OATH. A declaration made according to law, before a competent tribunal
or officer, to tell the truth; or it is the act of one who, when lawfully
required to tell the truth, takes God to witness that what he says is true. It
is a religious act by which the party invokes God not only to witness the truth
and sincerity of his promise, but also to avenge his imposture or violated
faith, or in other words to punish his perjury if he shall be guilty of it. l0
Toull. n. 343 a 348; Puff. book, 4, c. 2, s. 4; Grot. book 2, c. 13, s. 1; Ruth
Inst. book 1, ch. 14, s. 1; 1 Stark. Ev. 80; Merl. Repert. Convention; Dalloz,
Dict. Serment: Dur. n. 592, 593; 3 Bouv. Inst. n. 3180.
2. It is proper to distinguish two things in oaths; 1. The invocation by
which the God of truth, who knows all things, is taken to witness. 2. The
imprecation by which he is asked as a just and all-powerful being, to punish
3. The commencement of an oath is made by the party taking hold of the book,
after being required by the officer to do so, and ends generally with the
words,"so help you God," and kissing the book, when the form used is that of
swearing on the Evangelists. 9 Car. & P. 137.
4. Oaths are taken in various forms; the most usual is upon the Gospel by
taking the book in the hand; the words commonly used are, "You do swear that, "
&c. "so help you God," and then kissing the book. The origin of this oath
may be traced to the Roman law, Nov. 8, tit. 3; Nov. 74, cap. 5; Nov. 124, cap.
1; and the kissing the book is said to be an imitation of the priest's kissing
the ritual as a sign of reverence, before he reads it to the people. Rees, Cycl.
5. Another form is by the witness or party promising holding up his right
hand while the officer repeats to him,"You do swear by Almighty God, the
searcher of hearts, that," &c., "And this as you shall answer to God at the
6. In another form of attestation commonly called an affirmation, (q. v.) the
officer repeats, "You do solemnly, sincerely, and truly declare and affirm,
7. The oath, however, may be varied in any other form, in order to conform to
the religious opinions of the person who takes it. 16 Pick. 154, 156, 157; 6
Mass. 262; 2 Gallis. 346; Ry. & Mo. N. P. Cas. 77; 2 Hawks, 458.
8. Oaths may conveniently be divided into promissory, assertory, judicial and
9. Among promissory oaths may be classed all those taken by public officers
on entering into office, to support the constitution of the United States, and
to perform the duties of the office.
10. Custom-house oaths and others required by law, not in judicial
proceedings, nor from officers entering into office, may be classed among the
assertory oaths, when the party merely asserts the fact to be true.
11. Judicial oaths, or those administered in judicial proceedings.
12. Extra-judicial oaths are those taken without authority of law, which,
though binding in foro conscientiae, do not render the persons who take them
liable to the punishment of perjury, when false.
13. Oaths are also divided into various kinds with reference to the purpose
for which they are applied; as oath of allegiance, oath of calumny, oath ad
litem, decisory oath, oath of supremacy, and the like. As to the persons
authorized to administer oaths, see Gilp. R. 439; 1 Tyler, 347; 1 South. 297; 4
Wash. C. C. R. 555; 2 Blackf. 35.
14. The act of congress of June 1, 1789, 1 Story's L. U. S. p. 1, regulates
the time and manner of administering certain oaths as follows:
§1. Be it enacted, &c., That the oath or affirmation required by the
sixth article of the constitution of the United States, shall be administered in
the form following, to wit, "I, A B, do solemnly swear or affirm, (as the case
may be,) that I will support the constitution of the United States." The said
oath or affirmation shall be administered within three days after the passing of
this act, by any one member of the senate, to the president of the senate, and
by him to all the members, and to the secretary; and by the speaker of the house
of representatives, to all the members who have not taken a similar oath, by
virtue of a particular resolution of the said house, and to the clerk: and in
case of the absence of any member from the service of either house, at the time
prescribed for taking the said oath or affirmation, the same shall be
administered to such member when he shall appear to take his seat.
15. - §2. That at the first session of congress after every general election
of representatives, the oath or affirmation aforesaid shall be administered by
any one member of the house of representatives to the speaker; and by him to all
the members present, and to the clerk, previous to entering on any other
business; and to the members who shall afterwards appear, previous to taking
their seats. The president of the senate for the time being, shall also
administer the said oath or affirmation to each senator who shall hereafter be
elected, previous to his taking his seat; and in any future case of a president
of the senate, who shall not have taken the said oath or affirmation, the same
shall be administered to him by any one of the members of the senate.
16. - §3. That the members of the several state legislatures, at the next
session of the said legislatures respectively, and all executive and judicial
officers of the several states, who have been heretofore chosen or appointed,
or, who shall be chosen or appointed before the first day of August next, and
who shall then be in office, shall, within one month thereafter, take the same
oath or affirmation, except where they shall have taken it before which may be
administered by any person authorized by the law of the state, in which such
office shall be holden, to administer oaths. And the members of the several
state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers of the several
states, who shall be chosen or appointed after the said first day of August,
shall, before they proceed to execute the duties of their respective offices,
take the foregoing oath or affirmation, which shall be administered by the
person or persons, who, by the law of the state, shall be authorized to ad-
minister the oath of office; and the person or persons so administering the oath
hereby required to be taken, shall cause a record or certificate thereof to be
made, in the same manner as, by the law of the state, he or they shall be
directed to record or certify the oath of office.
17. - §4. That all officers appointed or hereafter to be appointed, under the
authority of the United States, shall, before they act in their respective
offices, take the same oath or affirmation, which shall be administered by the
person or persons who shall be authorized by law to administer to such officers
their respective oaths of office; and such officers shall incur the same
penalties in case of failure, as shall be imposed by law in case of failure in
taking their respective oaths of office.
18. - §5. That the secretary of the senate, and the clerk of the house of
repreentatives, for the time being, shall, at the time of taking the oath or
affirmation aforesaid, each take an oath or affirmation in the words following,
to wit; "I, A B, secretary of the senate, or clerk of the house of
representatives (as the case may be) of the United States of America, do
solemnly swear or affirm, that I will truly and faithfully discharge the duties
of my said office to the best of my knowledge and abilities."
19. There are several kinds of oaths, some of which are enumerated by
>20. Oath of calumny. This term is used in the civil law. It is an oath
which a plaintiff was obliged to take that he was not actuated by a spirit of
chicanery in commencing his action, but that he had bona fide a good cause of
action. Poth. Pand. lib. 5, t. 16 and 17, s. 124. This oath is somewhat similar
to our affidavit of a cause of action. Vide Dunlap's Adm. Pr. 289, 290.
21. No instance is known in which the oath of calumny has been adopted in
practice in the admiralty courts of the United States; Dunl. Adm. Pr. 290; and
by the 102d of the rules of the district court for the southern district of New
York, the oath of calumny shall not be required of any party in any stage of a
cause. Vide Inst. 4, 16, 1; Code, 2, 59, 2; Dig. 10, 2, 44; 1 Ware's R. 427.
22. Decisory oath. By this term in the civil law is understood an oath which
one of the parties defers or refers back to the other, for the decision of the
23. It may be deferred in any kind of civil contest whatever, in questions of
possession or of claim; in personal actions and in real. The plaintiff may defer
the oath to the defendant, whenever he conceives he has not sufficient proof of
the fact which is the foundation of his claim; and in like manner, the defendant
may defer it to the plaintiff when he has not sufficient proof of his defence.
The person to whom the oath is deferred, ought either to take it or refer it
back, and if he will not do either, the cause should be decided against him.
Poth. on Oblig. P. 4, c. 3, s. 4.
24. The decisory oath has been practically adopted in the district court of
the United States, for the district of Massachusetts, and admiralty causes have
been determined in that court by the oath decisory; but the cases in which this
oath has been adopted, have been where the tender has been accepted; and no case
is known to have occurred there in which the oath has been refused and tendered
back to the adversary. Dunl. Adm. Pr. 290, 291.
25. A judicial oath is a solemn declaration made in some form warranted by
law, before a court of justice or some officer authorized to administer it, by
which the person who takes it promises to tell the truth, the whole truth, and
nothing but the truth, in relation to his knowledge of the matter then under
examination, and appeals to God for his sincerity.
26. In the civil law, a judicial oath is that which is given in judgment by
one party to another. Dig. 12, 2, 25.
27. Oath in litem, in the civil law, is an oath which was deferred to the
complainant as to the value of the thing in dispute on failure of other proof,
particularly when there was a fraud on the part of the defendant, and be
suppressed proof in his possession. See Greenl. Ev. §348; Tait on Ev. 280; 1
Vern. 207; 1 Eq. Cas. Ab. 229; 1 Greenl. R. 27; 1 Yeates, R. 34; 12 Vin. Ab. 24.
In general the oath of the party cannot, by the common law, be received to
establish his claim, but to this there are exceptions. The oath in litem is
admitted in two classes of cases: 1. Where it has been already proved, that the
party against whom it is offered has been guilty of some fraud or other tortious
or unwarrantable act of intermeddling with the complainant's goods, and no other
evidence can be had of the amount of damages. As, for example, where a trunk of
goods was delivered to a shipmaster at one port to be carried to another, and,
on the passage, he broke the trunk open and rifled it of its contents; in an
action by the owners of the goods against the shipmaster, the facts above
mentioned having been proved aliunde, the plaintiff was held, a competent
witness to testify as to the contents of the trunk. 1 Greenl. 27; and see 10
Watts, 335; 1 Greenl. Ev. §348; 1 Yeates, 34; 2 Watts, 220; 1 Gilb. Ev. by
Lofft, 244. 2. The oath in litem is also admitted on the ground of public
policy, where it is deemed essential to the purposes of justice. Tait on Ev.
280. But this oath is admitted only on the ground of necessity. An example may
be mentioned of a case where a statute can receive no execution, unless the
party interested be admitted as a witness. 16 Pet. 203.
28. A promissory oath is an oath taken, by authority of law, by which the
party declares that he will fulfil certain duties therein mentioned, as the oath
which an alien takes on becoming naturalized, that he will support the
constitution of the United States: the oath which a judge takes that he will
perform the duties of his office. The breach of this does not involve the party
in the legal crime or punishment of perjury.
29. A suppletory oath in the civil and ecclesiastical law, is an oath
required by the judge from either party in a cause, upon half proof already
made, which being joined to half proof, supplies the evidence required to enable
the judge to pass upon the subject. Vide Str. 80; 3 Bl. Com. 270.
30. A purgatory oath is one by which one destroys the presumptions which were
against him, for he is then said to purge himself, when he removes the
suspicions which were against him; as, when a man is in contempt for not
attending court as a witness, he may purge himself of the contempt, by swearing
to a fact which is an ample excuse. See Purgation.
OBEDIENCE. The performance of a command.
2. Officers who obey the command of their superiors, having jurisdiction of
the subject-matter, are not responsible for their acts. A sheriff may therefore
justify a trespass under an execution, when the court has jurisdiction, although
irregularly issued. 3 Chit. Pr. 75; Ham. N. P. 48.
3. A child, an apprentice, a pupil, a mariner, and a soldier, owe
respectively obedience to the lawful commands of the parent, the master, the
teacher, the captain of the ship, and the military officer having command; and
in case of disobedience, submission may be enforced by correction. (q. v.)
OBIT. That particular solemnity or office for the dead, which the
Roman Ca- tholic church appoints to be read or performed over the body of a
deceased member of that communion before interment; also the office which, upon
the anniversary of his death, was frequently used as a commemoration or
observance of the day. 2 Cro. 51; Dyer, 313.
OBLATION, eccl. law. In a general sense the property which accrues to
the church by any right or title whatever; but, in a more limited sense, it is
that which the priest receives at the altar, at the celebration of the
eucharist. Ayl. Par. 392.
OBLIGATION. In its general and most extensive sense, obligation is
synony- mous with duty. In a more technical meaning, it is a tie which binds us
to pay or to do something agreeably to the laws and customs of the country in
which the obligation is made. Just. Inst. 1. 3, t. 14. The term obligation also
signifies the instrument or writing by which the contract is witnessed. And in
another sense, an obligation still subsists, although the civil obligation is
said to be a bond containing a penalty, with a condition annexed for the payment
of money, performance of covenants or the like; it differs from a bill, which is
generally without a penalty or condition, though it may be obligatory. Co. Litt.
172. It is also defined to be a deed whereby a man binds himself under a penalty
to do a thing. Com. Dig. Obligation, A. The word obligation, in its most
technical signification, ex vi termini, imports a sealed instrument. 2 S. &
R. 502; 6 Verm. 40; 1 Blackf. 241; Harp. R. 434; 2 Porter, 19; 1 Bald. 129. See
1 Bell's Com. b. 3, p. 1, c. 1, page 293; Bouv. Inst. Index, h. t.
2. Obligations are divided into imperfect obligations, and perfect
3. Imperfect obligations are those which are not binding on us as between man
and man, and for the non-performance of which we are accountable to God only;
such as charity or gratitude. In this sense an obligation is a mere duty. Poth.
Ob. art. Prel. n. 1.
4. A perfect obligation is one which gives a right to another to require us
to give him something or not to do something. These obligations are either
natural or moral, or they are civil.
5. A natural or moral obligation is one which cannot be enforced by action,
but which is binding on the party who makes it, in conscience and according to
natural justice. As for instance, when the action is barred by the act of
limitation, a natural obligation is extinguished. 5 Binn. 573. Although natural
obligations cannot be enforeed by action, they have the following effect: 1. No
suit will lie to recover back what has been paid, or given in compliance with a
natural obligation. 1 T. R. 285; 1 Dall. 184, 2. A natural obligation is a
sufficient consideration for a new contract. 5 Binn. 33; 2 Binn. 591; Yelv. 41,
a, n. 1; Cowp. 290; 2 Bl. Com. 445; 3 B. & P. 249, n.; 2 East, 506; 3 Taunt.
311; 5 Taunt. 36; Yelv. 41, b. note; 3 Pick. 207 Chit. Contr. 10.
6. A civil obligation is one which has a binding operation in law, vinculum
juris, and which gives to the obligee the right of enforcing it in a court of
justice; in other words, it is an engagement binding on the obligor. 12 Wheat.
It:. 318, 337; 4 Wheat. R. 197.
7. Civil obligations are divided into express and implied, pure. and
conditional, primitive and secondary, principal and accessory, absolute and
alternative, determinate and indeterminate, divisible and indivisible, single
and penal, and joint and several. They are also purely personal, purely real,
and both real and mixed at the same time.
8. Express or conventional obligations are those by which the obligor binds
himself in express terms to perform his obligation.
9. An implied obligation is one which arises by operation of law; as, for
example, if I send you daily a loaf of bread, without any express authority, and
you make use of it in your family, the law raises an obligation on your part to
pay me the value of the bread.
10. A pure or simple obligation is one which is not suspended by any
condition, either because it has been contacted without condition, or, having
been contracted with one, it has been fulfilled.
11. A conditional obligation is one the execution of which is suspended by a
condition which has not been accomplished, and subject to which it has been
12. A primitive obligation, which in one sense may also be called a principal
obligation, is one which is contracted with a design that it should, itself, be
the first fulfilled.
13. A secondary obligation is one which is contrasted, and is to be
performed, in case the primitive cannot be. For example, if I sell you my house,
I bind myself to give a title, but I find I cannot, as the title is in another,
then my secondary obligation is to pay you damages for my non-perform- ance of
14. A principal obligation is one which is the most important object of the
engagement of the contracting parties.
15. An accessory obligation is one which is dependent on the principal
obligation; for example, if I sell you a house and lot of ground, the principal
obligation on my part is to make you a title for it; the accessory obligation is
to deliver you all the title papers which I have relating to it; to take care of
the estate till it is delivered to you, and the like.
16. An absolute obligation is one which gives no alternative to the obligor,
but he is bound to fulfil it according to his engagement.
17. An alternative obligation is, where a person engages to do, or to give
several things in such a manner that the payment of one will acquit him of all;
as if A agrees to give B, upon a sufficient consideration, a horse, or one
hundred dollars. Poth. Obl. Pt. 2, c. 3, art. 6, No.. 245.
18. In order to constitute an alternative obligation, it is necessary that
two or more things should be promised disjunctively; where they are promised
conjunctively, there are as many obligations as the things which are enumerated,
but where they are in the alternative, though they are all due, there is but one
obligation, which may be discharged by the payment of any of them.
19. The choice of performing one of the obligations belongs to the obligor,
unless it is expressly agreed that all belong to the creditor. Dougl. 14; 1 Lord
Raym. 279; 4 N. S. 167. If one of the acts is prevented by the obligee, or the
act of God, the obligor is discharged from both. See 2 Evans' Poth. Ob. 52 to
54; Vin. Ab. Condition, S b; and articles Conjunctive; Disjunctive;
20. A determinate obligation, is one which has for its object a certain
thing; as an obligation to deliver a certain horse named Bucephalus. In this
case the obligation can only be discharged by delivering the identical
21. An indeterminate obligation is one where the obligor binds himself to
deliver one of a certain species; as, to deliver a horse, the delivery of any
horse will discharge the obligation.
22. A divisible obligation is one which being a unit may nevertheless be
lawfully divided with or without the consent of the parties. It is clear it may
be divided by consent, as those who made it, may modify or change it as they
please. But some obligations may be divided without the consent of the obligor;
as, where a tenant is bound to pay two hundred dollars a year rent to his
landlord, the obligation is entire, yet, if his landlord dies and leaves two
sons, each will be entitled to one hundred dollars; or if the landlord sells one
undivided half of the estate yielding the rent, the purchaser will be entitled
to receive one hundred dollars, and the seller the other hundred. See
23. An indivisible obligation is one which is not susceptible of division;
as, for example, if I promise to pay you one hundred dollars, you cannot assign
one half of this to another, so as to give him a right of action against me for
his share. See Divisible.
24. A single obligation is one without any penalty; as, where I simply
promise to pay you one hundred dollars. This is called a single bill, when it is
25. A penal obligation is one to which is attached a penal clause which is to
be enforeed, if the principal obligation be not performed. In general equity
will relieve against a penalty, on the fulfilment of the principal obligation.
See Liquidated damages; Penalty.
26. A joint obligation is one by which several obligors promise to the
obligee to perform the obligation. When the obligation is only joint and the
obligors do not promise separately to fulfil their engagement they must be all
sued, if living, to compel the performance; or, if any be dead, the survivors
must all be sued. See Parties to actions.
27. A several obligation is one by which one individual, or if there be more,
several individuals bind themselves separately to perform the engagement. In
this case each obligor may be sued separately, and if one or more be dead, their
respective executors may be sued. See Parties to actions.
28. The obligation is, purely personal when the obligor binds himself to do a
thing; as if I give my note for one thousand dollars, in that case my person
only is bound, for my property is liable for the debt only while it belongs to
me, and, if I lawfully transfer it to a third person, it is discharged.
29. The obligation is personal in another sense, as when the obligor binds
himself to do a thing, and he provides his heirs and executors shall not be
bound; as, for example, when he promises to pay a certain sum yearly during his
life, and the payment is to cease at his death.
30. The obligation is real when real estate, and not the person, is liable to
the obligee for the performance. A familiar example will explain this: when an
estate owes an easement, as a right of way, it is the thing and not the owner
who owes the easement. Another instance occurs when a person buys an estate
which has been mortgaged, subject to the mortgage, he is not liable for the
debt, though his estate is. In these cases the owner has an interest only
because he is seised of the servient estate, or the mortgaged premises, and he
may discharge himself by abandoning or parting with the property.
31. The obligation is both personal and real when the obligor has bound
himself, and pledged his estate for the fulfilment of his obligation.
OBLIGATION OF CONTRACTS. By this expression, which is used in the
consti- tution of the United States, is meant a legal and not merely a moral
duty. 4 Wheat. 107. The obligation of contracts consists in the necessity under
which a man finds himself to, do, or to refrain from doing something. This
obligation consists generally both in foro legis and in foro conscientice,
though it does at times exist in one of these only. It is certainly of the
first, that in foro legis, which the framers of the constitution spoke, when
they prohibited the passage of any law impairing the obligation of contract. 1
Harr. Lond. Rep. Lo. 161. See Impairing the obligation of contracts.
OBLIGEE or CREDITOR, contracts. The person in favor of whom some
obliga- tion is contracted, whether such obligation be to pay money, or to do,
or not to do something. Louis. Code, art. 3522, No. 11.
2. Obligees are either several or joint, an obligee is several when the
obligation is made to him alone; obligees are joint when the obligation is made
to two or more, and, in that event, each is not a creditor for his separate
share, unless the nature of the subject or the particularity of the expression
in the instrument lead to a different conclusion. 2 Evans' Poth. 56; Dyer 350 a,
pl. 20; Hob. 172; 2 Brownl. 207 Yelv, 177; Cro. Jac. 251.
OBLIGOR or DEBTOR. The person who has engaged to perform some
obligation. Louis. Code, art. 3522, No. 12. The word obligor, in its more
technical signification, is applied to designate one who makes a bond.
2. Obligors are joint and several. They are joint when they agree to pay the
obligation jointly, and then the survivors only are liable upon it at law, but
in equity the assets of a deceased joint obligor may be reached. 1. Bro. C. R.
29; 2 Ves. 101; Id. 371. They are several when one or more bind themselves each
of them separately to perform the obligation. In order to become an obligor, the
party must actually, either himself or by his attorney, enter into the
obligation, and execute it as his own. If a man sign and seal a bond as his own,
and deliver it, he will be bound by it, although his name be not mentioned in
the bond. 4 Stew. R. 479; 4 Hayw R. 239; 4 McCord, R. 203; 7 Cowen; R. 484; 2
Bail. R. 190; Brayt. 38; 2 H. & M. 398; 5 Mass. R. 538; 2 Dana, R. 463; 4
Munf. R. 380; 4 Dev. 272. When the obligor signs between the penal part and the
condition, still the latter will be a part of the instrument. 2 Wend. Rep. 345;
3 H. & M. 144.
3. The execution of a bond by the obligor with a blank, and a verbal
authority to fill it up, and it is afterwards filled up, does not bind the
obligor, unless it is redelivered, or acknowledged or adopted. 1 Yerg. R. 69
149; 1 Hill, Rep. 267; 2 N. & M. 125; 2 Brock. R. 64; 1 Ham. R. 368; 2 Dev.
R. 369 6 Gill. & John. 250; but see contra, 17 Serg. & R. 438; and see 6
Serg. & Rawle, 308; Wright, R. 742.
OBREPTION, civil law. Surprise. Dig. 3,5,8,1. Vide Surprise.