Has Every U.S. President Been Sworn in with a Bible?

While it's a well-known fact that many U.S. presidents earned law degrees on their way to the White House, it could be argued that John Quincy Adams was the most legally minded: the nation's sixth president chose to place his hand on a volume of law rather than a Bible for his inauguration. It was a rainy, cool March 4, 1825, in Washington, D.C., and Adams showed up in trousers and no powdered wig -- which should have been a hint that things would not be going in the usual manner. Previous presidents had donned knee breeches and the traditional wig for taking the oath of office, and only Thomas Jefferson had been sworn in without a Bible. Since Adams was known to be a rather unusual leader, his actions might not have been all that unexpected. And truth be told, although placing a left hand on the Bible has become the prevailing custom, there's no constitutional requirement for a new president to be sworn in with a Bible or any other book. Franklin Pierce and Theodore Roosevelt would later follow suit, skipping the Bible for their inaugurations.

All about America's sixth president:

  • Adams lost both the electoral and popular votes to Andrew Jackson, but no candidate had a majority in the Electoral College. Adams eventually won the contingent election in the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • For a few months after moving into the White House, Adams kept a pet alligator -- given to him by the Marquis de Lafayette -- in a bathtub.
  • Adams is the only former president to become a U.S. representative after leaving office.

Frequently Asked Questions

Has every U.S. president been sworn in with a Bible?

No, not every U.S. president has used a Bible for their swearing-in ceremony. While the use of a Bible is a common tradition, it is not a constitutional requirement. For instance, John Quincy Adams and Franklin Pierce swore on a book of law, reflecting their commitment to the Constitution. Theodore Roosevelt did not use any book during his first inauguration. More recently, Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in on a Catholic missal aboard Air Force One.

Can a U.S. president choose a different book for their swearing-in ceremony?

Yes, U.S. presidents have the freedom to choose a different book or no book at all for their swearing-in ceremony. The Constitution does not mandate the use of a Bible or any other specific text. This choice is a personal or symbolic one, reflecting the individual's beliefs or values. For example, John Quincy Adams used a book of law in 1825 to emphasize his adherence to the Constitution.

What is the significance of using a Bible for the presidential oath of office?

The use of a Bible for the presidential oath of office is steeped in tradition and symbolizes the president's commitment to uphold the laws of the nation with honesty and faithfulness. It also reflects the historical influence of religion in American public life. However, the choice of a Bible or another text is symbolic and not legally binding or required by the Constitution.

Have any U.S. presidents used a specific or historic Bible for their inauguration?

Yes, several U.S. presidents have used specific or historic Bibles for their inaugurations. George Washington used a Masonic Bible at his first inauguration in 1789. Barack Obama used the Lincoln Bible and Martin Luther King Jr.'s traveling Bible for his second inauguration in 2013. Donald Trump used the Lincoln Bible along with his own family Bible in 2017. These choices often carry personal significance or aim to honor past leaders.

Is there a record of which book or text each U.S. president has used for their swearing-in ceremony?

There is a historical record of the books or texts used by each U.S. president for their swearing-in ceremonies, though it may not be complete for all presidents, especially in the early years of the republic. The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies provides information on the Bibles and other texts used in past inaugurations, reflecting the personal choices of each president.

More Info: New England Historical Society

Discussion Comments

anon1002405

I thought it was a rule about the Bible, especially back in those days. Learn something new everyday.

anon1002306

Thank you. This is very informative.

I have another question: Please explain the difference between a US Citizen, Natural-Born Citizen and

Naturalized Citizen, and any others? This as it pertains to eligibility for President of the United States.

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