Special Classifieds Feature

Buy Washington Post Inauguration newspapers, books, and more

Obama to Use Lincoln's Bible

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts

Barack Obama announced his historic bid for the presidency from the steps of the statehouse in Springfield, Ill., the same spot where another Illinois state legislator, Abraham Lincoln, began his quest.

Now, to complete the historical symmetry, when Obama takes the oath of office on Jan. 20, he will place his hand on a Bible the 16th president used.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee would not comment last night, but sources close to the process told us the 44th president will use one of two Lincoln Bibles in the Library of Congress.

There are several Bibles that boast a Lincoln pedigree still in existence. A family Bible is at his Kentucky birthplace, and another, famously presented in 1864 to the president by African Americans grateful that the president had signed the Emancipation Proclamation, is in the archives at Fisk University in Nashville.

But Obama gravitated to the two Bibles in the library’s collection. The Lincoln family brought one of them from Illinois when they moved to Washington in 1861 — but because it was packed among the household goods, it wasn’t found in time to be used in Lincoln’s first inaugural ceremony.

A substitute Bible was quickly provided, and Lincoln repeated the short oath of office given by Chief Justice Roger Taney — a moment recorded in the back of the book by the clerk of the Supreme Court. The Bible was given to the library in 1928 by the widow of Lincoln’s only surviving son, Robert.

Both historic Bibles will be part of the library’s celebration of Lincoln’s 200th birthday, which kicks off in February.

(Read the press release from the Presidential Inaugural Committee about the Bible, which will be on display to reporters today, after the jump.)

Washington, D.C. - On January 20th, President-elect Barack Obama will take the oath of office using the same Bible upon which President Lincoln was sworn in at his first inauguration. The Bible is currently part of the collections of the Library of Congress. Though there is no constitutional requirement for the use of a Bible during the swearing-in, Presidents have traditionally used Bibles for the ceremony, choosing a volume with personal or historical significance. President-elect Obama will be the first President sworn in using the Lincoln Bible since its initial use in 1861.

"President-elect Obama is deeply honored that the Library of Congress has made the Lincoln Bible available for use during his swearing-in," said Presidential Inaugural Committee Executive Director Emmett Beliveau. "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."

The Lincoln Bible will be available for a press viewing between 11:00 AM and Noon today in the Members' Room on the first floor of the Library of Congress' Thomas Jefferson Building at 10 First St. S.E. in Washington, D.C. Video and still cameras are permitted. Media should allow 10-15 minutes to clear security at the First Street entrance to the Jefferson Building. Clark Evans, who heads the Reference Services Section of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress, will also be available at that time to answer questions about the Lincoln Bible and the Library. High-resolution photographs of the Bible are also available upon request. RSVP is not required. Please contact the PIC Communications Office with questions.

The Bible was originally purchased by William Thomas Carroll, Clerk of the Supreme Court, for use during Lincoln's swearing-in ceremony on March 4, 1861. The Lincoln family Bible, which is also in the Library of Congress's collection, was unavailable for the ceremony because it was packed away with the First Family's belongings, still en route from Springfield, IL, to their new home at the White House.

The Bible itself is bound in burgundy velvet with a gold-washed white metal rim around the three outside edges of both covers. All its edges are heavily gilded. In the center of the top cover is a shield of gold wash over white metal with the words "Holy Bible" chased into it. The book is 15 cm long, 10 cm wide, and 4.5 cm deep when closed. The 1,280-page Bible was published in 1853 by the Oxford University Press.

Annotated in the back of the volume, along with the Seal of the Supreme Court, is the following: "I, William Thomas Carroll, clerk of the said court do hereby certify that the preceding copy of the Holy Bible is that upon which the Honble. R. B. Taney, Chief Justice of the said Court, administered to His Excellency, Abraham Lincoln, the oath of office as President of the United States ..."

The Lincoln Inaugural Bible will be on display at the Library of Congress February 12th to May 9th, 2009, as part of an exhibition titled "With Malice Toward None: The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Exhibition." The exhibit will then travel to five other American cities. The Library is planning several other events and programming in commemoration of the bicentennial of the birth of the nation's 16th president, who was born on February 12th, 1809.

On March 4, 2009, the 147th anniversary of Lincoln's first inauguration, the Library of Congress will also be convening an all-day symposium with several renowned Lincoln scholars. For more information see the Library of Congress Web site at www.loc.gov .

By David A Nakamura  |  December 23, 2008; 5:00 AM ET  | Category:  Inaugural History , Swearing-in Ceremony
Previous: Live Video: Council Chairman Gray on Inauguration Planning | Next: Obama in 'Chicago-style': Fashionable or Offensive?

Add Inauguration Watch to Your Site
Stay on top of the latest from Inauguration Watch! This easy-to-use widget is simple to add to your own Web site and will update every time there's a new installment of Inauguration Watch.
Get This Widget >>


Barack Obama will never be a great president until he stops supporting the slaughter of innocent babies inside of their mothers' wombs.

Posted by: Phil6 | December 23, 2008 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Isn't it admirable that Obama strives to emulate Lincoln?

"Lincoln belonged just where he was put. If the Union was to be saved, it had to be a man of such an origin that should save it .... this man, in whose heart knowledge and charity had left no room for malice, was marked by Providence as the one to "bind up the Nation's wounds."

Mark Twain - quoted in New York Times, January 13, 1907

Posted by: FromtheRaft | December 23, 2008 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Lincoln would roll over in his grave.

Lincoln HATED blacks and wanted to deport them all back to Africa.

Guess you didn't know that bit of history, did you?

Posted by: Efffyew2 | December 23, 2008 12:42 PM | Report abuse

I am beginning to think this new electe for POTUS may have difficulty with his own personal identification, Lincoln, FDR, who is next for a symbolic identity or is it symbolic?

Maybe it has something to do with his inability to find and display a real birth certificate or let us see his GPA and college thesis from Columbia U., maybe he's getting letters from Kenya. His inscrutible pragmatism may be in actuallity a form of paranoia....OH OH! Another liberal basket case in office.

Posted by: ONTIME | December 23, 2008 1:24 PM | Report abuse

How ignorant can that fraud and foreigner be? Abraham Lincoln was a White Supremacist!

"I will say, then, that I AM NOT NOR HAVE EVER BEEN in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the black and white races---that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with White people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the White and black races which will ever FORBID the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together, there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the White race."
- Abraham Lincoln


Posted by: davidbenariel | December 23, 2008 1:43 PM | Report abuse

May all of the racists, fascists, neocons, hicks, great unwashed, and Palin ring-kissers who still believe that The President-Elect is a Muslim leave the planet now and don't let the space shuttle door hit you on the behind on the way out.

Posted by: bs2004 | December 23, 2008 2:16 PM | Report abuse

"Lincoln would roll over in his grave.
Lincoln HATED blacks and wanted to deport them all back to Africa.
Guess you didn't know that bit of history, did you?"
LIncoln's greatness was not in his perfection or his purity of spirit -- it was that he did what needed to be done to save the nation, even if that meant doing things he found personally distasteful. In that, he is a powerful precursor to Barack Obama, who will be called on to lead this nation through what promise to be times of extraordinary difficulty, and who is calling on all of us to make the sacrifices necessary to help our nation and our world survive and thrive. For the first time in a while, I am confident that we will have a president who will do what he needs to do, even if that means not doing what he wants to do.

Posted by: JMB20005 | December 23, 2008 9:15 PM | Report abuse

Awesome display as usual from our whack job friends on the Christian extremist wing of the late great Republican party. One reason Obama won this election is folks like you who frighten and disgust normal Americans, so thanks for your help! Lunatic Christians are no better than lunatic Muslims, so I pray God will change your minds and hearts in the new year.

I saw a video of a librarian handling this fragile old Bible carefully, with gloved hands. I wondered how this will be managed on Inauguration Day. I feel sure Mr. Lincoln would be proud to witness this moment, great leader that he was, and so far the only sour note is is the inclusion of Rick Warren in the program. Don't forget, you who pretend to follow Jesus but clearly do not understand His central message of love, hope and redemption, that Obama is reaching out to you and will be President of all the People, even those of you who hate and fear him.

Posted by: greyparrot | December 24, 2008 10:28 AM | Report abuse

I suggest that the President of the United States take the oath of office by swearing on the Constitution. The reasons are threefold:

The first is legal. The President presides over all Americans, not just those belonging to religions that consider the Bible a sacred text. As far as I know, no other major democracy uses a religious text to swear-in its chief executive, a procedure more fit for a theocracy than a modern democracy founded on the principles of the Enlightenment.

Second: The President swears to uphold the Constitution of the United States; therefore it makes sense to swear on the Constitution itself.

Third: The Bible explicitly accepts and sanctions slavery. There are several examples of this and one need go further than the wording of one of the Ten Commandments, which in the original wording reads: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Thus the Bible explicitly considers slaves “property” (along with houses, wives, oxen and donkeys).

This biblical sanction was the main ideological justification the Confederacy used to justify slavery and was preached in southern Churches as well as state legislatures throughout the confederacy in justifying secession from the union.

The vast majority of historians agree that the fight over slavery (specifically on whether new states to be added to the union were to be “free-soil” or “slave” states) is the issue that caused the Civil War, as both North and South assumed that if slavery could not expand it would wither and die.

The civil war accounted for more American casualties than all other U.S. wars combined, more Americans died in one hour during its bloodiest battle than have died so far during the entire Iraq war.

How ironic that the first African-American President be sworn-in on the very text that provided the ideological justification for slavery, and led to the greatest tragedy in American history.

For these reasons I suggest that the Constitution should substitute the Bible in the swearing-in ceremony of the President of the United States.

Posted by: italianinwashingtondc | December 27, 2008 2:48 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company