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Obama Follows Lincoln by the Book

A drawing of Abraham Lincoln taking the oath of office at his second inauguration in 1865, with Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase administering the oath. (AP)

Update: The Presidentail Inaugural Committee announced this morning that Barack Obama will use the bible from the 1861 inaugural ceremony. Details below.*

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.

* Update: According to the Inaugural Committee, Obama will be the first president to use the Lincoln Bible since 1861. It was originally purchased by William Thomas Carroll, Clerk of the Supreme Court, to use at the swearing-in since Lincoln's personal family bible wasn't available.

Sounds pretty grand: The bible, published in 1853 by Oxford University Press, is bound in burgundy velvet with a gilt edges and a shield of gilt with the words "Holy Bible" on the cover. In the back, Carroll added the Seal of the Supreme Court, and wrote,"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."

By The Reliable Source  |  December 23, 2008; 1:03 AM ET
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