What Is In The Oath Of Office?

Like clockwork, we hear the presidential oath of office every four years. Thirty-five words that basically give the incoming Chief Executive the keys to the proverbial car. And the nuclear launch codes.

The National Museum of American History says that Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution “requires that before presidents can assume their duties they must take the oath of office.” Once the incoming president completes the oath, the previous president’s term ends and the new term commences.

Who created the presidential oath of office?

Marvin Pinkert is the executive director of the National Archives Experience, and he told NPR that the oath is the only sentence in quotes in the entire Constitution. NPR also notes that the oath was created by delegates at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. It was a slow go at first as there weren’t any previous oaths to base this one on.

Want to know more about delegates, and even superdelegates? Read about them here.

What are the 35 words in the oath of office?

The quoted sentence in the constitution reads:

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.

What are some other ins and outs of this momentous occasion? Let’s take a look.

To swear or not to swear

Notice that the oath says “swear (or affirm).” A president doesn’t have to use the term swear.

NPR reports that this was due to a belief of the Quakers. They felt quite strongly that you should never, ever swear. President Franklin Pierce used the word affirm in his 1853 swearing-in.

Who added the phrase so help me God to the oath?

The sentence in the Constitution doesn’t mention the phrase so help me God. So why do presidents say it at the end of the oath?

There’s a longstanding myth that President George Washington added that—but it’s since been contested by the Library of Congress and George Washington’s actual home Mount Vernon. So we won’t dig any further into that one.

The first eyewitness account of a president using the words came in 1881 with the inauguration of Chester A. Arthur. Every president has said the line to end the oath since.

In 2009, a man named Michael Newdow filed a lawsuit to prevent adding so help me God to the oath. President Obama was to be sworn in that year and explicitly said he wanted to say the phrase with the oath. That led to the Supreme Court declining to hear the case, and Obama did include so help me God in his swearing-in.

WATCH: Common Words That Were Coined By U.S. Presidents

Why does the oath of office happen on January 20?

Now that we know what they’re saying, can we figure out why are they always saying it on January 20?

Back in the day, the oath was administered on March 4, which allowed for the votes in the electoral college to be counted, for administrations to make plans and select cabinets, and all of the other items to be in order for a new presidency to start. But in 1933, the 20th Amendment to the Constitution moved inauguration day to its present date of January 20 to speed up getting the elected officials from November into office because technology had sped up many of the items that used to historically take more time.

Do they have to use a Bible?

The fact that the president rests his hand on the Bible when reciting the oath of office is merely a tradition. There’s no requirement. Several presidents have not used the bible during their swearing in and others have simply put their hand on it instead of kissing it.

Who administers the oath of office to the president?

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court administers the oath of office to the president on January 20. The current Chief Justice is John G. Roberts, Jr.

What inauguration oath options do you think our next president-elect will choose to say? Just 35 words, or will there be others included?


Past presidents have popularized numerous other words as well. Learn more about the words we use today that came about from our presidents.


Unlock a new world of learning!

Join the parent community to get learning tips, tricks, and a whole lot more!
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Previous What Is The Difference Between "Equality" And "Equity"? Next "America The Beautiful" Lyrics You Probably Don't Know