to provide the specifics of the following oaths of office:
Congressional Oath of Office: “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.]” – 5 U.S.C. § 3331, Oath of Office. Required at the start of each new U.S. Congress, in January of every odd-numbered year. Newly elected or re-elected Members of Congress – the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate – must recite this oath.
Federal Judiciary Oaths (2): “I, (name), 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 (office) under the Constitution and laws of the United States. [So help me God.]” – 28 U.S.C. § 453, Oaths of justices and judges. The second oath is the same as required of Congress: “I, (name), 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.]” – 5 U.S.C. § 3331, Oath of Office.
An oath of office is is also required of all immigrants desiring to become U.S. citizens:
The United States Oath of Allegiance (Immigration): “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.” – “Oath of Allegiance,” 8 C.F.R. Part 337 (2008).
Finally, we have the last oath of office class, that required of all members of the United States Armed Forces, whether they’re serving at the federal or state levels:
U.S. Military Oath of Enlistment: “I, (NAME), 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; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.” – 10 U.S.C. § 502, Enlistment Oath
U.S. Military Officers Oath: “I, [name], 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.” – 5 U.S.C. § 3331, Oath of Office. One notable difference between the officer and enlisted oaths is that the oath taken by officers does not include any provision to obey orders; while enlisted personnel are bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice to obey lawful orders, officers in the service of the United States are bound by this oath to disobey any order that violates the Constitution of the United States. – Marjorie Cohn; Kathleen Gilberd (2009), Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent, PoliPointPress, p. 16, ISBN 978-0-9815769-2-3;Stjepan G. Meštrovi? (2008), Rules of Engagement?: A Social Anatomy of an American War Crime Operation Iron Triangle, Iraq, Algora Publishing, p. 7, ISBN 978-0-87586-672-7.
I strongly suspect the same is required of any sworn officer, whether civilian, military, or law enforcement, and at all levels (local, county, state, and federal).
Officers of the National Guard of the various states (additional oath): “I, [name], do solemly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State (Commonwealth, District, Territory) of ___ against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the Governor of the State (Commonwealth, District, Territory) of ___, that I make this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the Office of [grade] in the Army/Air National Guard of the State (Commonwealth, District, Territory) of ___ upon which I am about to enter, so help me God.” – National Guard Bureau Form 337, Oath of Enlistment
So! Why is an oath of office at all levels so critical to the successful operation of our country? Let’s begin by showing what can happen when people fail to adhere to their oath of office.
Let’s say we had a President who decided he wanted to implement some ideas of his own. To him, they might sound like good ideas, but when he starts floating them, he soon learns his ideas will never pass muster because portions of them violate the U.S. Constitution. Not being an actual American, and with civics lessons having been learned in Indonesia under a dictator who did pretty much whatever he wanted to so, this President finds himself a bit flustered. But he’s a determined, if not driven individual, one who is full of charm and charisma, so he switches tactics, and begins doing end runs around the Constitution, saying to himself, “Who needs that stuffy old document, anyway? That was then, this is now! These are modern times, so let’s change! Let’s progress! Let’s move ‘Forward’!”
What he fails to realize is that he’s repeating an historical course of action that has ALWAYS failed, because it fails to consider basic human nature with respect to independence, freedom, and a sense of fair play. He also fails to realize large countries require a more solid foundation than smaller countries, which is why our Founding Fathers built in a number of safeguards to prevent change from occurring too rapidly.
They knew it’s not difficult to topple a country once it abandons its foundation, because when that happens, the various powers which have united to form that country are now pulled in all directions, and the country can literally tear itself apart. When all factions were singing off the same sheet of music i.e. the Constitution, the entire nation operated in harmony. When a controlling or even a large faction decides to belt out a different tune, it leads to discord, disharmony, and a dichotomy of factions vehemently opposed to one another. It becomes a house divided amongst itself, and it will not stand. Out of desperation, rights take a back seat to “the vision,” and even basic human rights are often trampled beneath the march of “progress.” Throughout, many people suffer, and often die.
All nations who have ever experimented with this were doomed to failure. Hundreds of millions of people died during the 20th Century alone. I dare say that’s an “experiment” we don’t need to repeat for the umpteenth time, especially given the very high loss of life to which these experiments invariably lead.
Fortunately, our President does not operate our country in a vacuum. In fact, he can rant and rave all he wants, signing all the Executive orders on the planet, but so long as the rest of the government at all levels throughout our nation remains true to their oaths of office, nothing will come of it, for one simple reason: We’re faithful to our Constitution, not to the President. What can one man do if we remain true to our nation, rather than any man?
Our Founding Fathers specifically designed our government with this in mind, knowing all too well how easy is it for a single powerful person in traditional governments to topple entire nations. They wove checks and balances throughout the design of our government, but until now, you’ve probably only heard of three. I’ll share those with you now, along with the other three most often left out of the history books:
Presidential Checks and Balances: The President can veto any legislation sent to him by Congress. The President nominates Supreme Court Justices.
Congressional Checks and Balances: Congress proposes legislation for approval or veto by the President. If the President vetos, Congress can pass the legislation anyway with a 2/3 vote. If the issue is paramount, Congress can pass an Amendment with a 2/3 vote, rendering the legislation a part of the Constitution itself. Congress can impeach the President, any member of Congress, and Supreme Court Justices.
Supreme Court Checks and Balances: Reviews cases challenging current law for Constitutionality, as well as disputes between various citizens and states, and issues involving ambassadors and admiralty law.
State Checks and Balances: Each state wields all the power reserved to it by the Constitution and its Amendments. Should the federal government overstep the bounds of its authority, the states have full Constitutional authority to tell the feds “NO.” Should the feds insist, the states may challenge them in federal court, and appeal to the Supreme Court, if necessary. Alternative, each state remains sovereign. That is, a state governor can amass a militia as required to defend the state and its interests, against overtures by other states, or even by the federal government itself.
County/Municipality Checks and Balances: A Sheriff is the original form of law enforcement in the United States. They’re sworn law enforcement officers who’re duty-bound to the Constitution to enforce all state and federal laws. Their jurisdiction is by county, but does not include incorporated municipalities who maintain their own police force, although in some locations they’ve combined forces with the municipality. On many occasions, county sheriffs have refused to enforce state or federal laws which they deem un-Constitutional. On noteworthy occasions, they’ve been threatened by either the states or the feds, to which they’ve responded with threats of their own, namely, to arrest anyone, regardless of stature, who attempts to undermine their authority to enforce the law in that county. Police forces have the same jurisdiction over their municipalities as sheriffs do over their counties.
Citizen Checks and Balances: Each and every inhabitant of the United States of America has the responsibility to follow all Constitutionally-lawful legislation. Each citizen, however, has a duty to support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and bear true faith and allegiance to the same. In so doing, they have full Constitutional authority to resist, reject, ignore, or challenge any law which violates the Constitution and any other laws which remain Constitutional.
The last three set of checks and balances are crucial to keeping the feds in line. The federal government does NOT have unlimited power to do whatever they deem necessary, whether it’s for “national security” or “in the interests of public health and safety.” Their powers are specifically limited to those conferred on them by the Constitution. All other powers are reserved to the States and the people, both of whom have full Constitutional authority to tell the feds “NO” whenever the feds overstep the bounds of their authority.
In this context, the Tenth Amendment deserves particular mention. It specifically limits the power of the federal government, while solidifying the power of both the states and the people, by declaring, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Who decides which powers are delegated to the United States and which are reserved to the states or the people? The Constitution decides. Not the President. Not Congress. Not the Supreme Court. Not the States. And not the People. The Constitution alone lists which powers are delegated to feds, which are prohibited to the States, and declares all other powers are not held by the feds, but by the States or the people.
“The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” – U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 4
“The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.” – U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 3
When all else fails, when the President or a member of his Cabinet, a member of Congress, a Supreme Court Justice, or any other civil officer of the United States commits a felony or misdemeanor, particularly as related to his or her conduct in office, charges can be brought against them. If they’re found guilty, they’re to be removed from office, after which the civilian authorities can charge them under their jurisdiction.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is how WE THE PEOPLE keep our government in line.
First, all oaths of office in these United States have one thing in common: Loyalty is sworn not to any man, woman, or office, but to the Constitution of the United States, the “law of the land” from which all other laws in the U.S. are derived.
Second, provided at least some civil and military officers adhere to their oaths of office, our nation will continue to remain on track.
Third, even if the entire federal government derails itself and our country because they fail to adhere to our Constitution, the people can restore our country simply by voting them all out of office, replacing them with leaders who actually have a clue.
The final check and balance involves removing an official from office. The President, members of Congress, and Supreme Court Justices are all subject to impeachment:
In closing, I’d like to propose a new oath, not one of some office, but a Citizenship Oath, one taken periodically by everyone in the United States, the same as we might pledge allegiance to our flag, perhaps beginning at age 12, the age most cultures recognize as early adulthood:
United States of America – Oath of Citizenship:
“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure any and all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, whether or not I may have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, following the precepts, principles, and procedures given therein, especially should I ever hold a civilian or military office requiring an oath of office; that I will obey all Constitutionally lawful legislation, executive orders, and court decisions of the United States of America and its member States; that I will oppose any and all unlawful legislation, executive orders, and court decisions contrary to the Constitution and its Amendments, expediently reporting any such violation(s) to the lowest level required to effect a swift remedy; and that I will exercise my inalienable rights and freedoms to the maximum extent possible, especially those recognized as important enough to have been enumerated in the Constitution and its Amendments; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”