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January 25, 2021

Swearing Oaths

Every four years the US president stands in front of the Capitol building and takes the oath of office, with the right hand raised and the left hand resting on a Bible. Although the Constitution doesn’t require it, there is only one case when history records that a US President-elect has chosen not to use a Bible in an inaugural ceremony: John Quincy Adams, who used a book of constitutional law. While oaths are found in all cultures around the world, some of the oldest oaths attested to in history are found in the stories of Abraham in the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament. By the early Christian period, it had become common practice in Europe for oaths in courts to use the Gospels for Christians or the Torah for Jews. By the twelfth century, the practice of taking an oath on the Bible was common in English courts. From there, the practice was brought to America. George Washington was sworn in on a Bible that was “hastily grabbed” from a masonic lodge for the first US presidential swearing-in ceremony in New York City. Since then, the choice of Bibles has become much more intentional. In a symbolic gesture, both President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump were sworn in on the Bible of Abraham Lincoln.

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