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Saturday, November 21, 2009

"So Help Me God"

Here's another fun question: Did George Washington add the words, "So help me God" to the conclusion of his Oath of Office? Pop culture and legend say yes. Bud did he? After all, no president is on record having said those words until Rutherford B. Hayes took the oath and insisted on adding, "So Help Me God" in 1876.

Contrary to popular belief, the Founding Fathers did not put "So help me God" in the Constitution. In fact, here's what the Constitution says the president is supposed to say:
"I (name) 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."
Nothing more is required.

So where does this legend come from? Hard to say. There are no historical records affirming OR denying that Washington added, "So help me God" to his oath of office. Despite the lack of "smoking gun" evidence on the matter, Washington's alleged "So help me God" remark has caused quite a stir in recent years. Both secular and religious groups continue to lock horns on this issue hoping to convince others of the validity of their case. In fact, this issue was THE biggest source of conflict during the filming of the HBO John Adams miniseries that recently aired. Here's HBO's depiction of Washington's inauguration and oath of office. It was one of the more stirring scened of the whole miniseries. Place your bets now on Who won: the secularists or the religious? Let's find out:

Very stirring recreation! For the most part, it was pretty accurate. However, Washington did not raise his right hand. Instead, he placed it over his heart. It is true that the crowd was unable to hear him. Washington had a cold at the time and couldn't speak very loudly. And yes, he did kiss the Bible. Even the outfit is accurate, along with all the people on the podium. Robert Livingston, however, did not say, "God Bless George Washington" at the conclusion of the oath. Instead, he said, "Long live George Washington."

Now, here's the secularist interpretation of Washington's oath of office:

And then of course there is Chief Justice John Roberts completely and totally messing up the Oath of Office for Barack Obama. In fact, they had to redo it later that night:

Way to screw it up Roberts! You can see Obama's face thinking, "this guy is the CHIEF Justice???" Perhaps Justice Roberts was busy thinking, "hey, this is the guy who so vehemently opposed my nomination to the Supreme Court."

Either way, you gotta love presidential inaugurations!


Brian Tubbs said...

My hunch is that Washington whispered "so help me God" after the oath was concluded. It was not part of the official oath, but was said during the ceremony. Hence, the tradition stuck.

Whether he actually said SHMG or not, though, is not a reflection of his beliefs. He made his sentiments quite clear in his Inaugural Address, when he said that the American people were "bound" to adore and obey the "Invisible Hand."

Brad Hart said...

I totally agree, Brian. Washington, regardless of what he said/didn't say, was a man of faith. We may debate what kind of faith and to what degree, but nobody should be stupid enough to call the man an atheist or something along those lines.

As for his inauguration, if we were able to go back to 1789 I would not be surprised to hear Washington say, "So help me God." But at the same time, it wouldn't shock me if he did not.