THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
Today, Wednesday January 20, 2021, at midday EST, 78-year-old Joseph Robinette Biden Jnr will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States.
He will take the 35-word oath of office while raising his right hand and almost certainly placing his left hand on a Bible. The constitution doesn't require the use of a religious text but nearly all previous presidents have chosen to use a Bible.
The choice is varied. Often, it's a family Bible or one used by a former president, sometimes both. Some have taken their oath with the Bible closed, some with it open to a specific passage that has meaning to them. A few haven't used one at all: John Quincy Adams used a law book as did Theodore Roosevelt in a rushed inauguration following the death of William McKinley. A Bible could not be found on board Air Force One when Lyndon B Johnson was sworn in after the assassination of JFK. Instead, a Catholic missal, found in Kennedy's bedroom on the plane, was used instead.
The tradition goes back to the first president. George Washington used a Bible borrowed from the St John's Lodge No 1, the oldest Masonic Lodge in New York. It was randomly opened in haste and, after taking the oath, Washington kissed the Bible. Many of his successors have chosen this copy of the scriptures. Unfortunately, due to its fragile nature and the threat of rain, George W Bush opted for a family Bible instead at his inauguration in 2001.
The Lincoln Bible, used at the 16th president's first swearing-in in 1861, was used by both Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
So, which will Joe Biden use? At both of his vice- presidential inaugurations, in 2009 and 2013, he used a Bible that has been in his family since 1893. It is five inches thick with a Celtic cross on the cover. Biden's son Beau, who passed away in 2015, also used the Bible for his own swearing-in ceremony as attorney general of Delaware and helped carry the Bible to his father's 2013 ceremony. Biden will become the nation's second Catholic president, after John F Kennedy.
Kamala Harris will be sworn in as vice president using two Bibles, one owned by Regina Shelton, described as 'an enduring presence' in her life, and the other owned by the late civil rights leader and Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall.
Ms Harris, the first woman of colour to serve as vice president, will be sworn in by Sonia Sotomayor, the first woman of colour nominated to the Supreme Court.