“I Do Solemnly Swear…”
Prescribed by the US Constitution, the oath of office of the president is a key part of the inauguration ceremony. It symbolizes the peaceful transition of power. The National Constitution Center, located in the cradle of US liberty—Philadelphia—offers a list detailing the use of the Bible at presidential inaugural ceremonies. Most used one Bible. Very commonly used is a family Bible. Several presidents in recent times have requested two Bibles. Some had the Bible open to the Ten Commandments and others to the Beatitudes.
The Washington Bible has been used more than any other. Jefferson used his own self-edited Bible. Lincoln’s has been called into service only a few times, much like the West Point Bible. John F. Kennedy held the large Fitzgerald family Bible brought from Ireland a hundred years earlier. It’s thought that early in our nation’s history some presidents didn’t use a Bible at all, but rather held or placed their right hand on a book of law containing the Constitution.
There are many possible explanations and reasons for using a Bible when the president is sworn in, including: it has been that way from the beginning; presidents are no different than the people we read about in the Bible; everyone needs God’s help. Individually, and as a nation, we’re called to strive for something more, to move beyond ourselves to something greater that leads to the greatest good. It’s about accountability.