Thursday, July 3, 2008

U.S. Senate Historical Revisionism in Action

Your Tax Dollars at Work by Ray Soller

According to the Senate Rules Committee, this recently updated website, Inauguration of the President: Facts & Firsts, contains a compilation of significant information for all of the inaugural ceremonies since George Washington. If you look, you can tell that they are trying to get ready for Inauguration Day - January 20, 2009.

The website contains an impressive looking table with three columns which are headed by: Inauguration Date - President - Facts and Firsts. I can, in one of my more tolerant moments, somewhat understand the lemminglike repetition of the unsubstantiated entry for George Washington where they say, "First Inauguration; precedents set include the phrase, "So help me God," and kissing the Bible after taking the oath." At least, the part about Washington kissing the Bible is supported by firsthand accounts.

However, the entry for Herbert Hoover, "Second President to affirm rather than swear the oath of office; first Inaugural ceremony recorded by [a Paramount Studios] talking newsreel," is blatantly false. Hoover did not "affirm" his presidential oath and the newsreel they mention actually proves it. There's also the author, Jim Bendat, who has published a new edition of his book, Democracy's Big Day: The Inauguration of our President 1789-2009, that describes the same event in a delightful online chapter, Let's Hear It for the Girl. You can not only read how Hoover swore to his inaugural oath , but, also, realize that the words, "So help me God," were not included in the oath.

The above problems with the entries for George Washington and Herbert Hoover are commonplace and relatively minor next to what the viewer "learns" when following the recommendation to Watch the Video "So Help Me God", a historical look at the Inaugural Ceremonies 1789-2005 (accessed 1/12/2005).

Unbelievably, the video engages the viewer in an Orwellian experience that begins without even presenting an advisory warning label: "Warning: this video contains a phrase not prescribed by the United States Constitution. Viewer discretion is advised." The video, produced under the direction of the Senate Rules Committee, is obviously more concerned with promoting a faith-based agenda than following their oath to "uphold the Constitution." No matter, if one watches the video, then at about the two-minute and fifty-second mark into the narration you'll hear the spokesperson tell us, "Everyone [that is, all presidents beginning with Washington's inauguration] has since said 'So help me God' at the end of the oath."

Now, I have to ask, "Who put that into the script?" Their own "Facts and Firsts" table says Franklin Pierce affirmed his oath. Everyone, even an average high school student, should know this means that in all cases an affirmed oath is administered by omitting the words, "So help me God." The Rules Committee table mentioned Herbert Hoover. Had they consulted any of several different mass media reports for that date they would have realized that "So help me God" was not part of Hoover's oath. There's also John Tyler. His April 6, 1841 signed affidavit attesting to the presidential oath omits "So help me God" (see Inaugural Cavalcade, Louise Durbin, 1971, pg. 54); and there's the very detailed, newspaper-based account of Theodore Roosevelt's swearing-in ceremony that took place on September 13, 1901, which fails to mention "So help me God." In fact, all elected Presidents, going into the twentieth century, are not documented as having used those words either. Sadly, it is true, as the Senate-sponsored video indicates, every president after Hoover has embraced a Washing Irving legend as if it were one of those "Facts and Firsts."

None of this bothers Matthew McGowan, a member of the professional staff attached to the Senate Rules Committee. When historical researcher Matthew Goldstein, just two days ago, contacted Mr. McGowan by telephone:

He [Mr. McGowan] said the Senate Historical Office had no obligation to make public any citations of source documents to support their claim, that the Senate Historical Office worked for the Senate, not for the public, that I was the only person who was complaining about this, that he trusted the Senate Historical Office, that this claim was supported by historians, and that they were busy and were not going to be providing citations for their claim.

Now, I trust it's obvious: everyone can see how the Senate Rules Committee provides such a fine example of Your Tax Dollars at Work.

1 comment:

Explicit Atheist said...

Ray Soller corresponded by email with Donald A. Ritchie, Associate Historian, Senate Historical Office, several times on August 28, 2006. Ray presented evidence that George Washington did not append "so help me God" to his presidential oath of office recitation. The "so help me God" video which was added to the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies web site around March 2007.

The timing suggests the possibility that the Senate Historical Office, with the cooperation of the Senate Rules Committee which is probably ignorant about the history, created and placed the "So help me God" video on the web site with this "everyone" appended that phrase nonsense in counter-reaction to Ray Soller's email. In other words, it appears to me that the Senate Historical Office is knowingly mispromoting a false legend as history for propaganda purposes. Yes, I am publically insinuating that senior Senate Historical Office staff appear to be liars.