President-Elect Barack Obama has been doing his best to “channel” Abraham Lincoln ever since he kicked off his campaign for the presidency. He began his campaign in Springfield, Illinois at the steps of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln served for eight years in the Illinois Legislature. He’s referred to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team Of Rivals” countless times both during and after the campaign. The President-Elect will partially re-trace the route taken by Lincoln to the nation’s capital, departing from Philadelphia on a train. A welcoming ceremony will be held at the Lincoln Memorial on January 18. Just announced this morning is yet another move by Obama to honor the memory of his political hero, Abraham Lincoln.
According to the Presidential Inaugural Committee website, Mr. Obama will be sworn in as the nation’s 44th president while he places his hand on the Bible used by Abraham Lincoln on March 4, 1861 during Lincoln’s first inauguration. This will mark the first time that this particular Bible will be used at a presidential swearing-in since Lincoln himself used it. The Lincoln Bible is in the permanent collection of the Library of Congress, which was under no obligation to let it be used by Obama.
According to the site, Obama is “is deeply honored that the Library of Congress has made the Lincoln Bible available for use during his swearing-in. The President-elect is committed to holding an inauguration that celebrates the unity of America, and the use of this historic Bible will provide a powerful connection to our common past and common heritage.”
This particular Bible was purchased specifically for Lincoln’s inaugural by the clerk of the U.S. Supreme Court. Lincoln actually wanted to use his family Bible, but it was still en route to Washington and would not have arrived in time. The image I show here is the Bible Lincoln used at his inauguration.
Presidents are under no Constitutional requirement to use a Bible during the swearing-in ceremony. Theodore Roosevelt chose to not use one, the only president to date to have done so. Some presidents choose to use family Bibles, others have chosen to use the one used by George Washington.
The Lincoln Bible will be featured in an exhibition titled “With Malice Toward None: The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Exhibition” from February 12, 2009 until May 9, 2009 at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.. Some of the other items to be featured will include Lincoln’s grammar book, notes he took in preparation for the debates with ‘Stephen Douglas, and a scrapbook which Lincoln kept.
I admit that Obama’s continued references to Lincoln can sometimes be a little over-the-top. But I think this simple act of using the Lincoln Bible is both justified and meaningful.