The end of the article concludes:
The very first inauguration – conducted under the watchful eye of those who had framed our government and written its Constitution – incorporated numerous religious activities and expressions. That first inauguration set the constitutional precedent for all other inaugurations; and the activities from that original inauguration that have been repeated in whole or part in every subsequent inauguration include: (1) the use of the Bible to administer the oath; (2) the religious nature of the oath and including “So help me God”; (3) inaugural prayers by the president; (4) religious content in the inaugural addresses; (5) the president calling the people to pray or acknowledge God; (6) inaugural worship services; and (7) clergy-led inaugural prayers.
Here Barton boldly proclaims his seven signs "set the constitutional precedent for all other inaugurations [my italics]." Even so, Barton allows for some wiggle room, because he carefully says that these activities "have been repeated in whole or part." If you're not one of those skeptical critics like myself, then this statement might pass muster. But if you're a skeptic, then David Barton needs to own up to the fact that when we examine the historical record for George Washington's second inauguration there's not a single piece of historical evidence for any of Barton's "Seven Signs" in either "whole or part."
In David Barton's world, who needs hard evidence? After all didn't Jesus say, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe"?
No matter, in all fairness to Barton, let's turn our attention back to George Washington's first inauguration as Barton does. Now, at this point, he delivers a sermon with his version of what occurred on April 30, 1789, and here, then, is his narrative describing Washington first inaugural ceremony:
The preparations for the inauguration had been extensive; everything had been well planned; the event seemed to be proceeding smoothly. The parade carrying Washington by horse-drawn carriage to the swearing-in was nearing Federal Hall when it was realized that no Bible had been obtained for administering the oath. Parade Marshal Jacob Morton hurried to the nearby Masonic Lodge and grabbed its large 1767 King James Bible.
The Bible was laid upon a crimson velvet cushion (held by Samuel Otis, Secretary of the Senate) and, with a huge crowd gathered below watching the ceremony on the balcony, New York Chancellor Robert Livingston was to administer the oath of office. (Robert Livingston had been one of the five Founders who had drafted the Declaration of Independence; however, he was called back to New York to help his State through the Revolution before he could affix his signature to the very document he had helped write. As Chancellor, Livingston was the highest ranking judicial official in New York.) Beside Livingston and Washington stood several distinguished officials, including Vice President John Adams, original Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay, Generals Henry Knox and Philip Schuyler, and a number of others. The Bible was opened at random to the latter part of Genesis; Washington placed his left hand upon the open Bible, raised his right, and then took the oath of office prescribed by the Constitution. Washington then bent over and kissed the Bible, reverently closed his eyes, and said, “So help me God!” Chancellor Livingston then proclaimed, “It is done!” Turning to the crowd assembled below, he shouted, “Long live George Washington – the first President of the United States!” That shout was echoed and re-echoed by the crowd below.
It's a good story, as stories go. However, there are a few other details that are worth mentioning: 1) for all of the elaborate coordinated planning between the members of the joint congressional committee and George Washington there's no record of a Bible having been planned as a requirement for the administration of the oath (even afterwards, the congressional record doesn't even report that a Bible was used); 2) the Masonic owned 1767 King James Bible, with its picture of King George II just inside the front cover, was surprisingly inconsistent with all the other featured items of American manufacture; 3) the most authentically valued depictions of the inaugural scene has Washington placing his right hand on the Bible (even the picture displayed by Barton's article has Washington with his right hand on the Bible - likewise, the lithograph by the esteemed artist Alonzo Chappel (1828 -1887), the bronze statue on the steps of New York City Federal Hall, and the Mount Vernon life-size inaugural exhibit all show Washington's right hand on the Bible); 4) the image of Washington having "reverently closed his eyes" is pure literary fantasy first invented sixty-five years after the event by Rufus Wilmot Griswold when he published his book, The Republican Court: Or, American Society in the Days of Washington; and, 5) similarly, the debut for the religious codicil, "So help me God," comes from the same literary source.
All in all, the claim that George Washington added a religious tagline to his oath is the most problematic. No matter, Barton is unconcerned about the facts as reported by late-arrival "critics." He even disregards a reputable historian like Peter R. Henriques who disputes Griswold's tardy inaugural narrative of 1854 with his article, “So Help Me God”: A George Washington Myth that Should Be Discarded. Furthermore, according to Barton's scheme of things, one can still have a "constitutional precedent" even if no elected president can conscientiously be recognized as having followed this "constitutional precedent" until the beginning of the twentieth century.
Barton's reasoning boils down to this:
Critics today [who rely on firsthand historical accounts (my inclusion)] claim that George Washington never added “So help me God!” to his oath. [dot - dot - dot] But overlooked by many today is the fact that the Framers of our government considered an oath to be inherently religious – something George Washington affirmed when he appended the phrase “So help me God” to the end of the oath.In other words, since a sizable number of the Framers considered an oath in its "customary" context as religious, Washington, according to Barton's understanding, inevitably added "So help me God" to his presidential oath. Never mind the fact that the Articles of Confederation didn't even require an oath from members of the Continental Congress; that the certificates for the Oath of Allegiance that were sent out to the officers in the Continental Army did not mention God; that "So help me God" was not added to Washington's certificate when he signed his Oath of Allegiance; that even before the revolutionary war had ended the subject of loyalty oaths had left a bitter aftertaste in the minds of a sizable number of Americans who had been forced to proclaim their respective loyalty; that for eleven of the thirteen states, state mandated religious test oaths had been implemented to prevent designated minorities from equal access to basic civil rights; that delegates attending the Constitutional Convention formed a consensus that oaths had become unfashionable; that any religious test was proscribed by the Constitution; that George Washington signed his name at the head of the list of signatories who subscribed to the principles spelled out in the Constitution; that no one ever reported that they heard Washington add "So help me God" to his presidential oath; that Washington signed into law a godless oath for all federal employees; and, as already indicated, that Washington's second inauguration apparently dispensed with any recognizable religious observance.
So, in spite of these many considerations Barton chooses to overlook, he clamors on with his contention that an oath for a federal employee is fundamentally a religious act, which, in accordance with some well-chosen words from his special list of Founding Framers, should, without question, be concluded with "So help me God." Here Barton produces four illustrious candidates to buttress his contention. They are John Witherspoon (1723 – 1794), Rufus King (1755 – 1827), James Iredell (1751 – 1799), and Daniel Webster (1782 – 1852).
There's no reason to count Daniel Webster as a Founding Framer, but the other three candidates established themselves as outspoken supporters for ratification of the Constitution, and none of them is known to have rejected its apparent non-religious character. In fact, Rufus King actually attended the 1787 Constitutional Convention, and, as a member of the Committee of Style and Arrangement, he helped draft the final version.
What Barton does not want to recognize is that federal oaths administered outside of the courtroom were not saturated with Jon Witherspoon's definition which stated that "An oath is an appeal to God, the Searcher of Hearts, for the truth of what we say and always expresses or supposes an imprecation [a calling down] of His judgment upon us if we prevaricate [lie]."
In contrast to Witherspoon's definition of an oath, George Washington, during the planning stage for his second inaugural ceremony on March 4, 1793, simply called his presidential oath an"oath of qualification," and during his ever so short inaugural address that preceded the swearing-in ceremony he explicitly explained his perspective regarding the oath:
Previous to the execution of any official act of the President the Constitution requires an oath of office. This oath I am now about to take, and in your presence: That if it shall be found during my administration of the Government I have in any instance violated willingly or knowingly the injunctions thereof, I may (besides incurring constitutional punishment) be subject to the upbraidings of all who are now witnesses of the present solemn ceremony.It's very simple to see, as far as George Washington was concerned, his oath was a pledge to the people he served, and he meant for the people to hold him responsible for the conduct of his administration. Barton, on the other hand, misconstrues Washington's farewell address to say quite the opposite "that an oath was religious when he pointedly queried:
[W]here is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths . . . ?"The deception is clear. The "dot - dot - dot" part Barton removed, clarifies what Washington wanted to ask regarding, "the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths," "which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice?"
It is true that the next line in Washington's Farewell Address goes on to say, "And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion." But for those, like Barton with "His Seven Signs," who want to arbitrarily empower the government with the authority to regulate our national morality, Washington, I believe, would have had this to say, "But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this in one instance may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit which the use can at any time yield."