Two Oaths to God in Colonial Virginia House of Burgesses

Dateline: Virginia, 1652 and 1658: Despite the hardships of the earliest Virginia colonists, they still formed the House of Burgesses to discuss the running of the colony. Here are two oaths that the members had to swear. They also swore on the Bible.

In the Grand Assembly, April-May, 1652, the first oath requires the Burgesses to do their utmost for the general good and prosperity of this new country, without interest, that is, self-interest.

Modernized transcription begins:

You and every of you shall swear upon the holy Evangelist and in the sight of God to deliver your opinions faithfully and honestly, according to your best understanding and conscience, for the general good and prosperity of this county and every particular member thereof, and to do your utmost endeavor to prosecute that without mingling with it any particular interest of any person or persons whatsoever.

The second oath was about secrecy. It apparently covered only the present session on April 1, 1658.

Modernized transcription begins:

You shall swear that as a burgess of this House you shall not either directly or indirectly repeat not discover the present or future transactions, debates or discourses that are now or hereafter shall be transacted or debated on in the House to any person or persons whatsoever, except to a burgess of this Assembly now present during the time of this present session. So help you God and the contents of this Book [the Bible].

Sometimes, in today’s Congress, some things like military deployments and tactics must be kept secret.

Swearing on the Bible has a long history in this nation.

Journal of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, 1619-1658/9, ed. by H. R. McIlwaine, Classic Reprint Series (orig. Richmond: 1915), pp. 82 and 110.


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