Opening Day: The History Behind The Ceremony

Opening Day: The History Behind The Ceremony

I                      do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support, obey and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth, and that I will discharge the duties of my office with fidelity.

Art. VI, Sec. 3, PA Constitution


Since 1790, pursuant to the Pennsylvania Constitution, on the first Tuesday of January every odd-numbered year, the General Assembly of Pennsylvania begins a new legislative session.

A session of the Pennsylvania General Assembly is a two-year period during which Senators and Representatives serve their constituents and conduct legislative business. At the end of this period, all legislation not finally acted upon dies. Opening Day is the first day of a new legislative session.

On Opening Day, Senators-elect are sworn in, the body elects its Officers such as the President Pro Tempore, Secretary-Parliamentarian and Chief Clerk, and the Senate organizes itself as a body ready to conduct the business at hand.

The Oath of Office
Every Opening Day since 1790, Senators-elect and Officers of the Senate have taken the Oath of Office. Verbally and in writing, Senators vow to serve their constituents with fidelity, and Officers, to fulfill their duties with honor. Then, each adds their name to the Senate's Oath Books as proof of taking the Oath of Office.

On display in this exhibition is the Senate Oath Book from the Session of 1832-1833, with Senator (and Philadelphia doctor) Jesse R. Burden, M.D.'s signature; also on display is the Senate Oath Book from the Session of 1899, containing the signature of the Senate's longest serving Senate Librarian Herman Miller.


DID YOU KNOW?

Pennsylvania's Quaker population forbade the taking of oaths, or "swearing." As a result, the Senatorial Oath of Office includes the option of solemnly "affirming," in order to accommodate the religious and secular groups for whom swearing would go against their conscience.


WHAT ABOUT THE PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE?

The inauguration of the President of the Senate, the Lieutenant Governor, does not occur on Opening Day, but on the "third Tuesday of January next ensuing his election." See Art. IV, Sec. 3, PA Constitution

  • Oath Book, Senate, December 16, 1823-April 15, 1845. State Archives of Pennsylvania.
  • Oath Book, Senate, January 4, 1899. State Archives of Pennsylvania.
  • Oath of Office of the Senate of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Constitution.

Exhibition Team Megan Martin; Evelyn Andrews; Jess Rodic; Sarah Greenwald; Donna Wheeler; George Soule.


Other Organization and Individuals: David Craig, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Capitol Preservation Committee; Jason Wilson, Historian, Pennsylvania Capitol Preservation Committee; David Carmicheal, State Archivist of Pennsylvania; Jonathan Stayer, Supervisor of Reference Services, PA State Archives; Richard Saylor, PA State Archives; David Shoff, PA State Archives; Helen Mabus, Graphic Illustrator, Democrat Caucus Operations; Senate Print Shop.