Why has the tradition in America been for oaths to end with “So Help Me God”? The military’s oath of enlistment ended with “So Help Me God.”The commissioned officers’ oath end edwith “So Help Me God.” President’s oath of office ended with “So Help Me God.” Congressmen and Senators’ oath ended with “So Help Me God.” Witnesses in Court swore to tell the truth, “So Help Me God.”Even Lincoln proposed an oath to be a United States citizen which ended with “So Help Me God.”
Lincoln announced his plan, DECEMBER 8, 1863, to accept back into the Union those who had been in the Confederacy with proposed oath:
“Whereas it is now desired by some persons heretofore engaged in said rebellion to resume their allegiance to the United States…Therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do proclaim, declare, and make known to all persons who have, directly or by implication, participated in the existing rebellion…that a full pardon is hereby granted to them…with restoration of all rights of property…upon the condition that every such person shall take and subscribe an oath…to wit:
“I, ______, do solemnly swear, in the presence of ALMIGHTY GOD, that I will henceforth faithfully support, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Union of the States there-under, and that I will in like manner abide by and faithfully support all acts of Congress passed during the existing rebellion with reference to slaves… and that I will in like manner abide by and faithfully support all proclamations of the President made during the existing rebellion having reference to slaves… SO HELP ME GOD.”
A similar situation was faced by Justice Samuel Chase, who was the Chief Justice of Maryland’s Supreme Court in 1791, and then appointed by George Washington as a Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, 1796-1811.
In 1799, a dispute arose over whether an Irish immigrant named Thomas M’Creery had in fact become a naturalized U.S. citizen and thereby able to leave an estate to a relative in Ireland. The court decided in M’Creery’s favor based on a certificate executed before Justice Samuel Chase, which stated:
“I, Samuel Chase, Chief Judge of the State of Maryland, do hereby certify all whom it may concern, that…personally appeared before me Thomas M’Creery, and did repeat and subscribe a declaration of his belief in the Christian Religion, and take the oath required by the Act of Assembly of this State, entitled, An Act for Naturalization.”
An oath was meant to call a Higher Power to hold one accountable to perform what they promised.
“Just 2 weeks and a day ago, I took the oath of office as President. You know the last four words, for those who choose to say it in this way, are ‘so help me God‘… Deep down inside I wanted to say it the way I was thinking it, which was, ‘So, help me, God.’” Courts of Justice thought oaths would lose their effectiveness if the public at large lost their fear of the God of the Bible who gave the commandment “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”
New York Supreme Court Chief Justice Chancellor Kent noted in People v. Ruggles, 1811, that irreverence weakened the effectiveness of oaths:
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