What oath do Members of Congress take?

I heard a claim on a TV show tonight that made my antennae perk up.   A Democrat member of the House of Representatives made the claim that she took an oath to represent the best interests of the people in her constituency.

However, I believe the oath members of Congress take is actually what follows.   This is from the page of the Clerk of the House of Representatives with my emphases:

As required by Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution, Members of Congress shall be bound by oath or affirmation to support the Constitution. Representatives, delegates, and the resident commissioner all take the oath of office on the first day of the new Congress, immediately after the House has elected its Speaker. The Speaker of the House administers the oath of office as follows:

    "I, (name of Member), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or 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."

No mention of constituents.

I was under the impression was that people should elect people whom they believe will do the right thing, rather than just be parochial or local, regardless.  I was under the impression that Members of Congress should not merely bend their own views according to pressure from back home.   Without ignoring local interests, they should do the right thing.


Still, it remains that Congressman take an oath of office, not an oath of party or constituency.  That office mentions the Constitution.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. EXCHIEF says:

    Some members of congress take the oath seriously. Most take the oath and then promptly ignore it. Unfortunately that is true of many other “professions” that have an oath. I know in my profession the oath of office is too often ignore by so-called leaders. Politics and/or political correctness seems to reign supreme these days.

  2. gloriainexcelsis says:

    For a long time I have wondered if the people who represent us know the definition of an oath. I also wonder how many of them actually have a working knowledge of the Constitution, and if they do, if they care what it says. The majority of the current crop has an agenda quite in opposition to what the Founding Fathers gave us. The President took the oath to uphold the Constitution, yet has publicly said that it is flawed because it doesn’t speak to distribution of wealth. He also thinks it has a negative connotation. We are seeing unconstitutional edicts almost daily without much fuss. By your fruits you shall know them.

  3. MikeJ9919 says:

    I disagree with you here, Father. I think one of the biggest problems in the country today is that representatives do not take seriously their responsibility to their constituents. They get elected and then they think they “know better” than those whom they serve. Representatives certainly take an oath to defend the Constitution, but there are a lot of issues where the Constitution does not speak clearly or where it clearly grants Congress the authority to act. In those cases, legislators must exercise their own discretion, and I think it is long past time that discretion began with “What would my constituents want?” rather than “What do I want?”

    Note that I do not think this is incompatible with acting morally. If you want to be a good Christian, you can either not run for public office (the less complicated course, but Christ did not want us to divorce ourselves completely from this world) or make very clear your beliefs during the election. Then you can vote your conscience because you assume that you were elected with your constituents fully understanding and accepting your beliefs, even if they don’t agree in every case. I think such full disclosure followed by acting on Christian morals is an effective way of balancing service to the Lord and to your constituents.

  4. Emilio III says:

    Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion. Edmund Burke

  5. When our Congressmen (and President) fail to take the Oath seriously and fail to follow their Oath and the Constitution of the United States that is when we must use the right given to us in the Second Amendment, that is why we have the Second Amendment.

  6. asperges says:

    The taking of an oath in State matters has a long and bloody history in England and UK. For those interested, there is an interesting article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oath_of_Allegiance_%28United_Kingdom%29 which compares oaths to the Crown over the centuries. Here there is no written Constitution.

    The abjuration of the Pope and his powers diminishes from George IV onwards. Now the oaths taken by Commons and Lords is very brief and allows for all faiths.

  7. Thomas G. says:

    Curious . . . that’s the same oath military officers take when they are commissioned (and usually repeat every time they’re promoted).

  8. “When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the Earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security”…”And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” Declaration of Independence – July 4th, 1776

    “Well, Doctor Franklin, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?” Franklin said “A Republic, if you can keep it.”
    The response is attributed to BENJAMIN FRANKLIN—at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

    Is it time to mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor to keep our Republic?

  9. Traductora says:

    I fear the Constitution has become like the Spirit of Vatican II – ever since the Supreme Court discovered the Constitution’s penumbras and emanations, it has dissolved into a ghostly presence that nobody can really identify and hence can be whatever you want it to be.

    Still, it would be nice if the congress critters recalled that they – and Obama – took an oath to uphold and abide by something that actually does exist and can easily be verified.

  10. bookworm says:

    I wonder if it would be possible to have some public officials’ oaths of office “annulled” on the grounds that they never intended to keep them…

  11. gambletrainman says:

    There’s a “Youtube” clip (I don’t know how to forward it) titled “Insult to Our Democracy”, where a particular House Speaker was taking a vote on an item. He asked for an “Aye” vote, and you could hear one or two “ayes” in the background. Then he asked for “No” votes, of which was a resounding “NO”. He then stated it was the opinion of the speaker that the ayes have it. Then he was prompted to take a vote by raising hands, and, and only asked for those who voted “aye” to raise their hands. Then, promptly stated “The ayes have it”. When he was asked about a recourse, he said his decision was final. So, it seems these congressmen are going to do what they want. The ONLY way to get them out of office is not to vote them back in, but if the voters are too blind to see the light, maybe we are getting what we deserve. And it could be that God is punishing us for our sins? Didn’t He do that with the Israelites? Whenever they strayed too far from Him, they were taken captive by some pagan nation.

  12. The speech ‘Emilio’ cites from above is an astounding one given by the great British politician Edmund Burke to the people of Bristol after his election to Parliament in 1774. It was the first thing I thought of too when I read this post.

    To deliver an opinion is the right of all men; that of constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion, which a representative ought always to rejoice and hear, and which he ought always most seriously to consider. But authoritative instructions, mandates issued which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgement and his conscience: these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.

    You choose a member, indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not a member of Bristol, but a member of Parliament… Your faithful friend, your devoted servant, I shall be to the end of my life; a flatterer you do not wish for. But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgement, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you – to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from his own pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable.

    (So you see that for Burke, not even the constitution (though that word has a somewhat different meaning in Britain) was the supreme guide for the legislator, but there was a higher principle: his conscience, which he is endowed with from his Creator and which will judge him on the last day.)

  13. Unity says:

    And yet none of them honored his/her oath when they neglected the proper certification, under the Constitution, for eligibility of this current president. By his own admittance he was, at the time of his birth, a British citizen through his Kenyan father, with therefore dual loyalties which cannot fulfill the requirements as stated in the Constitution and upheld by precedent cases for a Natural Born Citizen, Article II … not just a citizen. The state secretaries of state who must certify at the state level this eligibility also disobeyed their oaths of office. There has only been one president in our history who did not fulfill this understanding of Natural Born Citizen … Chester Arthur … and he too understood this definition for eligibility since he deliberately gave false information re: his birth facts re: citizenship of his father. This was not discovered until after his presidency. So now we have a completely sealed history by this presidency while he pays high powered attorneys to keep all of this information hidden as well as the citizen paid DOJ defending him in the many court cases. The military who also swear oaths under the Constitution have the question looming over them of just whether orders coming down from the CinC are legally made by a possibly Constitionally ineligible president. This is serious. Read all of the precedent cases for defining Natural Born Citizen and why the founding fathers grandfathered themselves in as eligible.

    The Natural Born Citizen Clause of Our U.S. Constitution Requires that Both of the Child’s Parents Be U.S. Citizens At the Time of Birth



  14. Francisco Cojuanco says:

    @Unity: Please do not bring in conspiracy theories – there is enough to oppose Obama and the Congress without specious claims of non-citizenship.

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