Ronald Wilson Reagan, who died on June 5 in 2004, was one of numerous American presidents sworn in on a King James Bible, a tradition begun (as noted in an earlier post) by none other than George Washington. In Reagan’s case, as in many others, the Bible in question offers us something of a snapshot of American social history and family life, or at least the life of a particular family.
The Bible Reagan used, plainly visible in an inauguration photograph in the Historic American Bibles feature of the Manifold Greatness website, was his mother’s Bible. A relatively slender, much worn copy, it is known today as the Wilson Bible after the maiden name of his mother, Nelle Wilson Reagan. President Reagan used the same Bible for both of his inaugurations, and also spoke about it in a Mother’s Day radio address in 1983.
To make sure it was a King James Bible, rather than another English Bible translation, we checked with the curators at the Reagan Presidential Library. We were delighted when they quickly e-mailed us a scan of the title page, which confirms its use of the “Text of the Authorized Version,” another term for the King James Bible, and provides other interesting details as well.
Clearly meant as a family Bible (“for every home,” as stated on the title page), this King James Bible was published by John Dickson Publishing Company of Chicago under the title The New Indexed Bible. Like many family Bibles sold for the purpose, it included numerous additional educational features, including not only the promised indexes—biographical, geographic, historical, and “teaching”—but pronunciation guides and photographs of biblical locations. (For more on the phenomenon of family Bible publishing in the 1800s and early 1900s, see our feature on Family Bibles.)
As with many family Bibles, however, what was apparently most treasured were not those extra features included by the publisher, but rather the handwritten notes added over time. Of this Bible, President Reagan said in his radio comments, “it has its flyleaf filled with important events, its margins are scrawled with insights and passages underlined for emphasis. My mother, Nelle, made all those marks in that book.”
June 6, 2011 | Categories: At the Folger, Influences, The KJB in History | Tags: Authorized King James Version, Bible, Family Bibles, George Washington, inauguration, John Dickson Publishing, Mother's Day, Nelle Wilson Reagan, Ronald Reagan, United States | Leave A Comment »
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.
April 30, 2011 | Categories: The KJB in History | Tags: 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 | 4 Comments »