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Presidential vows and use of the Bible

While not required by the Constitution, it has been traditional for the new president to take his vow with his hand on a Bible.

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
Photo by Unknown

By Ken Wackes January 2017

On Inauguration Day 2017 President-Elect Donald Trump will be officially sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. While not a “must do” required by the Constitution, it has been traditional for the new president to take his vow with his hand on a Bible.

George Washington initiated this tradition during his first inauguration in 1789.

Some, like Washington and Lincoln, opened the Bible to a randomly selected page. Most have opened the Bible to a specific page containing a personally meaningful verse.

Two presidents, Harry Truman in 1945 and John F. Kennedy in 1961, took their vows on a closed Bible. Barack Obama used a Bible belonging to Martin Luther King, Jr.

One president did not use a Bible at all—Theodore Roosevelt in 1901.

Unfortunately, there was one feature of Washington’s inauguration that did not catch on. His second inaugural address contained only 135 words. William Henry Harrison’s address, delivered on a snow-filled wintry day in 1841, lasted for two hours! (“Macho Man” Harrison, refusing to wear a coat or hat, died of pneumonia 31 days later.)

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