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Inauguration Day Bibles: how presidents choose, and what that reveals (+ video)

President Obama will have two highly symbolic Bibles at his Inauguration Day swearing-in ceremony: one used by Abraham Lincoln and another from the family of Martin Luther King Jr.

President Obama takes oath of Office
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In no aspect of his second inauguration is President Obama more explicitly historic, even iconic, than in his choice of Bibles: the Lincoln Bible and – to rest underneath it, as the president takes his oath of office – the "traveling" Bible of Martin Luther King Jr.

It’s hard for the second inauguration of America’s first black president to approach the gravitas of the first. But to invoke, in a simple choice of books, the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (Jan. 1, 1863) and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington (Aug. 28, 1963), at an inauguration that happens to fall on Martin Luther King Day, comes close.

In fact, there's no requirement that a Bible or any other book be used for the oath of office, as provided in Article II of the Constitution. John Quincy Adams (1825) chose a US law book. Theodore Roosevelt, in his first inauguration (1902), used none at all.

Most US presidents have opted to swear the oath on a Bible – many choosing an open Bible and noting, for the record, the verse(s) on the page to mark the occasion. It’s a moment that can offer a rare glimpse into the spiritual lives of US presidents or, at least, into how they want their spiritual lives or place in history to be understood.


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