So, Help Her God

Sarah Palin’s new book, America By Heart: Reflections On Faith, Family and Flag, repeats the debunked myth that George Washington, at his first inauguration, added the phrase “So help me God” to the oath of office. The myth was started by Washington Irving and repeated by Rufus Wilmot Griswold in his 1854 book The Republican Court, or, American Society in the Days of Washington.

Washington Irving told the story of how he was present at the first inauguration.

Submitted by -David Drumm (Nal) — guest editor

However, Irving was barely 6 years old at the time and had observed the proceeding from 200 feet away. There’s no way he could have seen, let alone heard what happened. There is no other report or evidence that George Washington said what Irving claimed.

But that’s enough for Sarah Palin, who is well-known for believing in myths.

Newdow v. Roberts, a federal lawsuit filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, sought to enjoin the Hon. John Roberts, Jr., Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, from adding the phrase, “So help me God,” to the Presidential oath of office. The dismissal was affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit in 2009 as moot, and due to lack of standing for future inaugurations. Roberts did add the phrase, “So help me God” to the end of a flubbed oath.

From Peter R. Henriques, Professor of History, Emeritus, at George Mason University:

One of the most widely held myths about George Washington is that immediately after he took the prescribed oath to become the nation’s first President, he solemnly added the words, “So help me God” and thus began a tradition that has been followed ever since.

In fact, an examination of the historical evidence demonstrates that claim  [that Washington added the words, “So help me God”] is almost certainly false.

H/T: Talk To Action, Chris Rodda, American Creation, History News Network.

-David Drumm (Nal)

139 thoughts on “So, Help Her God”

  1. Blouise,

    I give up drankin’ ’bout 41 years ‘go…However, I toast you with a tall, frosted glass of milk.

  2. Buddha,

    That’s right … I remember you mentioning it earlier … perhaps one sip followed by a swig of stout … just to experience the taste?

    Re lucky husband … trust me, I’m the lucky one!

  3. Blouise,

    I might try that but I really can’t drink whiskey anymore. It used to be my favorite drink, but I developed an intolerance for the fusel oil concentrations in it. It’s instant heartburn.

  4. Whelp, dawggone-hit, dis’ sheer Palin talk has dun caused ever body to git drunk on beer…

  5. Gyges,

    I’d be more than happy to gift you some but would need to know the best way to do it.

  6. Gyges,

    I’ve been buying Beamish in draught cans for a while … those are the cans that have the widget thing in them right?

  7. Blouise,

    I would think that between the three of us, and maybe a few other interested parties, we could work out a beer exchange program.

  8. Gyges,

    It might be a transport problem … damn, I wish you could try it to tell me what you think of it (Christmas Ale)

  9. Buddha,

    You absolutely have to try a shot of Irish Mist either dropped into the mug of stout or to the side … it’s heaven. (The chocolate undertones of Beamish with the sweetness of Irish Mist which kind of layers itself on the tongue … you have to try it!)

    This is Cleveland darlin’, we have Irish Pubs and Irish Clubs everywhere and we sing in everyone of them … loudly!

    I can’t imagine life without Beamish … can’t you make a run north, buy some, put it in a cooler and drive back down south?

    There is one pub out in Lakewood that serves it on tap whenever they can. They send out emails when it’s in.

  10. Buddha and Blouise,

    I’ll let you in on a little secret, almost every beer geek I know likes Beamish Better, and now that the patent on the widget has expired, you’ll probably be able to get it in the “draught” cans soon enough (if you can’t already, I haven’t looked recently).

    Now, if you’re looking for the best stout to have on tap on a Nitro line (usually reserved for Guinness), I’m going to say Left Hand’s Milk Stout. It also makes fantastic floats.

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen The Cleveland Brewing Company in Colorado, and I worked at one of the two biggest liquor stores in the state. (Which is owned by horrible people, I quit when they actually started trying to run the business). We have a hard time getting some Midwest companies in our neck of the woods, I think the liquor laws don’t quite mesh sometimes.

  11. Blouise,

    Beamish is fantastic. Impossible to get in my (temporary) part of the country, but honestly? I like it for Black & Tans better than Guinness. I know, I know, blasphemy, but it’s true. I never would have placed you as a Stout gal though. Your hubby is a lucky guy. 😉

  12. Gyges,

    I’m not a beer connoisseur but my favorite is Beamish Irish Stout which I often drink as a chaser to a shot of Irish Mist … however, The Cleveland Brewing Company does a fine job on all their brews and if you get a chance you must try their Christmas Ale and let me know what you think of it. I’m sure your palate is better trained than mine.

  13. BBB,

    O.k. I’ll call. You’ve made a claim, back it up. Show me some proof that the barring of a religious test for federal office was because they couldn’t agree on what the test should be.

    Look, the story of “So Help Me God” is believable. I’ll grant you that. The problem is, except for one single account of it (made by what can hardly be considered a reliable witness), there’s absolutely no reason to believe it happened. So, once again, given all that: Why should we assume it’s true? Not Why could it be true? but Why should we assume it’s true?

    By including what’s a widely known to be if not overtly false, then extremely unlikely story in her book, Palin showed that she either is a terrible scholar (which is what I believe), or a liar. Either way, it reflects poorly on her.

  14. Gyges,

    “I’m still not sure why there was need for a compromise that had NO religious test with if there was a general consensuses about a religious test being necessary for political office. … There’s no need for compromise with people who all agree.”

    That’s because you think all of the religious tests that I identified are the same. They are not.

    Maybe the religious identities of those attending the conference will shed more light on the reason there is no religious test.

    New Hampshire
    John Langdon, Congregationalist
    Nicholas Gilman, Congregationalist

    Elbridge Gerry, Episcopalian
    Rufus King, Episcopalian
    Caleb Strong, Congregationalist
    Nathaniel Gorham, Congregationalist

    Roger Sherman, Congregationalist
    William Samuel Johnson, Episcopalian
    Oliver Ellsworth, Congregationalist

    New York
    Alexander Hamilton, Episcopalian
    John Lansing, Dutch Reformed
    Robert Yates, Dutch Reformed

    New Jersey
    William Paterson, Presbyterian
    William Livingston, Presbyterian
    Jonathan Dayton, Episcopalian
    David Brearly, Episcopalian
    William Churchill Houston, Presbyterian

    Benjamin Franklin, Deist
    Robert Morris, Episcopalian
    James Wilson, Episcopalian/Deist
    Gouverneur Morris, Episcopalian
    Thomas Mifflin, Quaker/Lutheran
    George Clymer, Quaker/Episcopalian
    Thomas FitzSimmons, Roman Catholic
    Jared Ingersoll, Presbyterian

    John Dickinson, Quaker/Episcopalian
    George Read, Episcopalian
    Richard Bassett, Methodist
    Gunning Bedford, Presbyterian
    Jacob Broom, Lutheran

    Luther Martin, Episcopalian
    Daniel Carroll, Roman Catholic
    John Francis Mercer, Episcopalian
    James McHenry, Presbyterian
    Daniel of St Thomas Jennifer, Episcopalian

    George Washington, Episcopalian
    James Madison, Episcopalian
    George Mason, Episcopalian
    Edmund Jennings Randolph, Episcopalian
    James Blair, Jr., Episcopalian
    James McClung
    George Wythe, Episcopalian

    North Carolina
    William Richardson Davie, Presbyterian
    Hugh Williamson, Presbyterian/Deist (?)
    William Blount, Presbyterian
    Alexander Martin, Presbyterian/Episcopalian
    Richard Dobbs Spaight, Jr., Episcopalian

    South Carolina
    John Rutledge, Episcopalian
    Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Episcopalian
    Pierce Butler, Episcopalian
    Charles Pinckney, III, Episcopalian

    Abraham Baldwin, Congregationalist
    William Leigh Pierce, Episcopalian
    William Houstoun, Episcopalian
    William Few, Methodist

    “You avoided the question. Aside from a story told by someone who was six when he witnessed Washington taking the oath from 200 feet away, there’s no reason to think that Washington said “so help me God.” So, why assume the event happened? One would think that SOMEBODY else would have remarked on such a grand and symbolic gesture, yet Washington’s contemporaries are strangely silent.”

    I avoided nothing. I provided additional reasons why I would find it reasonable to consider that George Washington said “So help me God” and the end.

    Do you need more? Try taking a look at Section 7 of the Judiciary Act of 1789. There is no religious test for judges either.

    It is customary for an oath to be followed by “So help me God”. Article II provides for an oath or affirmation. If Washington said “I swear” instead of “I affirm”, it would be likely that he followed his oath with “So help me God”. This would not be a deviation from the the oath in Article II because it would have been added after the oath was completed.

    “Why defend Palin?”

    I did nothing of the sort. I pointed out that it is not a debunked myth, and I pointed out the reasons why Washington may have said “So help me God”.

    You may have reason to attack Palin, but I have no reason to defend her. If defending history provides assistance to Palin’s “rhetoric”, then I am guilty as charged.

  15. Annie,

    What part of “In re: intellect and Washington” didn’t you understand?

    Apparently all of it.

    I’d suggest you get dip to go with that chip on your shoulder, but it appears you’ve already got one.

  16. The slaves were freed and women got the vote after Jefferson. It has moved so far downhill that a black man was elected president. Plantation life was so much better.

  17. Blouise,

    Of course we have, I just couldn’t remember which brewery you favored. I also, love to talk beer.

    I love all types of beer. Ales, lagers, hybrids, you name it, I can probably think of an example I enjoy or at least appreciate.


    I’m still not sure why there was need for a compromise that had NO religious test with if there was a general consensuses about a religious test being necessary for political office. Just like if all the colonies had been anti-slavery, there would be no reason for the 3/5ths Compromise. There’s no need for compromise with people who all agree.

    You avoided the question. Aside from a story told by someone who was six when he witnessed Washington taking the oath from 200 feet away, there’s no reason to think that Washington said “so help me God.” So, why assume the event happened? One would think that SOMEBODY else would have remarked on such a grand and symbolic gesture, yet Washington’s contemporaries are strangely silent.

    Why defend Palin? It’s an obvious piece of rhetoric, included for obvious reasons. Maybe she believes it, but that in and of itself is worthy of critique. You either have somebody who can’t be bothered to do research when writing her book, someone who does very poor research, or someone who knows the truth and is deliberately lying to the public. Either way, not a ringing endorsement for an author, let alone political commentator.

  18. Mike S.,

    In re: intellect and Washington

    It’s all been pretty much downhill since Jefferson. And I’ll have to agree on Stein. I generally loathe the man, but he was spot on there.

  19. Mike Spindell:

    Kind of my point, she would be no worse or better than any other president has been. Personally I think the Ivy League schools have had too much influence over our government at all levels. Maybe its time for some regular people with common sense to take a stab at it.

    And you are right about the enemy of my enemy statement. Once the enemy is defeated then you start attacking the enemy of your enemy because he really wasn’t your friend. It was a pragmatic alliance in the moment.

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