Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaugural History

As we get ready for today's inauguration ceremonies, one has to wonder what the unique tone of this one will be. Certainly a celebration of our first black President. Certainly a celebration of our way of peacefully passing power with each new President. And there will be a prayer or two, which is likely to be where at least some of the discussion will center. The original words our Constitution specified for swearing in our President did not include the ending, "so help me God." That was added by President Washington and has been used by every President since then. I am sure it will be used today as well.

I'm writing this post before the real activities start, so I do not know what exactly will transpire. But here is a look at some pieces of history.

According to House Resolution 888:

Whereas America's first Presidential Inauguration incorporated 7 specific religious activities, including--

(1) the use of the Bible to administer the oath;
(2) affirming the religious nature of the oath by the adding the prayer `So help me God!' to the oath;
(3) inaugural prayers offered by the President;
(4) religious content in the inaugural address;
(5) civil leaders calling the people to prayer or acknowledgement of God;
(6) inaugural worship services attended en masse by Congress as an official part of congressional activities; and
(7) clergy-led inaugural prayers, activities which have been replicated in whole or part by every subsequent President;

Of course this all began with George Washington. Some suggested he should be King of this country, but he knew that was not to be our course. In President Washington's Inaugural (1789):

"…it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official Act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the Universe, who presides in the Councils of Nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the People of the United States, a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes: and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success, the functions allotted to his charge."
"No people can be found to acknowledge and adore the invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States... We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a Nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right Heaven itself ordained."

Then in 1853 were the words of President Franklin Pierce:

"It must be felt that there is no national security but in the nation's humble, acknowledged dependence upon God and His overruling providence."

Today I am sure we will hear a bit about Abraham Lincoln. In President Lincoln's Second Inaugural:

"The Almighty has His own purposes. 'Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.' If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether'. With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan - to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."

Then is the man for whom my elementary school was named, President Rutherford B. Hayes (1877 Inaugural):

[Hayes acknowledged that he was] "... Looking for the guidance of that Divine Hand by which the destinies of nations and individuals are shaped."

I am using quotes from both Inaugural addresses by President Grover Cleveland:

(1885): "And let us not trust to human effort alone, but humbly acknowledging the power and goodness of Almighty God, who presides over the destiny of nations, and who has at all times been revealed in our country's history, let us invoke His aid and His blessings upon our labors."

(1893): "Above all, I know there is a Supreme Being who rules the affairs of men and whose goodness and mercy have always followed the American people, and I know He will not turn from us now if we humbly and reverently seek His powerful aid."

Then President Harry Truman's Inaugural (1949):

"We believe that all men are created equal, because they are created in the image of God."

Then from January 20, 1961, are these words from the Inaugural Address of President John F. Kennedy:

"For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago."
"...the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe -- the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God."
"With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own."

I suppose we will see the elder President Bush at the ceremonies today. In his own 1989 address President George H.W. Bush said:

"Heavenly Father, we bow our heads and thank You for Your love. Accept our thanks for the peace that yields this day and the shared faith that makes its continuance likely. Make us strong to do Your work, willing to heed and hear Your will, and write on our hearts these words: "Use power to help people." For we are given power not to advance our own purposes, nor to make a great show in the world, nor a name. There is but one just use of power, and it is to serve people. Help us to remember it, Lord. Amen."

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