It’s likely that Vice President-elect Joe Biden will put his hand on a Bible with personal value when he takes the oath of office later this month.
Given that Biden is a devout Roman Catholic and routinely invokes God and religion in his talks, it is not shocking that he would utilise a Bible at the ceremony. And it’s certainly not necessary. Biden alone will decide whether or not to reference the Bible (or any other religious text) at the Inauguration.
These days, Inauguration Day festivities might last all day long. Festivities on this day often include a parade, speeches, a ball, and a feast. Despite the fact that many Americans have learned to associate these practises with significant meaning, they are, at best, cultural norms (though some of them may be modified this year owing to the coronavirus outbreak).
Nothing about the Inauguration Day event or its format is specified in the Constitution. Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution details the President’s Oath of Office, which reads as follows: “Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: –
‘I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.'”
It is not required that the president place his hand on a Bible or any other text, contrary to popular belief, and several presidents have opted to add the phrase “So help me, God” to the end of the oath.
Where did all of this start?
Scholars generally attribute both the modified oath and the use of Scripture in the inaugural address to George Washington’s inauguration. However, the events of 1789 are more ambiguous than popular belief would have you believe.
A sufficient number of eyewitnesses attest to the fact that Washington did, in fact, take his oath while holding a Bible. The legend goes that Washington had made it all the way to Federal Hall in the then-capital of the United States in New York City when someone noticed he hadn’t brought a Bible to swear on. Attendee and Mason Jacob Morton hurried to the adjacent St. John’s Lodge to borrow the Lodge’s Bible, which he then returned once the swearing-in ceremony was over.
Although the narrative is endearing, it raises an intriguing question: why did Washington (or his advisors) decide that he needed to swear on a Bible since the Constitution makes no such requirement? Whether or whether swearing on Bibles was common at the time is a mystery, but we do know that Washington started a tradition that has been upheld by the vast majority of presidents (though not all) ever since.
Claims that Washington inserted “So help me, God” to the Oath of Office are significantly less well-founded. No one saw it happen, the narrative didn’t emerge until the 1850s, and the publications that first reported it aren’t credible.
Our first president was recognised for his unwavering devotion to constitutional ideas, so it’s unlikely that he would have believed he could change the oath, according to several Washington experts.