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Thread: George Washington and ‘so help me God’, what it meant to him.

  1. #1
    Regular Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2013
    Thru Death's Door in Wisconsin

    George Washington and ‘so help me God’, what it meant to him.

    What 'So Help Me God' Meant to George Washington, by Noah Feldman
    "Did George Washington add the words “so help me God” to the constitutionally prescribed oath of office when he was sworn in as president on April 30, 1789? I’ve always thought so, and when discussing Kentucky clerk Kim Davis’s misinterpretation of her oath of office last week, I wrote that the U.S. Constitution doesn't include the words but that Washington “famously added them.” Immediately I received an e-mail citing an essay that claims this widely held view was in fact a myth, unsubstantiated by contemporary historical evidence and derived from a doubtful childhood memory by Washington Irving. I read the essay, and then found counterarguments on the web and in a good old-fashioned book.
    [ ... ]
    But they do describe “the devout fervency with which he repeated the oath,” as well as “the reverential manner in which he bowed down and kissed the sacred volume,” namely the Bible. Other reports also mention that Washington bent down to kiss the Bible that was held by Chancellor Robert Livingston of New York, the man who administered the oath. (There was no chief justice of the U.S. yet.) Such a kiss was a ritual that at the time generally accompanied the saying of “so help me God.”
    [ ... ]
    The use of the oath shows that the Framers’ were products of their time, and believed in using a familiar civic-religious form to ensure obedience to the rule of law. But in so doing, they weren't enshrining religion. They were providing divine sanction to the rule of the Constitution."
    I am responsible for my writing, not your understanding of it.

  2. #2
    State Researcher
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    Interesting read. Thank you.

    What is clear, is that the founders and framers were not hostile to religion playing a significant role in public and even political life. Notably, the 1st amendment's anti-establishment clause did not restrain the States from having official state religions until the 14th amendment was ruled to have "incorporated" such limitations against the States as well as against the federal government. (Admittedly, by then all States had long since dropped state support of any church.)

    Even those founders/framers who themselves are today viewed as being non-religious, recognized the importance of religion in the nation. A free nation lacks sufficient government power to enforce laws through external means. We rely on most people voluntarily behaving appropriately due to internal controls that are most often nurtured through religious instruction and observance.

    All experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. Thank heaven we do not permit a few to impose anarchy.

    "With Anarchy as an aim and as a means, Communism becomes possible."

    "Communism and Anarchy [are], a necessary complement to one another. "
    --PETER KROPOTKIN, "Anarchism: its philosophy and ideal." 1898.

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