July | August 2017


I Do Solemnly Swear...

An oath is the bridge that carries newly elected leaders from the grueling campaign trail to the daily grind of a public servant. In January, men and women across the country will raise their right hands and promise to support constitutions and do their jobs to the best of their abilities. The texts of these oaths vary from state to state. Some states have a single oath; some tailor oaths to the office. In most cases, oaths have been amended several times over centuries. Others, however, haven’t changed since states’ first constitutions. The following are excerpts from state oaths of office, past and present.

Interesting Oath Tidbits

In Indiana, the term for the governor and lieutenant governor begins on the second Monday in January following the election. The General Assembly convenes on that date to canvass the votes and declare the winners. The winners are immediately inaugurated. This process was formerly a statutory requirement until Gov. Frank O’Bannon died while the legislature was not in session. Now the governor and lieutenant governor may choose a location to take their oath when filling a mid-term vacancy.
An oath of engagement taken by elected Rhode Island officers on March 16, 1641, read as follows: “To the Execution of this office, I Judge myself bound before God to walk faithfully and this I profess in ye presence of God.”
In 1910, Oregon voters rejected an initiative petition that would have changed the oath of office to help prevent legislative logrolling.
In 1897, Delaware adopted an oath intended to combat an era of bribery and corruption. Oath takers swore that they had “not directly or indirectly paid, offered or promised to pay, contributed, or offered or promised to contribute, any money or other valuable thing” for votes.
Source: National Association of Secretaries of State Summary of State Oaths of Office Survey, November 2015


North Carolina State Employee Continues Century-Old Tradition

by Shawntaye Hopkins
When the first oaths of office were penned into North Carolina’s Book of Oaths in 1889, putting pen to paper wasn’t considered a novelty.
Today’s world of Facebook, smartphones and electronic holiday greetings was unfathomable. But a century after those oaths were written, North Carolina state employee Linda Wise picked up a pen, wrote 10 oaths and continued the long-time tradition.
“I’m going to tell my grandkids about it so they’ll really want to learn cursive,” said Wise, who has worked in the North Carolina Department of the Secretary of State since 1987 and written oaths since 1989. “I don’t think they teach it much anymore.”
In fact, in recent years policymakers in some states have made efforts to revive cursive instruction. In North Carolina, a bill introduced in February 2015 would have required “that the public schools provide instruction in cursive writing so that students create readable documents through legible cursive handwriting by the end of fifth grade.” The bill died in the Senate.
Sworn officials in North Carolina appreciate the handwritten oaths and often request copies of them, said George Jeter, communications director for the North Carolina Department of the Secretary of State.
A hefty tome that requires two hands to transport, the Book of Oaths includes the signed affidavits of the 10 elected executive offices that make up North Carolina’s Council of State. Wise has written the oaths for seven terms and plans to stick around for her eighth in 2016.
“She has the best handwriting of anyone we know,” Jeter said. “She’ll tell you she’s made a few errors, but when you look through the book, you don’t see errors.”
Wise said she has made mistakes, but she’s always able to fix them. She opens the book every four years, usually for one day only, and plans to spend hours—though she could not say exactly how long it takes—writing very slowly and, of course, neatly.
Afterward, the Book of Oaths takes center stage with newly elected leaders and their families. Wise rarely attends the ceremonies and her name probably won’t be the name recalled in North Carolina history books, but that’s OK.
“The thing is, nobody’s going to know who wrote them, really,” Wise said. “That’s fine for me. I think it’s great being a little part of history.”