Wednesday, November 4, 2009

President Chester A. Arthur and the Bible

I have written a series of posts on Presidential inaugurations and the religious words spoken there. I have also mentioned how the Holy Bible was used at all but one of those ceremonies. These efforts are to help correct the mis-impression that the Bible and religious faith had only a small role in our nation's history.

Not all Presidents assumed office via the pomp and circumstance of an inauguration. Chester Arthur, for example, was sworn in during the wee small hours of the morning after the death of President Garfield. However, he used the Holy Bible for his swearing in, and upon completion he said the (optional) words "So help me God" and then kissed the Bible.

Here is the paragraph describing the swearing in:

The Vice President's immediate decision to take the oath of office once he had returned to Washington was dispelled upon receiving a dispatch from the cabinet (gathered near Garfield's cottage at the seaside resort of Elberon, New Jersey), which urged him to take the oath without delay. In the dark of night, District Attorney Rollins and Root searched for Judge John R. Brady of the New York Supreme Court, while Commissioner French hurried from Arthur's home in the opposite direction to locate Judge Charles Donohue, also of the New York Supreme Court. Judge Brady was first to arrive and set about writing out the oath on a piece of paper. Out of courtesy, the party waited for Judge Donohue. Within twenty minutes all had arrived. Arthur's son Chester Alan Arthur, Jr., had arrived about midnight, having driven furiously to the house in a coupe when he heard the news. P. C. Van Wyck, a close friend to the Vice President, moved into the front parlor on the ground floor as the Arthur's valet, Aleck Powell, rearranged the curtains and lit the gas chandelier. At 2:15 A.M. on September 20, the oath was read in low voices as Arthur responded sentence by sentence. Ending with "So help me God," the new President kissed the Bible. The President then affixed his signature under the written oath as did Judge Brady. Over the next few hours, reporters kept the doorbell ringing. Not until 5 A.M. were the lights extinguished, allowing Arthur to retire for a few hours of sleep.

The complete story may be found at the U.S. National Archives site:
Prologue Magazine of The National Archives

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