Derided Kentucky oath of office may be needed now more than ever

One of my life-long dreams was fulfilled last Thursday evening when I was sworn in as a member of Murray’s Architectural Review Board.

Now, that might not mean much to most of you, but to me, it meant that I was able to actually participate in a duty – a rite – that Kentucky’s 1891 Constitution has deemed necessary for every elected and appointed Kentucky official; and that is be sworn in by repeating an oath that declares that I have never to my knowledge fought in a duel or been a second – an assistant – in a duel.

This was indeed a dream come true.

Here is the oath that I uttered in trembling voice last Thursday evening:

“I do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth, and be faithful and true to the Commonwealth of Kentucky so long as I continue a citizen thereof, and that I will faithfully execute, to the best of my ability, the office of board member of the Architectural Review Board according to law, and I do further solemnly swear that since the adoption of the present Constitution, I, being a citizen of this State, have not fought a duel with deadly weapons within this State nor out of it, nor have I sent or accepted a challenge to fight a duel with deadly weapons, nor have I acted as second in carrying a challenge, nor aided or assisted any person thus offending, so help me God.”

For years now, I have taught this oath to a giggling gaggle of History of Kentucky students here at Murray State.

How quaint, you think. How out of touch we are here in the Bluegrass State.

When, after all, will we Kentuckians enter the 21st century?

Why, we have yet to enter the 20th century.

These are my thoughts as well as your thoughts. At least, they used to be.

Now, however, as we seem to have re-entered the 19th century, a new dark age, perhaps the oath and its clauses on dueling are needed more than ever.

It was not that long ago that Georgia congressman Zell Miller – “Give ‘em hell, Zell” – challenged MSNBC’s Chris Matthews to a duel during an interview on “Hardball” in 2004.

Back in 1857, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was almost caned to death in the United States Senate Chamber by South Carolinian Preston Brooks following Sumner’s speech, “The Crime Against Kansas.”

It would really not surprise me for similar violence to break out any day now in Washington, D. C., in the challenge of a duel or otherwise.

Such violence would really take the lustre off my oath the other evening.

But it sure was fun while it lasted.


Column by Duane Bolin, Professor of History