WASHINGTON — The Presidential Inaugural Committee announced Tuesday that Barack Obama will take the oath of office using the historic Lincoln Bible, which wasn't Lincoln's Bible.
The burgundy velvet-bound volume known as the Lincoln Bible was purchased in 1861 by then-Supreme Court Clerk William Thomas Carroll for use in Abraham Lincoln's inauguration because the president-elect's family Bible was packed away and en route from Illinois to Washington.
The Lincoln Bible, now in the Library of Congress collection (as is Lincoln's family Bible), has not been used in a presidential inauguration since 1861.
"The President-elect is committed to holding an inauguration that celebrates America's unity, and the use of this historic Bible will provide a powerful connection to our common past and common heritage," Emmett Beliveau, executive director of the Presidential Inaugural Committee, said Tuesday.
At the back of the Bible is Carroll's hand-written annotation certifying its use in Lincoln's 1861 inauguration. The Bible is part of the Library of Congress' upcoming Lincoln exhibition marking the 200th anniversary of his birth. The exhibit will travel to five U.S. cities, including Atlanta in fall 2010.
There is no constitutional requirement that a Bible be used at presidential inaugurations. George Washington began the tradition at the first inauguration in 1789, using what was known as the Masonic Bible. The passage read was Genesis 49:13, chosen, according to the Architect of the Capitol, because the Bible was "opened at random due to haste."
Washington kissed the Bible and added the words "So help me God," which are not in the official oath, at the end.
Over the years, presidents have chosen family Bibles and famous Bibles for use at the ceremony. In 1989, the first President Bush used Washington's Masonic Bible. His son wanted to use it in 2001 at his first inauguration, but, as Senate records note, it "had been transported, under guard, from New York to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration, but due to inclement weather, a family Bible was substituted instead."
A Bush family Bible also was used at the 2005 inauguration.
According to the Architect of the Capitol, Theodore Roosevelt, in 1901, became the only president not sworn in on a Bible. Roosevelt, succeeding the assassinated William McKinley, took the oath at the Buffalo, N. Y., home of friend and political ally Ansley Wilcox.
The quadrennial inaugurations allow presidents to put their marks on the ceremony, sometimes by choice and sometimes by circumstance.
On April 16, 1789, Washington set out from Mount Vernon en route to New York (then the nation's capital) for the first inauguration. An entry in his personal journal indicated trepidation about the new gig.
"About 10 o'clock I bade adieu to Mount Vernon, to private life and to domestic felicity, and with a mind oppressed with more anxious and painful sensations that I have words to express, set out for New York ... ," Washington wrote.
The inauguration took place two weeks later and inaugural ball was held May 7. Martha Washington, still in Virginia, did not attend the ball.
Four years later, Washington gave the shortest-ever inaugural address, 135 words. He promised nothing, noting only that "I am again called upon by the voice of my country to execute the functions of its chief magistrate" and that any future transgressions would make him "subject to the upbraidings of all who are now witnesses of the present solemn ceremony."