Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I Do Solemnly Swear

"In this blessed land, there is always a better tomorrow... Let history say of us, "These were golden years-when the American Revolution was reborn, when freedom gained new life, when America reached for her best... Well, with heart and hand, let us stand as one today:...determined that our future shall be worthy of our past" ~ Ronald Reagan's Inaugural Address, 21st day of January 1985

The Wall Street Journal Online had a fantastic slideshow today of the Bible's used for Presidential Swearings' In over the years. It inspired me to pull together a few notable inaugural selections from the WSJ and the web at large. I also enjoyed the images showing how the ceremony has involved over the years including the addition of the First Lady standing with the President, something that didn't seem to occur during those early inaugurations.

George Washington took the Oath of Office as our nation's first President using a Bible borrowed from the St. John's Masonic Lodge. It was opened to Genesis 49:13, apparently hastily, as the passage was not particularly relevant to the occasion, though it does have a bit of a manifest destiny tone to it, "Zebulan shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for an haven of ships; and his border shall be unto Zidon." (Image courtesy of the US Senate)

I was unable to find any details on the Bibles used by Adams or Jefferson, though it should be noted that the first Koran used for the swearing in of a member of the US House of Representatives in 2007 belonged to Thomas Jefferson. The House member was Keith Ellison, a Democrat, from Minnesota. (Image courtesy of New York Sun)

Abraham Lincoln used a Bible borrowed from the Clerk of the Supreme Court, again opened at random. For his second oath it was opened deliberately to Matthew 7:1, "Judge not, that ye be not judged." (Photo of Lincoln’s first inauguration is from Wikimedia Commons)

Herbert Hoover elected to use a family Bible turned to Proverbs 29:18, "Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he." (Photo from

Franklin D. Roosevelt used the same family Bible on all four occasions, always turned to I Corninthians 13, "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things..." (Photo from Flickr)

Truman can be noted for two deviations from what had been tradition to that point. First he swore on a closed Bible upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945 (image). In 1949 upon re-election he used the same Bible from 1945 as well as a copy of the Gutenberg Bible opened to the 10 Commandments, making him the first President to swear on two Bibles. (Photo from

Dwight Eisenhower again used two Bibles for his swearing in: one given to him by his mother upon his graduation from West Point, the other the Masonic Bible used by George Washington. (Photo from

President Johnson was sworn in onboard Air Force One following the assassination of President Kennedy. The Bible he used is not known. For his second oath he took it on a closed family Bible. (Photo from the LBJ Presidential Library)
President Nixon continued the tradition of using two Bibles for both ceremonies. Both were family Bibles, ostensibly one from each side of his family. His selection of Isaiah 2:4 was interesting given the time, "And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruningforks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." (Photo from Flickr)

Jimmy Carter borrowed a page from Dwight Eisenhower and used both a family Bible and the Washington Masonic Bible, this time turned to VI Micah 6:8, "He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God." A very telling passage picked by this Sunday school teacher. (Photo courtesy of the National Archives)

George H.W. Bush stuck with the modern tradition of using two Bibles; again with a family Bible and the Washington Masonic Bible. The Masonic opened at random and the family Bible opened to Matthew 5, "...Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven..." (Photo from Wikipedia)

Bill Clinton used the same Bible given to him by his grandmother for both ceremonies, each time turned to a different passage. The photo is of the first inauguration with Chief Justin Rehnquist delivering the oath. (Photo from Wikipedia)

George W. Bush had planned to use two Bibles, like his father, but due to poor weather at the first inauguration he was unable to use the Washington Masonic Bible and instead used only the family Bible closed (photo). He continued this tradition at his second inauguration. (Photo from

And finally, Barack Obama, in a nod to Abraham Lincoln, plans to use the Bible he used, originally owned by William Thomas Carroll the then clerk of the Supreme Court. The details about whether the Bible will be opened or closed, or any particular passage have not been disclosed as of the time of this post. (Photo from WSJ)


Pigtown-Design said...

So interesting. Thanks for researching this.

Easy and Elegant Life said...

I believe that President Johnson used "The Book of Common Prayer" that was found on the plane. At least that's what I heard during coverage of the inauguration today.

Great post.