“I swear that the evidence that I shall give, shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”
When testifying in court, witnesses are required to raise their right hand and to swear they will “tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. Today you do not even have to swear allegiance to God, just give “affirm” that you will tell the truth. Even atheists are required to affirm allegiance to the truth – to do otherwise would be to commit perjury.
Raising your right hand came from an English tradition instituted in the 1700s.
“Most have located the origin of the practice in the central criminal court of 17th century London. Judges in London’s courts, from the late 17th century to the early 20th century, could choose from a wide range of punishments, which varied in severity from a full pardon to the death sentence. However, judges lacked a sophisticated means to maintain a criminal defendant’s records to help them assess which penalty was most appropriate to the defendant’s circumstances. As a result, judges sometimes chose to punish criminals with a branding.
Branding, which literally meant the application of a branding iron to the convicted defendant’s body, was generally imposed upon convicts who received leniency from the court. For example, convicts who successfully pleaded “benefit of the clergy” — a practice which would spare a defendant affiliated with the Church from a death-penalty punishment — “were branded on the thumb (with a “T” for theft, “F” for felon, or “M” for murder), so that they would be unable to receive this benefit more than once.” (The Proceedings of Old Bailey, Punishments at the Old Baily, are available online athttp://www.oldbaileyonline.org/static/Punishment.jsp.) Similar brands were issued to convicts who were found guilty of manslaughter instead of murder.”
To read more of Michael Meredith’s article in the Washington Bar Association Journal. click here. Truthtelling: As a member of the WSBA, I flip through the disciplinary notices at the back and generally round file the magazine. (At least I recycle.) Perhaps I should be reading the front of the magazine?
Presidents do not have to place their left hand on the Bible during the oath of the office. Theodore Roosevelt did not use a Bible the first time but did the second. Obama placed his left hand on a Bible during his first inauguration and used two during the second, one belonging to Abraham Lincoln and the other to MLK, Jr. Trump also used two – presumably the same Lincoln Bible and one is mother gave him in 1955 when he graduated from Presbyterian Sunday School. John Quincy Adams placed his left hand on a book of law. Some Presidents have used two Bibles as well (Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon). LBJ used a Catholic missal aboard Air Force One. Franklin Roosevelt used his family’s Bible written in Dutch and printed in 1686.
What would be your brand today if you raised your right hand? Mine would probably be P for “pride”, W for “worry”, or A for “anxiety”. I have largely (?) been cured of “S” for shopping and “M” for moving. Do you have a family Bible or one of importance? If you wanted to lay your left hand on a book, what would the title be?