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The Oath We Take

Vice President Richard Nixon administers the oath of office to Senator Gale McGee.

The Oath Act of June 1, 1789, was the first legislation passed by the Senate and the first law signed by President George Washington. It prescribed the following oath: “I __ do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States.” On June 4, 1789, Senate president John Adams administered that new oath to all senators, setting a pattern that future presiding officers followed, without controversy, for the next 74 years.

During the Civil War, Congress instituted the Test Oath, created in part to prevent ex-Confederates from taking federal positions. The Senate amended this oath four times between 1864 and 1884. In 1884, as part of a general revision of its rules, the Senate repealed the Test Oath. Since then, the solemn oath prescribed by law has been: “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.”


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Vice-President Wade Administering the Oath to Schuyler Colfax. by Unidentified after Alfred R. Waud in Harper's Weekly and The Opening of Congress by Unidentified in Collier's.

Explore the Senate's collection of paintings, sculpture, graphic art, and decorative art.

Oath Reenactment Ceremony

George Mitchell's Swearing-In, 1989

A ban on photography in the Senate Chamber has led senators to devise an alternate way to capture their Senate oath-taking ceremony. In earlier years, the vice president invited newly sworn senators and their families into his Capitol office for a reenactment for home-state photographers. Following the restoration of the Old Senate Chamber in the late 1970s, reenactment ceremonies have been held in that historical setting.


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States in the Senate

Image: Screenshot of the States in the Senate homepage.

Each state has its own unique place in Senate history. Explore the States in the Senate website to learn about your state.

Civil War Sesquicentennial

View online features that explore the Senate's wartime experience.

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