President's Inauguration And The Bible: An Unconstitutional Convention

Donald Trump will use two closed Bibles to swear the oath of office at his inauguration on Friday.

In doing so he will continue a convention established by the first US President, George Washington, but one that is not constitutionally required. 

Trump's choice includes his own family Bible presented to him by his mother in 1955 and Abraham Lincoln's Bible which President Obama also used for his swearing in.

The Museum of the Bible

In a series of films ahead of the Donald Trump's inauguration the Museum of the Bible looks at previous Presidents and their choice for the ceremony.

"Washington was very aware that he was setting a precedent with everything he did," said Allison Brown, editor for the Museum of the Bible, referring to his choice to swear on the Bible. 

And the precedent was set with Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, famously opening his Bible to Matthew 7.1 and 18.7 for his second inauguration, going on to mention both verses in his address.

Dwight Eisenhower took his oath of office with his handing resting on the Psalms - a move followed by nine other US Presidents.

The first film produced by the Museum of the Bible looks at Obama's second inauguration in 2013, where he used three Bibles in total to swear in. The first was Michelle Obama's Bible and was used in a private ceremony because 20 January fell on a Sunday. In the public ceremony the next day Obama used Abraham Lincoln's Bible from 1860 and also a "travelling" Bible owned by Martin Luther King.

The next in the series looked at Harry Truman who became President in 1945 after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. His first swearing in was in private but at his second in 1949, Truman's hands rested on two Bibles.

Unlike Obama and Trump, Roosevelt opened both to specific passages. One was used at his first swearing in ceremony and was open to the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 and the other was a copy of the Gutenberg Bible – the first major book published using mass-produced print technology in the fifteenth century. This was opened to the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20.

At Lyndon Johnson's swearing in in 1965, his wife held a Bible given to him by his mother. He went on to quote 2 Chronicles 1.10 in his speech: "Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may go and come in before this people, for who can judge this thy people, that is so great?"