by Robert Morrison
October 31, 2013
I’m actually complimented when liberals criticize my writing. They called a column I did about Carl Sagan’s golden stele headed into interplanetary space “the stupidest column in the world.” Gosh, since I wrote about Pioneer 10 bearing that indelible evidence of the human race as male and female, couldn’t they at least have called my column the stupidest in the universe?
But of late, they got really got me scratching my head. George Washington didn’t say “So help me God” when he took the oath as our first President, they claim. Really?
I took my wife and little children to Lower Manhattan on April 30, 1989 for the re-enactment of Washington’s First Inaugural. I distinctly recall those words were repeated for that official bicentennial ceremony. (And no, my young friends, I wasn’t there for the events of 1789.)
Atheizers are claiming Washington never said it. Atheizers are folks who, whether they believe in God or not, are determined to eradicate every reference to the Almighty in our public life.
If I am wrong about Washington’s invoking God as he took the oath, as the atheizers maintain, then I have a lot of company in my error. Here are just some of the many sources I’ve consulted over the years.
Chief Justice John Marshall was a contemporary of George Washington. His multi-volume biography, Life of Washington, Vol. IV, contains a plate showing Washington’s oath-taking. His hand is on the open Bible. And this inscription accompanies it.
On one side stood Chancellor Livingston, who administered the oath. On the other side was Vice-President John Adams Washington solemnly repeated the words of the oath, clearly enunciating, “I swear”: adding in a whisper, with closed eyes, “So help me God.”
Reverently, with closed eyes, in a whisper. Maybe that’s why the atheizers missed it.
Below are other scholarly sources that span a period of 124 years. It seems we have always known the truth and only recently have forgotten it. Or, are the atheizers simply trying to sandblast the records?
1. Henry Cabot Lodge, George Washington, Vol. I, p. 46 (1889)
Then Chancellor Livingston administered the oath. Washington laid his hand upon the Bible, bowed, and said solemnly when the oath was concluded, “I swear, so help me God,” and, bending reverently, kissed the book.
2. Douglas Southall Freeman, George Washington, Vol. Six, p. 193. (1954)
“I solemnly swear. So help me God.” He bent forward as he spoke and, before Otis could lift the Bible to his lips, he kissed the book.
3. Benson Bobrick, Angel in the Whirlwind: The Triumph of the American Revolution, p. 491. (1997)
Washington said, “I swear,” and, lifting the open Bible which lay on a crimson cushion before him, exclaimed in a firm voice, “So help me God!.” The Chancellor, turning to the people, said “It is done!” and, in a loud voice, “Long live George Washington, President of the United States !”
4. David McCullough, John Adams, 2001, p. 403. (2001)
Then, as not specified in the Constitution, [Washington] added, “So help me God,” and kissed the Bible, thereby establishing his own presidential tradition.
5. William J. Bennett, America : The Last Best Hope, Vol. 1., p. 135 (2006)
Dressed in a homespun American-made brown suite with eagles on the buttons, he placed his hand on the Bible and recited the [presidential] oath, adding, significantly, four words repeated by every president since as a matter of tradition if not sincere belief: “So help me God.” Then he kissed the Bible.
I hasten to add that not all liberals have joined the atheizers. Tom Hanks is a popular Hollywood liberal in good standing, a backer of Presidents Clinton and Obama. But I take my hat off to Tom Hanks for the series he produced on John Adams. The HBO series on John Adams did a wonderful job with the Inauguration of George Washington.
I have to laugh at Honest John Adams’ awkwardness. And when he first visited New York City, my hometown, he wrote to Abigail that “they talk very loud, very fast, and all at once.” Do you think that’s why some of them missed George Washington saying “So Help Me God?”
But they couldn’t have missed what our First President did next. He kissed the Bible. Don’t tell the atheizers.