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Oct 31 2013

FRC Tells Fake George Washington Story

The Family Research Council is absolutely furious that the Air Force Academy would make the phrase “so help me God” optional in the oath cadets have to take. Ken Blackwell is making a ridiculous argument that includes passing on a fake story about George Washington that was debunked long ago.

Let’s see: Why is that phrase so offensive? George Washington was a pretty successful general. And he took the oath as our first President in New York City on April 30, 1789.

When Chancellor Livingston swore Washington in as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, Washington added four words to the Constitutionally prescribed oath:

So Help Me God

Question for Mikey and Murfs: If George Washington could add those four words, and if every President since could add those four words, why should they offend an Air Force Academy cadet?

Perhaps they don’t believe in God? Just a thought. Even if it were true that Washington added those words to the presidential oath, why would that lead one to conclude that therefore everyone else should be forced to say them forever? Why would a Christian even want someone who doesn’t believe in God to repeat words they can’t possibly mean in, of all things, an oath? There can only be one possible reason: They want to impose their religious beliefs on non-Christians. But in reality, the Washington story is a fake.

There is absolutely no extant contemporary evidence that President Washington altered the language of the oath as laid down in Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” A long letter by the French foreign minister Comte de Moustier, who attended the ceremony, repeated the oath verbatim and did not include the additional words. Apparently, it was not until 65 years after the event that the story that Washington added this phrase first appeared in a published volume. In his book, The Republican Court, Rufus Griswold cited a childhood memory of Washington Irving as his source. It took another 27 years before the first clearly documented case of a President adding the words, “So help me God,” was recorded — when Chester A. Arthur took the oath in 1881.

And isn’t it interesting that the Constitution, which prescribes the oath and which Blackwell claims was intended to establish a Christian nation, does not include those words at all:

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Not a word about God. As much as they claim to revere the Constitution, it’s only the version in their heads that they like. The real one, not so much.

13 comments

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  1. 1
    lofgren

    Let’s see: Why is that phrase so offensive? George Washington was a pretty successful general. And he took the oath as our first President in New York City on April 30, 1789.

    When Chancellor Livingston swore Washington in as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, Washington added four words to the Constitutionally prescribed oath:

    “Owning other humans rocks!”

    Question for Mikey and Murfs: If George Washington could add those four words, and if every President since could add those four words, why should they offend an Air Force Academy cadet?

  2. 2
    arakasi

    And, of course, if Washington had finsihed his oath with Allahu Akbar, Blackwell would be just fine with requiring all AF cadets to finish their oaths with that, right?

    As an aside – The USMA Honor Code does not have an attached oath, so their really is no place for a “so help me god” phrase. Still, I don’t see that either corps of cadets is significantly more “honorable” than the other

  3. 3
    Mr Ed

    Washington had wooden teeth. Question for Mikey and Murfs: If George Washington had wooden teeth shouldn’t all Americans?

  4. 4
    bushrat

    Well if it’s good enough for Chester A. Arthur, then it’s good enough for Air Force Cadets…right? Besides, you know those whacky guys over at FRC, their just trying to give the Onion a run for their money.

  5. 5
    Modusoperandi

    When Chancellor Livingston swore Washington in as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, Washington added four words to the Constitutionally prescribed oath…

    Yes. “George Washington rules! Woo!” But what can you do? He’s George Washington. He single-handedly sunk the Spanish armada at the Battle of Tipper Gore.

  6. 6
    unbound

    That’s okay. They like to make up a lot of stories that aren’t in the bible either…like what Sodom and Gomorrah was about (hint: doesn’t say anywhere in the bible that it was due to homosexuality). Why should the constitution or US history be treated any differently by them?

  7. 7
    Alverant

    Why would a Christian even want someone who doesn’t believe in God to repeat words they can’t possibly mean in, of all things, an oath?

    We both know the answer to this, it’s all about control. If you can make someone say an oath to a God whether or not they believe it’s one step towards making them believe and if it’s recorded use it as a sound bite to promote the idea the military serves God.

  8. 8
    abb3w

    Apparently Blackwell does not understand the difference between permitting the adding of words beyond those prescribed, prescribing of such words, and proscribing such words.

    The current oath prescribes such words; that the words have been permitted beyond those prescribed does not make prescribing those words constitutionally allowed. Proscribing cadets adding such codicils would be constitutionally problematic (though an aggressive secularist might be able to frame a case for doing so, and a Quaker theologian could frame a case for why it’s a sin for Christians to do so); but that’s not what the FRFF is advocating.

  9. 9
    gshelley

    If George Washington could add those four words, and if every President since could add those four words, why should they offend an Air Force Academy cadet?

    Even if this were true, does he not see the difference between “could add” and “are required to add”. Under the new regulations, cadets are still allowed to add it.

  10. 10
    fifthdentist

    Genghis Khan was, demonstrably, an even better general than George Washington.
    And he never uttered the phrase: “So help me God.”
    If Genghis Khan didn’t say those words, why can’t all U.S. presidents be horse-riding Mongols from the 12th Century?

  11. 11
    lofgren

    Why would a Christian even want someone who doesn’t believe in God to repeat words they can’t possibly mean in, of all things, an oath? There can only be one possible reason: They want to impose their religious beliefs on non-Christians.

    I think a lot of people get a visceral thrill from making others toe the line when they don’t want to. It’s not really a desire to get them believe as you do or even to show the power of your tribe in some abstract way. I think hearing nonbelievers say “so help me god” actually makes some particularly authoritarian believers feel all gooey inside, the way that making a pledge eat a goldfish might make a frat brother feel good. The demonstration of power and control affirms their commitment to the tribe.

  12. 12
    Pierce R. Butler

    Did Washington actually say, “I do solemnly swear open-paren or affirm close-paren that …”?

    Has any president taken the option of affirming his oath o’ office?

  13. 13
    tsig

    Why should we trust anyone who needs a third party to help them keep their word.

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