Journal Title

Cardozo Law Review De Novo





First Page


Document Type


Publication Information



Scholars raise the perennial questions of the role of the oaths, and the degree to which the oaths signal some religious commitment by the Framers, or whether one can see in them any expectation for a religious leadership of the nation. The general position of Geoffrey Stone is that the Constitution enshrines no significant religious expectations. The criticism of historian Seth Tillman is that reading the whole of the text, the oaths clause and other provisions signal at least some reference to God, and the response of Robert Blomquist is to suggest that while this perhaps is true, it must be seen both in the wider context of the times, as well as understood with sensitivity to the changing contexts of American traditions and policy.

To ascribe universal and specific meanings to something as complex as an oath would be unhelpful, as such meanings are, at best, matters of approximation and of averages among a variety of disparate views. Individuals saw (and see) the world and any given thing in it from their own personal viewpoints, and these vary not only from person to person but even for one person as the person sees the matter differently over time. Though some value might still be had by considering the idea of the oath in both the politics and societies that affected and reflected the colonial and early federal experience, it is important to see these not as representing the views of a single person. Oaths harbor great paradox. In a way, it seems as if the very nature of the oath is to contain and to manage competing influences—competing arguments—for the commitments that are to be made.

Recommended Citation

Stephen M. Sheppard, What Oaths Meant to the Framers’ Generation: A Preliminary Sketch, 2009 Cardozo L. Rev. De Novo 273 (2009).

Included in

Law Commons