When President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. takes the oath on Wednesday, he will likely get his hands on a family artifact that has followed him throughout his 50-year political career: a large Bible, accented with a Celtic cross. , which has been in his family since 1893.
The Bible has been a staple during Mr. Biden’s recent swearing-in ceremonies as US Senator and Vice President. His son Beau Biden also used it when he was sworn in as Delaware’s attorney general.
Mr. Biden, who will make history as the country’s second Catholic president after John F. Kennedy, has often invoked his faith during the 2020 presidential campaign as he courted voters with a pledge to restore “l ‘soul of America’.
In an interview last month with Stephen Colbert, Mr. Biden shared a bit of history on the family legacy.
“Every important date is there,” Biden said. “For example, every time I take an oath for anything, the date is written.”
But on Tuesday, a spokesperson for Mr. Biden’s inaugural committee said he couldn’t confirm whether Mr. Biden would use that book for his inauguration – or even if he would use just one Bible. (President Trump used two.)
The Bible that a president-elect chooses to use for the swearing-in ceremony often sends a symbolic message to the American public, said Seth A. Perry, associate professor of religion at Princeton University and author of “Bible Culture and” Authority in the early United States. “
“It’s hard to imagine the inauguration ritual without this book at this point,” Professor Perry said. “It’s part of the landscape. It’s part of what gives the moment the authority it has.
Here’s a look at how the Bible has featured in some of the most pivotal moments in U.S. history: the inaugurations of new U.S. presidents.
The Washington Bible has been popular with other presidents.
Like much of the pageantry associated with presidential inaugurations, the presence of a Bible at swearing-in ceremonies is steeped in tradition, dating back to the country’s first president.
At his inauguration in 1789 in New York City, George Washington used a Bible from the Masonic Lodge of St. John’s No. 1. The Bible was allegedly retrieved after attendees noticed there was none in Federal. Hall, where Washington was preparing to take the oath of office, according to Claire Jerry, curator of political history at the National Museum of American History.
The Bible represented the deal Washington made with the American people, she said.
“Having sacred images associated with making a covenant is quite consistent and underscores this idea that we, who attend the swearing-in, and the individual who takes the oath enter into a very deep relationship. with each other, ”Dr Jerry says.
The Washington Bible was used in the inaugurations of four other presidents: Warren G. Harding, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, and George Bush.
In 2017, Mr. Trump used a Bible given to him by his mother when he was a child, and one used by Abraham Lincoln for his inauguration in 1861, just before the start of the Civil War. Barack Obama also used the Lincoln Bible for taking the oath, but in 2013, for his second investiture, he supplemented it with a Bible given to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1954.
Some presidents have taken an oath with the Bible open to a specific verse or passage, Dr Jerry said. Popular choices include verses in Proverbs and Psalms.
How is an inaugural Bible chosen?
According to Mark Dimunation, head of the Rare Books and Special Collections division at the Library of Congress, presidents-elect often look for a text they have a personal connection with, or a text that represents the story of the moment in which they take Office.
“The electricity of that moment was deep,” Dimunation said of the use of the Lincoln and King Bibles by Mr. Obama, the country’s first black president. “He was installed in these objects that really only seem like a book, but he carries with him the weight of his moment and his story.
The Library of Congress, home to many notable Bibles, including Lincoln’s, often receives inquiries from politicians for texts they hope to use for their oaths. Getting the library texts into the hands of politicians is no easy feat.
“You need a village,” Dimunation said.
Texts must go through a conservation examination and are often transported in a specially constructed box to provide protection from inclement weather and other adverse conditions. The whole process is “managed at a high level of security,” said Dimunation.
Should the President use a Bible?
While presidents and members of Congress are constitutionally required to take an oath, they are not required to lay hands on a sacred text in doing so. But if they choose to swear on an object, they can pretty much use any text they like.
John Quincy Adams used a law book in his ceremony, and in 1963, after Kennedy’s assassination, Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in on Air Force One with his hand on a Roman Catholic missal.
Over the years, members of Congress have also incorporated other texts into their swearing-in ceremonies, sometimes speaking of their own personal faith or belief, Dr Jerry said.
In 2007, Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the only Muslim in Congress at the time, used Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an in his swearing-in ceremony. In her swearing-in photo, Representative Rashida Tlaib, Democrat from Michigan, used a Koran given to her by her best friend.
Jacey Fortin contribution to reports.