United States naturalization regulations of 1929 were the first to differentiate between the “substance of” and the “text of” the oath of renunciation and allegiance. The substance of the oath was found in each of several U.S. nationality laws dating from 1790. Yet not until 1906, when the federal government first began its effort to standardize naturalization procedures, was there any attempt to issue a uniform, printed text for the oath. A prescribed text was not officially adopted and promulgated until the late 1920’s.
Any discussion of the oath’s history must recognize that prior to 1906 naturalization courts had little or no guidance on how to apply or administer the law. Naturalization legislation required an applicant to first declare an “oath” before any “court of record” announcing his intention to become a U.S. citizen. Later, upon petitioning a court:
The language of this section may have been amended to read in the first person, and the clerk of court might have transcribed, verbatim, its repetition by the applicant. More often than not, pre-1906 court records simply contain entries in the minute books documenting that a certain alien did indeed swear an oath of allegiance on a certain date. If the applicant read from any other text than the law quoted above, it would have been a text amended and printed by the court. Each court could have printed their own text, and, prior to 1906, there were as many as 5,000 courts with naturalization jurisdiction.
The President’s Commission on Naturalization reported in 1905 that United States naturalization courts displayed a remarkable lack of uniformity. The Commission recommended re-codification of naturalization laws and the creation of a federal agency to oversee the procedure. It also recommended standard forms to be used for all U.S. naturalizations, one of which was a form for the oath of allegiance.
The Basic Naturalization Act of 1906 implemented most of the Commission’s recommendations, but did not mandate a separate form for the oath. Rather, some of the substance of the oath was incorporated into the texts of the new Declaration of Intention form and Petition for Naturalization form. The Declaration included a renunciation of foreign allegiance. The Petition did the same, including renunciations of anarchism and polygamy, and a declaration of the applicant’s attachment to the Constitution. Presumably, in open court, the petitioner still recited (or affirmed) a spoken oath adapted from the law.
Though an official text was adopted by 1920 for the oath of allegiance taken by those resuming U.S. citizenship, an official text for the naturalization oath did not appear in the regulations until 1929. Rule 8, Subdivision C, of that year stipulated that before a certificate of citizenship could be issued, the applicant should “take in court and subscribe to the following oath of allegiance:”
With the introduction of a signed oath, the text of which was prescribed in Federal regulations, came the standardization of the language of the oath of renunciation and allegiance. Though the text was prescribed, there was yet no separate, federal form for the oath. It was probably printed on the back of the petition, as it is today.
“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”