George Washington

The George Washington Inaugural Bible will be on display at the LBJ Presidential Library on Monday, opened to the same pages — Genesis chapters 49 and 50 —  Washington placed his hand on as he took the oath of office.

At the time of his inauguration, Washington borrowed the Bible from St. John’s Lodge No. 1,  of the Ancient York Masons, which has owned the Bible since 1770. Since then, it has been used at the presidential inaugurations of Warren G. Harding, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush. When it is not on tour or in use by St. John’s Lodge No. 1, the Bible is normally displayed at Federal Hall National Memorial on Wall Street in New York City, the site of Washington’s inauguration ceremony.

The Bible, an ornate King James Version printed in London in 1767, will be in Waco for the installation of a new Masonic Grand Master of Texas. After the ceremony, it will be displayed at the State Capitol and lastly at the LBJ Library. At all times, three Masonic brethren will accompany the Bible to protect it.

Michael MacDonald, LBJ Library museum registrar, said the exhibit is an opportunity for University students to experience American history.

“It’s pretty much the beginnings of American democracy,” MacDonald said. “The same words repeated by Washington are the same words repeated by Barack Obama. It established the inauguration ceremony that has been part of our government for three centuries.”

According to Henry Brands, history professor and American presidents expert, although nothing in the Constitution specifies using a Bible while taking the oath of office, Washington’s use of this Bible set the precedent for many inauguration ceremonies thereafter.

“It is interesting because George Washington himself was not especially religious,” Brands said. “He believed in a god but not necessary Christ. But he knew most Americans were believing Christians, and knew that this would be important to them.”

George Filippidis, mason and chairman of the George Washington Inaugural Bible Committee, said when the Bible is not on display, it can only be used for swearing in an incoming lodge master, the U.S. president or the governor or mayor of New York.

“It is one of the biggest things we look at aside from the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution,” Filippidis said. “It is right behind those two in terms of national artifacts.”

Photo Credit: Briscoe Center for American History | Daily Texan Staff

While legends quote founding father George Washington as saying “I cannot tell a lie,” the University of Texas has obtained a historical artifact that shows Washington might not have been as truthful as originally thought.

UT’s Briscoe Center for American History recently acquired a 1769 letter sent by Washington to John Armstrong, then a justice of the peace who later served as a general during the American Revolution. In the letter, Washington condemns the killing of three Mingo tribesmen by colonists, while at the same time suggesting that the event be covered up or spun in a more positive light. Scholars have known about the letter for a while now, but the University announced last week it is now in possession of it.

History professor H.W. Brands said the letter is significant because it sheds light on Washington’s opinions regarding Native American-colonial relations.

“His views were not unusual; they were shared by Benjamin Franklin, among others,” Brands said. “Both men, and many others, wished the Indians to be treated fairly and were distressed when Indians were abused, as the three Mingos described in this letter were.”

In the letter, Washington expressed he believed the colonists responsible for the unprovoked killing on the south bank of the Potomac River should be punished for their crime. At the same time, he said he did not wish the truth of the crime to be widely known.

“It is lucky however that there were no more than three in as much as none escaped to carry the Intelligence,” Washington wrote. “And we, in consequence, may represent it in as favourable a light, as the thing will admit of, having the knowledge of it confined to our selves.”

Brands said this was an effort to avoid further conflict.

“Washington didn’t want the news to get out because he didn’t want a broad war with the Indians,” Brands said. “He regretted the murder, but he didn’t want the situation to get worse. This wasn’t peculiar to Washington, it was simply common sense.”

The letter was donated to the Briscoe Center by the Kidd family, who originally acquired it during the 1970s. Barron U. Kidd graduated from UT’s Plan II Honors Program in 1958, and said the letter is a way to express his appreciation to the University.

“I look forward to the fact that students, faculty and everyone may view the letter and see what Washington’s writing looked like, how he phrased sentences and how our language has evolved over time,” Kidd said in a statement.

Separation of powers showdown

Yesterday, President Obama granted Attorney General Eric Holder executive privilege to withhold documents requested by the House committee investigating the administration’s involvement in the failed ATF gun smuggling sting, Operation Fast and Furious.

The executive privilege, Obama’s first use of the power, ignited a “political firefight” on Capitol Hill and resulted in the House Committee voting to hold Holder in contempt of Congress.

Punches were thrown, and Holder claimed the vote was politically motivated.

"It's an election-year tactic intended to distract attention — and, as a result — has deflected critical resources from fulfilling what remains my top priority at the Department of Justice: Protecting the American people."

Speaker of the House John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor defended the committee’s contempt vote and released a statement saying, “Fast and Furious was a reckless operation that led to the death of an American border agent, and the American people deserve to know the facts to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.”

Presidential use of executive privilege dates back to George Washington when he denied the House’s request for information relating to the Jay Treaty between the U.S. and Great Britain.

More recently, Bill Clinton used executive privilege 14 times, most notably in an attempt to withhold his aides from testifying in court during his impeachment in 1998.

George W. Bush used the power six times, once to withhold the details of Vice President Dick Cheney’s meetings with energy executives, and several times to block congressional subpoenas of his Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers and political aide Karl Rove.

While voting to hold an official in contempt can potentially lead to jail time, politicians usually avoid carrying out the entire procedure because it could lead to a court battle that redefines the limits of executive privilege.

Nancy Pelosi chastised House republicans Wednesday and claimed they misused the contempt vote.

“It doesn't serve our country, and it undermines the true purpose of contempt of Congress," Pelosi said. "That's why I didn't arrest Karl Rove when I had the chance."

Things seem to be calming down now, with the Associated Press reporting a compromise between both parties is in the works.