Virtual Museum of Public Service

Oaths of Office

"The duty imposed upon him [the president] to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, follows out the strong injunctions of his oath of office, that he will 'preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.' The great object of the executive department is to accomplish this purpose; and without it, be the form of government whatever it may, it will be utterly worthless for offence or defense; for the redress of grievances or the protection of rights; for the happiness, or good order, or safety of the people."

- Joseph Story, (1851). “Commentaries on the constitution of the United States”

When an individual pledges himself or herself to the oath of office, he or she is affirming a commitment to a set of ideals and obligations transcending themselves. Be it an oath to provide equal opportunity to students, to ensure public safety, to treat everyone with compassion, or to uphold the duties of public office, oaths of office are meant to symbolize the individual's ascendance to a higher cause. The individual is acknowledging that he or she is not loyal to an appointee or a figure of power, but rather an intangible spirit to protect the public from a government distorted by private whims and interest. The oath of office is meant to convey that the individual is in service to the public, because the public represents the common good of society. An oath is also not just an affirmation to the loyalty of the public, but also a pledge to exceed the requirements of his or her position. The oath is a promise to fulfill the duties of a position, but also to be the strongest representative one can be for the general public. When oaths are disregarded, the public suffers as well.

In the following gallery, you will see oaths from all sectors of society, including school boards, police departments, fire departments, emergency medical services, human resource organizations, and elected officials. The commonality of an oath of office across differing positions underscores the country's understanding that a public position is not one to be taken lightly, but with the utmost seriousness and dedication. Without oaths, our understanding of what it means to serve the people risks decay and ultimately non-existence.

Oaths of Office