98. A Bill Prescribing the Oath of Fidelity, and the Oaths of Certain Public Officers
Be it enacted by the General Assembly, that every person, by law required to give assurance of fidelity, shall, for that purpose, take an oath in this form,1 “I do declare myself a citizen of the commonwealth of Virginia. I relinquish and renounce the character of subject or citizen of any Prince, or other state, whatsoever, and abjure all allegiance, which may be claimed by such Prince, or other state; and I do swear to be faithful and true to the said commonwealth of Virginia, so long as I continue a citizen thereof. So help me God.”2 And no person shall have power to act, in any office, legislative, executive, or judiciary, before he shall have given such assurance, and shall moreover have taken such of the following oaths, if another be not specially prescribed, as adapted to his case. The oath of a Governor. “I elected Governor of Virginia, by the representatives thereof, do solemly promise and swear, that I will, to the best of my skill and judgment, execute the said office diligently and faithfully, according to law, without favour, affection, or partiality; that I will to the utmost of my power, protect the citizens of the commonwealth in the secure enjoyment of their rights, franchises, and privileges, and will constantly endeavour that the laws and ordinances of the commonwealth be duly observed, and that law and justice, in mercy, be executed in all judgments; and, lastly, that I will peaceably and quietly resign the government, to which I have been elected, at the several periods to which my continuance in the said office is or shall be limited by law, and the constitution. So help me God.” The oath of a Privy Counsellor. “I elected one of the Privy Council of Virginia, by the representatives thereof do solemnly promise and swear, that I will, to the best of my skill and judgment, execute the said office diligently and faithfully, according to law, without favour, affection, or partiality; and that I will keep secret such proceedings and orders of the Privy Council as the Board shall direct to be concealed, unless the same be called for by either House of the General Assembly. So help me God.” The oath of one not specially directed to take any other. “I do solemnly promise and swear, that I will faithfully, impartially, and justly, perform the duty of my office of according to the best of my skill and judgment. So help me God.” The said oaths, to be taken by a member or officer of either House of General Assembly, shall be administered by any member of the Privy Council, and the taking thereof shall be certified to the clerk of such House; and the said oaths to be taken by any other person, if it be not otherwise directed, shall be administered in some Court of Record, or by any Judge or Justice thereof, and the taking thereof shall be recorded in the said court.
Report description begins Report of the Committee of Revisors Appointed by the General Assembly of Virginia in MDCCLXXVI, Richmond, 1784 description ends , p. 68–9. Dft (DLC); in TJ’s hand, written on verso of address leaf of letter containing (on recto) draft of Bill for Allowing Salaries to Certain Officers of Government (q.v., May 1779). Endorsed by TJ at top of page: “A Bill prescribing an oath of fidelity <to the Commonwealth>.” Draft is undated, but was drawn by TJ and introduced by him on 29 May 1779. Text in Hening, description begins William W. Hening, The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia description ends x, 22–3 agrees precisely with text of Report description begins Report of the Committee of Revisors Appointed by the General Assembly of Virginia in MDCCLXXVI, Richmond, 1784 description ends . Differences between Act as adopted in 1779 and draft by TJ are indicated below.
TJ asked for, and obtained, leave on 29 May 1779 to introduce two bills concerning oaths: the present Bill and the Bill permitting those who would not take oaths to be otherwise qualified (Bill No. 119, below). Both were introduced by him the same day and both were adopted at this session. The present Bill passed its second reading on 31 May and was passed by the House on 1 June, TJ carrying it to the Senate, and approved by the Senate the same day (JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , May 1779, 1827 edn., p. 27, 28, 29). Despite the adoption of Bill No. 98 in 1779, Madison introduced it again 31 Oct. 1785. It was postponed to the Oct. 1786 session, however, and no further action was taken on it (JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , Oct. 1785, 1828 edn., p. 12–15, 92; same, Oct. 1786, p. 16–17). Bills No. 98 and 119 as enacted in 1779 were incorporated in the Act of 1792 “for reducing into one the several acts prescribing the oath of fidelity” (Shepherd, description begins Samuel Shepherd, The Statutes at Large of Virginia, from October Session 1792, to December Session 1806, Inclusive … (New Series,) Being a Continuation of Hening description ends i, 3–4).
1. The enacting clause of TJ’s draft reads: “Be it enacted by the General assembly that every person appointed to act in any office within this commonwealth legislative, executive, or judiciary by authority from the laws thereof and all persons migrating hither to become citizens of the commonwealth shall take the following oath of fidelity before some court of record, or before some one of the judges of the high court of Chancery or General court to be by such judge certified into his court, to wit:”; the oath, which agrees precisely with the text of the Act as adopted, follows this passage.
2. Following the oath, TJ’s draft has only the following: “Which oath shall be entered of record by the clerk of the said court. No such officer shall be capable of acting in the office to which he shall be appointed until he shall have taken the said oath.” Although, on obtaining leave to introduce his Bill on 29 May 1779, TJ was ordered to draft one that would not only prescribe the oath of office but also set forth oaths of office “for certain publick officers,” his draft did not cover the latter purpose. Half of the page on which it was written is blank and there is no indication but that the draft is that of a complete Bill. Since there were apparently no amendments offered to his Bill, and since the text of the Report description begins Report of the Committee of Revisors Appointed by the General Assembly of Virginia in MDCCLXXVI, Richmond, 1784 description ends agrees precisely with the Act of 1779, it is possible that TJ’s fair copy of his draft covered both purposes and therefore prescribed oaths of office for the governor and others. This assumption is supported by the fact that the oaths of office for the governor and for privy councillors were identical with those prescribed by an ordinance of Convention in 1776 and, therefore, there was no need for TJ to make a transcription of these oaths in his draft (Hening, description begins William W. Hening, The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia description ends ix, 120).