George Washington starts a tradition
George Washington started so many presidential traditions that you may not be surprised to learn he began the custom of using a Bible (and often, a King James Bible) to take the oath of office, too, on this date, April 30, in 1789. With the capital city of Washington, DC, not even established, Washington’s first inauguration took place at Federal Hall in New York City.
Just before the ceremony, there was a brief crisis when it was discovered that nobody had brought a Bible. A local Masonic lodge came to the rescue by lending its own King James Bible, a handsome 1767 edition with 300 steel engravings. The same Bible, still owned by the lodge, has since been used at numerous ceremonies, including the inaugurations of Presidents Harding, Eisenhower, Carter, and George H.W. Bush.
Although there are older images of the Washington Bible, we were very pleased to work with the lodge as we produced the Manifold Greatness website to obtain new, never-before-published photographs, one of which appears in the Historic American Bibles image gallery. The gallery includes images of other inaugural Bibles, too, as well as a King James Bible that came over on the Mayflower, one owned by the abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass, and more.
As recounted in Paul Gutjahr’s book An American Bible: A History of the Good Book in the United States, 1777-1880 (1999), a fifteen-year-old girl at Washington’s inauguration recorded the event in her diary: “Chancellor Livingston read the form of oath prescribed by the Constitution; Washington repeated it, resting his hand upon the Bible. Mr. Otis, secretary of the Senate, then took the Bible to raise it to the lips of Washington who stooped to kiss the book.” Someone else, Gutjahr notes, marked which passage the new president had kissed.
For more about the Washington Bible, see our Links list, which includes links to the Masonic lodge and to the National Park site where the Bible is sometimes displayed. For other books related to the King James Bible, consult our Suggested Reading list.
This entry was posted on April 30, 2011 by manifoldgreatness. It was filed under The KJB in History and was tagged with An American Bible, Authorized King James Version, Bible, DC, Federal Hall, Freemasons, George Washington, inauguration, King James Bible, Masons, New York, Paul Gutjahr, St. John's Lodge, Washington.