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Lincoln Bible to be used at inaugural

The Bible that Abraham Lincoln used to take the oath of office in 1861. The Bible that Abraham Lincoln used to take the oath of office in 1861. (Kevin lamarque/reuters)
By Ken Herman
Cox News Service / December 24, 2008
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WASHINGTON - President-elect Barack Obama will take the oath of office on the same Bible that Abraham Lincoln used for his swearing-in.

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 Lincoln took the oath in 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 yesterday.

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 US cities in fall 2010: Atlanta, Chicago, Indianapolis, Omaha, and Sacramento.

There is no constitutional requirement that a Bible be used at 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 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.

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