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.”