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Historical Highlights

A Historic Change in the Oath of Office

April 15, 1929
A Historic Change in the Oath of Office Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Oscar De Priest's successful election campaign to represent a lakeshore district in Chicago initiated the trend of black representation in urban northern cities.
On this date, Speaker Nicholas Longworth of Ohio changed the tradition of swearing in new Members by state delegations to swearing in all Members simultaneously. “The Chair has observed that under our general practice, where groups are sworn separately, the remainder of the House is apt to be in pretty complete disorder,” the Speaker observed on the opening day of the 71st Congress (1929–1931). “It will more comport with the dignity and solemnity of this ceremony if he [the Speaker] administers the oath to all Members of the body at once”—an announcement that was met with applause. Oscar De Priest, the first African American elected to Congress in the 20th century and the first black Member elected from the North, participated in the new custom. After his election in November 1928, the local press speculated that the House might attempt to exclude De Priest because of a pending criminal investigation into his alleged involvement with a gambling ring in Chicago. Although De Priest had been cleared of any wrongdoing before the start of the new Congress, some Members feared that southern Democrats would use the issue as a way to prevent the black Representative from joining the House. According to some historical accounts Ruth McCormick of Illinois, another newly-elected Member, enlisted the assistance of Speaker Longworth (through her close friend, the Speaker’s wife, Alice Roosevelt Longworth) to thwart potential challenges with the simultaneous administration of the oath of office.

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