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Fwd: So Help Me God in presidential oaths

From: Mathew G.
Sent on: Thursday, March 7, 2013 7:49 PM
This email that I sent yesterday is an example ongoing project where I, along with another guy who is also knowledgeable about this history, try to convince various individuals and groups to stop falsely asserting that George Washington set a precedent, since followed by every president, of appending "so help me god" to the presidential oath of office.

Begin forwarded message:

From: Mathew Goldstein
Date: March 6, 2013, 5:28:05 PM EST
To: "[address removed]" <[address removed]>, "[address removed]" <[address removed]>, "[address removed]" <[address removed]>, "[address removed]" <[address removed]>, "[address removed]" <[address removed]>
Cc: "[address removed]" <[address removed]>
Subject: So Help Me God in presidential oaths

Ilir Zherka, Executive Director

Kristen Cambell, Chief Program Officer
David B. Smith, Senior Advisor
Kristi Tate, Director of Community Strategies

Alice Murphy Program Manager, Civic Health Initiatives

National Conference on Citizenship
Washington, DC

Mr. Zherka, Ms. Campbell, Mr. Smith, Ms. Tate, & Ms. Murphy:

The NCoC web site features an article that makes the following historical claim (

"Although the U.S. Constitution does not include the words, “So help me God,” George Washington, upon taking the Oath of Office, added it and every President since has said it."

There is no known contemporaneous evidence to support this claim that George Washington added "So help me God" to his presidential oath. See "I Do Solemnly Swear . . .” George Washington Takes the First Oath of Office, 1789 ( by Dr. Donald Kennon, Chief Historian of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society:

Up until recently, historians’ accounts of Washington’s first inaugural included the claim that at the conclusion of the oath Washington added the phrase, “so help me God.” No contemporary accounts of the inauguration made reference to the phrase, and the first time the claim appeared in print was some 60 years later. Most scholars now accept that there is no credible evidence that Washington said “so help me God.” That, however, doesn’t mean that the oath itself lacked a religious connotation. It was taken on a Bible and, moreover, the wording of the oath, “I do solemnly swear,” was a clear and forceful reference to the religious sanction given to the oath. The word “solemn,” derived from the Latin solemnis (consecrated, holy) carried a stronger religious connotation in the late 18th century than it does today when to most it simply means “grave, serious, or somber.”

When it comes to "every president since" having said "So help me God" that extra-constitutional practice did not take hold until FDR's March 4, 1933 first inaugural ceremony.  Herbert Hoover is the most recent president known to have not appended those words while swearing his oath of office, Chester Arthur is the first president known to have added that phrase (most presidents are not known to have added this religious codicil to their presidential oath).

I suggest that this particular paragraph from that article be removed or revised to ensure that it is accurate.



Mathew Goldstein

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