Thomas Jefferson Papers

Affidavit of Benjamin Harrison’s Oath as Speaker, [7 July 1780]

Affidavit of Benjamin Harrison’s Oath as Speaker

[7 July 1780]

Virginia to wit

The honble. Benjamin Harrison Speaker of the house of delegates this day took before me the oath prescribed by the joint resolution of both houses of assembly of the 6th. instant. Given under my hand this 7th. day of July 1780.

Th: Jefferson

MS (Vi); entirely in TJ’s hand.

On 6 July the House and Senate unanimously adopted a resolution “That every member of the General Assembly shall give an unequivocal proof of his uniform and steady determination to support and maintain the cause of America and the independence of his country, by taking the following oath or affirmation, to wit: ‘I, A. B. do solemnly and sincerely declare and swear, or affirm, that the State of Virginia is, and of right ought to be, a free, sovereign and independent State; and I do forever renounce and refuse all allegiance, subjection and obedience to the King or Crown of Great Britain. And I do further swear (or solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm), that I never have, since the Declaration of Independence, directly or indirectly, aided, assisted, abetted, or in anywise countenanced the King of Great Britain, his generals, fleets or armies, or their adherents, in their claim upon these United States; and that I have ever since the Declaration of Independence thereof, demeaned myself as a faithful citizen and subject of this or some one of the United States, and that I will at all times maintain and support the freedom, sovereignty and independence thereof,’” &c. The resolution further stipulated that each speaker should take the oath before the governor; that, on the following day, the speakers should in turn administer the oath to each member in the presence of the other members of the respective houses; and that those members who happened to be out of town should, at the next meeting of the county court after the adoption of the resolution, take the oath before the court and, at the following session of the General Assembly, produce a certificate from the clerk of the county court to the effect that the oath had been taken. On 7 July Harrison laid TJ’s affidavit before the House and proceeded to administer the oath to eighty-eight members; this, of course, was not the entire membership of the House, but it is uncertain whether those who did not take the oath on 7 July were absent or not (JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , May 1780, 1827 edn., p. 76–7). It is obvious, however, that the suddenness of this move and the requirement that all members take an oath of allegiance reflected a suspicion that the loyalty of one or more representatives was open to question.

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