Washington's Bible, Lincoln's Hair: Top Symbolic Inauguration Moments

President Barack Obama used Abraham Lincoln’s and Martin Luther King Jr.’s Bibles at his swearing in ceremony in 2013, two presidents used a chair George Washington sat in at his inaugural and George W. Bush wore his father's cufflinks at the ceremony.

Donald Trump will use his Bible, as well as same Lincoln Bible Obama used, when he is sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts as the 45th president of the United States, the Presidential Inaugural Committee announced Tuesday.  

“In his first inaugural address, President Lincoln appealed to the ‘better angels of our nature,’” said PIC Chairman Tom Barrack. “As he takes the same oath of office 156 years later, President-elect Trump is humbled to place his hand on Bibles that hold special meaning both to his family and to our country.”

Trump received his Bible from his mother upon his graduation from Sunday Church Primary School at First Presbyterian Church in New York on June 12, 1955, the committee said in a statement. The front cover is embossed with his name and the inside cover is signed by church officials and is inscribed with Trump's name and the details of when it was presented, the statement said.

The Lincoln Bible, part of the collections of the Library of Congress, "was purchased for the first inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln by William Thomas Carroll, Clerk of the Supreme Court," the committee said in a statement. "The Bible is bound in burgundy velvet with a gold-washed white metal rim along the edges of the covers." 

The Presidential Inaugural Committee's director said on Jan. 11, before details about about the Bibles Trump will be using were released, that the 58th presidential inauguration on Jan. 20. will be “full of symbols.” 

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Boris Epshteyn said the parade will be shorter than in years prior because Trump wants to get to work as soon as possible. Trump plans to attend three balls, in contrast with Obama who went to 10 balls in 2009 and former President George W. Bush who attended eight balls to celebrate his first inauguration. Epshteyn said a shorter parade and a smaller numbers of balls — one of the three will salute the armed forces and first responders — symbolize Trump’s commitment to the American people and “getting to work” right away.

“The President-elect is representative of the people, Epshteyn said. "This inaugural is all about the people and the armed forces ball will be saluting the first responders so the EMTs, the firemen, the police, who help save lives in this country every single day. So that’s symbolic about thinking and honoring those responders across the country.”

He later added, “This inaugural is of the people by the people and for the people.”

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Jim Bendat, one of the nation's leading experts on presidential inauguration history and author of “Democracy's Big Day: The Inauguration of Our President, 1789-2013” said including objects of historical importance in the inauguration is symbolic of how our country has evolved but also illustrates what traditions we want to continue. 

Take a look at examples of symbolism from past inaugurations:

1: George Washington’s Bible: The Bible used by the nation’s first president during his oath in 1789 has been kept at the archives of the St. John’s Masonic Lodge in New York City. That Bible is still on display and four other presidents have used it during their swearing in: Warren Harding in 1921, Dwight Eisenhower in 1953, Jimmy Carter in 1977 and George H. W. Bush in 1989. George W. Bush also wanted to use that Bible in 2001, and it was brought in from New York to D.C. the day before the ceremony. But the inauguration day was cold and rainy and the St. John’s members who transported the Bible from New York would not allow for it to be brought outside in those weather conditions. So George W. Bush used a family Bible, instead. “It’s a link to the past," Bendat said of the president's use of a Bible.

2. Washington's Chair: George Washington sat in a particular chair during the 1789 inauguration and that exact chair was preserved and then used in later inaugurations. Ulysses S. Grant used it in 1873 and James Garfield sat in it, too, at the 1881 ceremony.

President Garfield's Inaugural Ball
White House Historical Association
This is an engraving of President James Garfield's inaugural ball held on March 4, 1881 for the first time in a Smithsonian building. Garfield and his wife, First Lady Lucretia Garfield, are seen in the foreground greeting guests. The columns are decorated with shields framed by flags. On the back wall are the initials of Garfield and Vice President Chester Arthur, and to the very back is a statue entitled "The Statue of the American" with electric torch.

3. Bible Not Required: There’s no requirement that a Bible be used during a presidential swearing in. John Quincy Adams, who was a lawyer, placed his hand upon a book of constitutional law when he took the oath in 1825. There were also some sudden inaugurations after the death of a president where no Bible or other book was used. Chester Arthur was sworn in 1881 in his own home following the death of James Garfield and there was no Bible at the house. When Theodore Roosevelt became president after William McKinley’s assassination in 1901, the oath was administered at a friend’s home where no Bible could be found. After Warren Harding died in 1923, Calvin Coolidge was sworn in without placing his hand on a Bible, though a Bible was on the table in his father’s home where the ceremony took place.

Theodore Roosevelt
White House Historical Association
This undated photograph shows President Theodore Roosevelt giving a speech with the American flag flying behind him.

 4. Lincoln’s Hair: In 1905, Teddy Roosevelt was sworn in as president and close to him was a lock of Abraham Lincoln’s hair. John Hay, Roosevelt’s secretary of state who worked under Lincoln 40 years earlier, sent him a locket that contained the former president’s hair. Roosevelt had been a great admirer of Lincoln and was so inspired by Hay’s gesture that he took the locket with him to the ceremony.

Andrew Jackson
White House Historical Association
This portrait of Andrew Jackson, painted circa 1840, is attributed to American painter Miner Kilbourne Kellogg. The portrait shows Jackson after his presidency toward the end of his life. Jackson was president from March 4, 1829 until March 4, 1837.

5. Open White House: Andrew Jackson, considered the first real Washington outsider to become president in 1829, took the term "open house" seriously on inauguration day. He invited the public to the White House and his supporters strolled in wearing muddy boots. They ruined the carpets, tore down the curtains and trashed the residence. The story goes that someone put a tub of whiskey out onto the White House lawn and the drunken party slowly left the White House. Opening up the White House was a pretty common occurrence in the 19th century, Bendat said. On Abraham Lincoln's inauguration on March 4, 1865, it was estimated the president shook hands with about 6,000 people in just 3 hours. Among them was Frederick Douglass, who told Lincoln that his speech, trying to bring the country together at the end of the Civil War, was "a sacred effort." According to Bendat, "That was the first time in U.S. history that the president had greeted and sought the opinion of a free, black man inside the White House."

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