For the sixth time in history, a pre-revolutionary Bible owned by the
Masonic order was to be used for the swearing in of a U.S. president.
George W. Bush had intended to take the oath of office as the
nation's 43rd president on the historic Masonic bible. George Washington
was the first, in 1789. The last was George H.W. Bush, who used the
Bible in 1989.
On Friday, 19 January 2001, three officials of the Manhattan-based
St. John's Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons boarded an Amtrak liner for
Washington, D.C., carrying the nine-pound, 234-year-old King James Bible
in a special container. At Union Station, they were met by inaugural
committee officials and escorted to the inaugural site. They were
literally waiting in the wings in a room adjacent to the inauguration
platform when, at the 12th hour, a decision was made (attributed to the
Vice President, but not confirmed) not to jeopardize the Bible because
of the rain then pelting the area.
Bound in London in 1767, the Bible was brought to the colonies and
given by Jonathan Hampton to the St. John's Lodge in lower Manhattan
three years later when he became its grand master.
Just before Washington was to take his oath of office on the steps of
Federal Hall in New York City on April 30, 1789, it was discovered that
there was no Bible on hand. The then-New York Gov. Robert Livingston, a
Masonic grand master, borrowed the lodge's bible from St. John's Masonic
Lodge, which had meeting rooms just a short distance away. A statue of
Washington marks the site in front of the present-day Federal Hall on
No printer in the colonies produced Bibles at the time, and the
London import, bound in maroon Moroccan leather with silver hasps, was
''probably close to a year's wages for the average fellow.'' Despite its
age and history, the lodge today puts no monetary value on the book. ''I
guess the word is priceless,'' a representative said.
Other presidents who have placed their left hand on the Masonic Bible
were Warren G. Harding in 1921, Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953, and Jimmy
Carter in 1977. Among the six, only Washington and Harding were Masons.
Harry Truman, probably the most active Mason among the nation's chief
executives, did not use it, nor did several other Masons who served as
In 1867, President Andrew Johnson, attending the dedication of a new
Masonic temple in Boston, asked that the George Washington inaugural
Bible be brought to his hotel room, and was seen by aides ''to weep as
he held it in his hands".
In addition to its role in presidential oath-taking, the Bible was used
at Washington's funeral in December, 1799, the dedication of the
Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. in 1885, the re-laying of the
U.S. Capitol's cornerstone in 1959, and the christening of the aircraft
carrier USS George Washington at Norfolk, Va., in 1992.
It was on display at the New York world's fair in 1964-65 and at the
White House for 30 days after the elder Bush's inaugural.
Between travels, it is maintained by the National Parks Service in a
protective display case at Federal Hall, open to Genesis 49, 50, the
pages on which Washington rested his hand to be sworn in.