Thursday, April 30, 2009

‘So help me God’

On this day, the 220th anniversary of George Washington’s first presidential inauguration, The Magpie Mason crossposts with American Creation, one of the premier forums for discussion of the historical facts concerning the religious beliefs and practices of America’s Founding Fathers. Freemasonry has an often misunderstood relationship with the Founders and with religion in general, resulting in common confusions like the perception that most of the Founders were Freemasons, and that Masons of the 18th century were Deists or even anti-Christian. The truth is Freemasonry’s requirement that its members believe in deity, and its – pardon the expression – “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule concerning the members’ specific religious opinions, create a fraternal order wherein any man who believes in a Supreme Being may enjoy friendships with others. In 2009 it sounds simple, but when this idea was put into practice in the cosmopolitan London of the 1720s, it was revolutionary. In the wake of the English Civil War, Restoration and Glorious Revolution, and during the era of English-Scottish Union, Jacobite rebellion and wild change in royal families, Freemasonry unveiled itself to the public, publishing its Constitutions in 1723 which state the fraternity’s preference for religious (and political) ambiguity. The result was the invention of interfaith ecumenism, a triumph that helped create the modern world; as the British Empire spread across the globe, it brought Freemasonry with it, creating a previously impossible socialization for Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Parsees and others to mingle as equals.

God and Man at Wall Street


It was Thursday, April 30, 1789 in New York City, the nation’s capital, when President-elect George Washington took the oath of office at Federal Hall. This was made possible by the recent ratification by the States of the U.S. Constitution. Article 2, Section 1 provides the presidential oath of office:

“Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:

‘I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.’ ”


No mention of a Bible on which to place one’s hand. No “So help me God” phrase.



Bearing in mind that the recording of history in the 18th century was not the hard science that we know today, with its fact-checked data, referenced citations, peer-reviewed research, academically credentialed experts, and media technologies, here is an account of the inaugural events that unfolded at the corner of Wall and Nassau streets in Manhattan:

Finally, the time set for the inaugural ceremony arrived and about half-past twelve o’clock, all things being in readiness, the procession moved from the President’s house, preceded by the troops and a numerous escort, to Federal Hall where the Senate and House of Representatives in joint session were in waiting to receive him. At the moment appointed to take the oath of office required by the Constitution, accompanied by the Vice-President, numerous functionaries and a large number of the Senate and House of Representatives, Washington appeared on the balcony fronting Broad Street. There in the presence of a vast concourse of citizens, surrounded by intimate friends, including several former comrades in arms – among whom were Alexander Hamilton, Roger Sherman, Generals Knox and St. Clair, Baron Steuben and others – he took the following oath, prescribed by law, which was administered by the Chancellor of the State of New York, Robert Livingston: ‘I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States; and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.’

When Mr. Livingston (at left, with Bible) had finished reading the oath, Washington replied solemnly: ‘I swear, so help me God,’ and bowing low, he reverently kissed the Bible.
(“Washington: the Man and the Mason,” by Charles H. Callahan, National Capital Press, 1913, pp. 158-59.)


The standard accepted backstory of how a Bible was added to the proceedings is as follows and appears on the website and promotional literature (below, left) of St. John’s Lodge No. 1, Ancient York Masons, the very lodge that furnished the holy text:



“Everything was ready for the administration of the oath of office to the president of the new government, when it was found that there had not been provided a Holy Bible on which the President-elect could swear allegiance to the Constitution. Jacob Morton, who was Marshal of the parade and, at that time, Master of St. John’s Lodge, was standing close by, and, seeing the dilemma they were in, remarked that he could get the altar Bible of St. John’s Lodge, which met at the ‘Old Coffee House,’ at the corner of Water and Wall streets. Chancellor Livingston begged him to do so. The Bible was brought, and the ceremony proceeded. When the stately Washington had finished repeating the oath, with his right hand resting on the open Book and his head bowed in reverential manner, he said, in a clear and distinct voice, ‘I swear, so help me God!’ Then bowing over this magnificent Bible, he reverently kissed it. Whereupon Chancellor Livingston in a ringing voice exclaimed, ‘Long live George Washington, President of the United States!’ ”

“The Bible was “Printed by Mark Baskett, Printer to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty, London 1767.” The deep gold lettering, distinctly clear on both covers, displays this inscription: “God shall establish; St. John’s Lodge constituted 5757; Burnt down 8th March, 5770; Rebuilt and opened November 28, 5770. Officers then presiding: Jonathan Hampton, Master; William Butler, Senior Warden; Isaac Heron, Junior Warden.”

“The first page is an artistic steel engraved portrait of King George II, but, that which is so dear to the heart of every Mason is the inserted second page, beautifully engrossed and remarkably legible even at this date are the lines: ‘On this sacred volume, on the 30th day of April, A. L. 5789, in the City of New York, was administered to George Washington, the first president of the United States of America, the oath to support the Constitution of the United States.’ This important ceremony was performed by the Most Worshipful Grand Master of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York, the Honorable Robert R. Livingston, Chancellor of the State.”




Above: Genesis Chapters 49 and 50, where Washington placed his right hand during his presidential oath of office. Below: The original portrait of King George II, left, and the portrait of Washington added subsequently. Photos by The Magpie Mason, 2003.




What’s in an oath?


With the involvement in this historic event of the most senior Masonic authorities of New York, it is time to explain what I believe is the most likely reason for the first president's ad libbed addendum to the Constitutional oath of office and the inclusion of the Bible.

By 1789, George Washington had been a Freemason for 37 years. He was initiated into the fraternity on Nov. 4, 1752; passed to the second degree on March 3, 1753; and raised to the degree of Master Mason on Aug. 4, 1753 at Fredericksburg Lodge in Fredericksburg, Virginia. In each of these three ceremonies, Washington would have taken an oath and an obligation; more than finalize the process of becoming a Mason, this act is what Masons specifically credit for “making” the Mason. It is important to understand that while the oath and the obligation of each degree are presented ritually together, the two declarations distinctly serve two purposes. There is no enigmatic Masonic mystery here. Just grab a dictionary.

Oath – 1. a solemn usually formal calling upon God or a god to witness to the truth of what one says or to witness that one sincerely intends to do what one says 2.a: solemn attestation of the truth or inviolability of one’s words.

b: something (as a promise) corroborated by an oath; an irreverent or careless use of a sacred name; broadly: SWEARWORD.

Obligation – 1. Any act by which a person becomes bound to do something to or for another, or to forbear something; external duties imposed by law, promise, or contract, by the relations of society, or by courtesy, kindness, etc.
2. The act of obligating.
3. A bond with a condition annexed, and a penalty for not fulfilling. In a larger sense, it is an acknowledgment of a duty to pay a certain sum or do a certain things.
4. That which obligates or constrains; the binding power of a promise, contract, oath, or vow, or of law; that which constitutes legal or moral duty.
5. The state of being obligated or bound; the state of being indebted for an act of favor or kindness; as, to place others under obligations to one.


From the day he entered adulthood and its societies at age 17, George Washington no doubt had taken many oaths before April 30, 1789. Washington the public official: surveyor of Culpepper County in 1749, and adjutant of Virginia three years later. The Freemason: a Master Mason (or full member) in a prestigious lodge of local elites at a time when only one in six lodge members attained the rank of Master Mason. The officer in the Virginia militia: a major in 1752, a lieutenant colonel in 1754, and a brigadier general in 1758. The elected government official: a legislator in Virginia’s House of Burgesses in 1758. A married gentleman in 1759. And of course commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in 1775, and president of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. How were all of these oaths phrased? I will have to leave most of that to the aforementioned credentialed academics, but I can provide some insight into the language of the Masonic oaths and obligations.

So help me God.


It would surprise no regular Freemason in the United States (or Great Britain) that George Washington concluded his oath of office by kissing the holy text and beseeching “I swear, so help me God!” A similar act of testimony is performed by every Freemason. A “moment of truth,” if you will.

Thanks to a brief but amazing piece of research published in the current (Vol. 120) edition of “Ars Quatuor Coronatorum,” the annual book of transactions published by Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076 in London, we behold a seminal use of the phrase “So help me God” for public administration purposes. The Magpie Mason is forever indebted to editor Peter Hamilton Currie for squeezing this one but fascinating page into the book. Rather than type the content of this entire page, please indulge me for instead reproducing the page below so you can see it as intended. Click to enlarge. (And RW Bro. Peter, please forgive this transgression against QCCC’s copyright. I have rendered the page blue so that any further reproduction on the web can be traced to, and rightly blamed, on me.)




Left: RW Peter Hamilton Currie, editor of AQC.



Right: King James oath as it appears in Vol. 120.






“So,” you’re thinking, still unimpressed, “who cares about King James?” The prayerful conclusion of public oaths in England is found even earlier, during the reign of Elizabeth I, in what is called the Oath of Supremacy:

“I, A. B., do utterly testify and declare in my conscience that the queen’s highness is the only supreme governor of this realm and of all other her highness’s dominions and countries, as well in all spiritual or ecclesiastical things or causes as temporal, and that no foreign prince, person, prelate, state, or potentate hath or ought to have any jurisdiction, power, superiority, pre-eminence, or authority, ecclesiastical or spiritual, within this realm; and therefore I do utterly renounce and forsake all foreign jurisdictions, powers, superiorities, and authorities, and do promise that from henceforth I shall bear faith and true allegiance to the queen’s highness, her heirs, and lawful successors, and to my power shall assist and defend all jurisdictions, pre-eminences, privileges, and authorities granted or belonging to the queen’s highness, her heirs, and successors, or united or annexed to the imperial crown of this realm: so help me God and by the contents of this Book.”

It is possible this oath originated even earlier, during the reign of Henry VIII. And our phrase of the day persists after the Elizabethan-Jacobean era. In the reign of Charles I was promulgated the Oath of Allegiance, a pledge of loyalty to the Crown:

(Pinky, this one’s for you.)

“I A. B. doe truely and sincercly acknowledge, professe, testifie and declare in my conscience before God and the world, That our Soveraigne Lord King CHARLES, is lawfull King of this Realme…. And all these things I doe plainely and sincerely acknowledge and sweare, according to these expresse words by me spoken, and according to the plaine and common sence and understanding of the same words, without any Equivocation, or mentall evasion or secret reservasion whatsoever. And I doe make this Recognition and acknowledgement heartily, willingly, and truely, upon the true Faith of a Christian. So helpe me GOD.”


“Still,” you may be thinking, “what do English monarchs have to do with American republicanism?” Fair question. I offer the above quotations to demonstrate how our phrase “So help me God” was instrumental to stable civil government and peaceable citizenry. As further evidence, I cite early Masonic rituals. There is an enormous corpus of literature in Freemasonry known as the Old Charges, consisting of dozens of manuscripts describing Masonic proto-rituals starting with the Regius poem (c. 1390) and culminating with 18th century documents easily recognizable to today’s Freemason. There are too many to address here (and frankly this post has gone long enough!), but I give a few examples that display commonalities with the oaths to our 16th and 17th century monarchs (and I hereby modernize the spelling):

“These Charges that you have received you shall well and truly keep, not disclosing the secrecy of our lodge to man, woman, nor child… so god you help. Amen.” (Buchanan MS, c. 1670)

“I, AB, do in the presence of Almighty God and my fellows and brethren here present, promise and declare that I will not at any time hereafter… make known any of the secrets… of the fraternity… so help me god and the holy contents of this book.” (Harleian MS, c. 1675)

“…you shall not reveal any part of what you shall hear or see at this time… so help you god.” (Edinburgh Register House MS, 1696)

“The signs and tokens that I shall declare unto you, you shall not write… and you shall not tell… to man, woman, nor child… so help you God.” (Drinkwater No. 1 MS, c. 1700)

There is a lot of anxiety in certain circles caused by “So help me God.” Marxists, atheists, lonely busybodies, and revisionists of all stripes labor to diminish or erase the historical record of Washington’s rhetorical flourish, insisting there is no journalistic evidence he said it. I have no use for that argument, or for those who cling to it. Professional (sic) journalists and historians in 1789 were unscientific and brazenly biased, as judged against our modern expectations. (They didn’t have the objectivity and accuracy of blogs back then!) Furthermore, Washington the president was exploring new ground, truly going where no man had gone before. The Constitution didn’t prohibit the use of a Bible in the oath nor proscribed invoking deity. A good public servant – and a good Freemason – knows what his constitution says and what it does not say, and governs himself accordingly.

With this understanding of the history of “So help me God,” maybe we can agree that George Washington indeed did speak the phrase following his presidential oath of office, as reported, and perhaps also safely surmise that he added this language, not as an improvised coda, but as an established tradition in government oaths per longstanding custom. It is fact that the birth of the American republic was unprecedented in history, but it cannot be denied that the men who gave it law and politics were creatures of English habit, schooled in the mother country’s history, common law, politics, religions and traditions.

SMIB.

49 comments:

bpabbott said...

"With this understanding of the history of “So help me God,” maybe we can agree that George Washington indeed did speak the phrase following his presidential oath of office, as reported, [...]By reporting, I assume you mean an actual observer correct? ... actually you do not correct?

What you've nicely demonstrated is why this story was not skeptically examined earlier. The story is consistent with what would be expected. But there remains no compelling evidence that it happened.

[...] and perhaps also safely surmise that he added this language, not as an improvised coda, but as an established tradition in government oaths per longstanding custom.Traditional and customary perhaps, but did it happen? There is no evidence that it did.

Brian Tubbs said...

You have demonstrated very effectively that Washington kissing the Bible and adding "so help me God" would have been CONSISTENT with Washington's character and habits as well as the traditions of the day.

Ben is correct that there's no direct, contemporary, undisputed CONFIRMATION that GW said it.

Magpie Mason said...

I don't know the source of the accepted story, but I also don't know what would satisfy the "compelling evidence" standard.

There is no reason to believe that several generations had passed before someone decided to embellish the inauguration history by adding the "So help me God" story. If there wasn't a timely newspaper account, or a diarist's note to self that is no longer extant, then maybe (and I do admit it's a "maybe") the "SHMG" addendum was so unremarkable as to not need certification. As I showed by sharing the various royal oaths, SHMG was part of the act of oath-taking. And after all, people then did not have the kind of "church and state" fetishes we see today. After taking the oath, Washington headed to St. Paul's Chapel on Broadway, an act the ACLU no doubt would find actionable today, but in 1789 religious life was not a compartmentalized activity for people. It was integral to their lifestyles.

Cordially,
Jay

Brad Hart said...

An excellent debut piece, Jay! I am going to look forward to your future posts I'm sure! Excellent!

I am also excited to hear what our resident "So Help Me God" debunker, Ray Soller, will have to say.

@BPABBOTT:

You may very well be right about there being no concrete evidence to prove this, but is there any absolute proof that it didn't? Might we use circumstantial evidence to point to a "most likely" possibility? I personally think Mr. Magpie presents a strong case, but I would like to hear from Mr. Soller. I'm sure there will be some stong points to his argument as well.

Let's let the argument evolve and see where it leads us.

bpabbott said...

Brad, regarding "You may very well be right about there being no concrete evidence to prove this, but is there any absolute proof that it didn't?" ...

We can speculate that GW may have said any number of things. Some with a greater probability than others. But speculation is not evidence.

My only claim is that the assertions that GW appended the words, "so help me God", to his oath of office are nothing more than speculation.

bpabbott said...

Jay: "I also don't know what would satisfy the "compelling evidence" standard."

Testimony from several or, or even one of, the hundreds in attendance would qualify.

bpabbott said...

Brad I had meant to respond to your comment below as well

"Might we use circumstantial evidence to point to a "most likely" possibility?"

If it can be shown that GW favored appending those words in other oaths (in which they were absent) or in other similar occassions, then I'd be less skeptical. Does such evidence exist?

As it is, my understanding is that it was traditional and customary for those words to be formally appended to oaths and that is was traditional and customary for the individual swearing the oath to do so literally without adding or subtracting words.

Is there any evidence of GW adding of subtracting words from prior oaths? ... if someone can find one example where he appended the words "so help be God" to the end of an oath in which they were absent, then that would be a very interesting smoking gun to examine more closely.

Even so, the "most likely" qualifcation does not change the historic record. An event is either in the historic record or it is not. If there are competing records, then "what is more likely" must be applied. But if an event is not part of the record, then I don't see how "what is more likely" is a justification for adding it.

Magpie Mason said...

>Testimony from several or, or
>even one of, the hundreds in
>attendance would qualify.


Testimony in affidavits or depositions? I really think the SHMG did not arouse such controversy in 1789, so no one would have thought to document it. Public officials were allowed to say the "G" word in public without anyone alleging a theocratic coup.

It's a very simple equation: Government is of the people, by the people and for the people. Those very same people went to church. They expected their sensibilities to be represented in the public square because they would elect only those who upheld those sensibilities.

In other words, there is no "compelling evidence" because no one would have thought to compel the gathering of the evidence.

I ask everyone to consider there are different forms of truth. I don't mean the Post Modern relativism whereby two plus two can equal five, because that answer works for one person. I mean there are different avenues information can take to reach people and transcend the generations in the collective conscious.

There is factual truth, duly noted and attested. The need for this in 1789 was not what it is today. Government was tiny in comparison, and the slip-and-fall lawyer had not been created yet.

And there is allegorical truth, like a Parson Weems story that does not tell a factual account, but communicates a truth that nevertheless is equally important. Washington did not chop down a cherry tree, but the point is people should be honest, even in the face of consequences, because that is justice.

Which leads us to moral truth. Washington did place his hand upon a book that contains many stories that cannot be verified to any degree of factual accuracy. Do we discard that book? No, because it is part of who we are; it is cultural DNA.

So if we are going to agree that Washington did not say SHMG because the absence of any notes annuls the story, then I think we ought to weigh equally the failure of clergy and others to note or object to a godless oath.

It really does not matter. The story is part of the American identity, to the point where so many presidential successors continued the tradition. That is a form of truth.

In conclusion: Brad, thanks for the encouraging words. Next, but not imminently, I'll explore the 18th century understandings of words like deist, atheist and libertine.

- Jay

bpabbott said...

Jay asked: "Testimony in affidavits or depositions?"

No. Any testament would do (i.e. eyewitness account).

You've provided eyewitness accounts, that do not include the phrase. Why is it that no witness made note of it?

Jay: "[...] there is no "compelling evidence" because no one would have thought to compel the gathering of the evidence."

And yet there are accounts of eyewitnesses having recorded GW's words, and the sectarian portion was not included.

Jay: "So if we are going to agree that Washington did not say SHMG because the absence of any notes annuls the story, [...]"

I'm not asserting he did not, I'm asserting the *truth* that there is no historical evidence that he did. Thus, any claim that he did is speculation, and not historical.

Jay continued: "[...] I think we ought to weigh equally the failure of clergy and others to note or object to a godless oath."

I recall there were clergy, among others, who objected to the Godless constitution ... and we all realize that that document was anything but traditional, customary, etc. ... and yet it had the support of GW, among others more pious than he.

Jay: "[...] many presidential successors continued the tradition. That is a form of truth."

In fact, there is no historic record of any President adding the phrase until 1881, which was 20 presidents, and 92 years after GW first took the oath.

"[...] the first clearly documented case of a President adding the words, “So help me God,” was recorded — when Chester A. Arthur took the oath in 1881.Jay: "It really does not matter."

hmmm, are you being disingenuous?

If it actually did not matter to you, you would not have put in the effort to write you post, nor would you have bothered to defend it.

... or are you dismissing my defense of the historical record by implying that the assertion is legally meaningless? ... or something else?

Tom Van Dyke said...

hmmm, are you being disingenuous?

No, Ben, that's unfair. The Magpie Mason is arguing on the preponderance of evidence. Not like a criminal case, "beyond a reasonable doubt." Like a civil case, where "truth" is 51-49, not 99 to one.

I think he's been fair, and admits that there is reasonable doubt. There is no definitive truth here, and that's been stipulated.


Magpie Mason does not claim that GWashington said "so help me God"---he argues that it's quite plausible that he did, and gives evidence and reasons why he thinks so.

If it actually did not matter to you, you would not have put in the effort to write you post, nor would you have bothered to defend it...

Um, Ben, we haven't heard Jackspit from you for quite awhile around here, but you've already hit this thread 4 times. Apparently, it matters to you. I think you should back off the ad hom on Magpie, check the mirror, and discuss the discussion.

I meself haven't even argued on this yet, awaiting Magpie's [Jay's] promised response to Ray Soller. Mr. Soller is as yet MIA. I'd prefer that the contestants contest without help from us, the peanut gallery.

But Magpie [Jay] had something to say, and put a lot of time and research into it. It's clear by your multiple responses that you have the same thing to naysay and the same passion to naysay it, albeit without the research. So be it. But you are both on the same hook, as is Mr. Soller. Get in the game, Ben, or get out of it. Magpie has presented a case, but all you've done is shoot spitballs at it.

Ray Soller said...

Magpie,
I appreciate your contribution, but outside of the fact, that you provide dates for when Washington was initiated into the various stages of the Masonic Order, I see nothing new. Saying that "So help me God" was a "longstanding custom", as many others have already done, doesn't show that Washington saw the desirability for the federal government (outside of the courtroom) to perpetuate this same custom into the future. As I have pointed out several times, the Continental Congress issued oath certificates to be signed by all officers in the Continental Army that did not include SHMG, and when GW signed his certificate, he did not add SHMG. Furthermore, the historical record shows no reliable documentation for any elected President having toyed with Article II, Section 1.8 until the beginning of the 20th century.

Ray Soller said...

Tom, I'm not MIA. I am trying to take time to commemorate my 70th anniversary for being born on the day when the NYC newspapers headlined the opening of the NYC's World Fair of 1939, which marked the 150th-year anniversary of Washington's first inauguration.

Magpie Mason said...

Yes, let me reiterate that through this entire discussion I have and will continue to acknowledge how no one knows for certain if George Washington said "I swear, so help me God" or did not say it.

I will continue to look for "evidence," if that is the right term, but I also maintain throughout this discussion that the kind of tangible data needed to settle this debate remains to be seen because the work of the journalist or historian in 1789 was very different from what we take for granted today.

I also believe, as with most of the portraits of Washington painted by artists during and after Washington's lifetime, that there are times when "truth" does not take the form of fact. To ignore that is to miss much of life's lessons.

Anyway, shame on me for not examining more of the books in my own library before posting my essay. Last night I found another clue. Still not conclusive, but it leads the discussion toward the "he did say it" side.

From page 186 of "Freemasonry in American History" by Allen E. Roberts (perhaps the most prolific Masonic historian of the 20th century):

The “Federal Gazette” of Philadelphia reported: “The impression of his past services, the concourse of spectators, the devout fervency with which he repeated the oath, and the reverential manner in which he bowed down and kissed the sacred volume – all these conspired to render it one of the most august and interesting spectacles ever exhibited on this globe. It seemed from the number of witnesses, to be a solemn appeal to Heaven and earth at once. Upon the subject of this great and Good man, I may perhaps be an enthusiast, but I confess that I was under an awful and religious persuasion that the gracious Ruler of the Universe was looking down at that moment with peculiar complacency.” (Emphases are mine.)

Unfortunately, this book only quotes that newspaper, and does not show a reproduction of the actual newsprint, but I'm going to accept it as factually accurate because I know the author's work well.

I will revisit this topic as I uncover more information, and I promise to report whatever I find, regardless of which side the data support.

- Jay

Jonathan Rowe said...

One thing I love about this site is its true "diversity," not PC lip service diversity where we all look different but think alike.

Magpie Mason said...

I feel like I'm monopolizing everyone's time, but I must add one more point to the above, and suggest an opinion.

The point: Any regular Freemason in America or Britain would believe that Washington said SHMG immediately before kissing the Bible. It is something done ritually in initiations. With the Grand Master of New York administering the oath while St. John's Lodge's altar Bible was being held before him, it is even easier to believe Washington said it in prelude to kissing the Bible. Again, there's no videotape, but the speculation makes more sense than the denial.

The opinion: I think it is possible that accounts of that day fail to mention the SHMG because it may have been thought to be part of the oath itself by spectators accustomed to hearing it in the conclusions of other government oaths of fidelity. The Constitution was less than a year old, so I suggest that familiarity with its exact language was not widespread.

Ray Soller said...

Magpie, you wrote the "standard accepted backstory of how a Bible was added to the proceedings ... is as follows : Everything was ready for the administration of the oath of office to the president of the new government, when it was found that there had not been provided a Holy Bible on which the President-elect could swear allegiance to the Constitution. Jacob Morton, who was Marshal of the parade and, at that time, Master of St. John’s Lodge, was standing close by, and, seeing the dilemma they were in, remarked that he could get the altar Bible ... ."

That's amazing! What are the original sources for this "standard accepted backstory"? I know of no historical source that credits Jacob Morton as "seeing the dilemma," and volunteering that he could get the Bible. As far as I know, the reasoning behind just who or why a Bible was thought necessary has not ever been established.

Magpie Mason said...

That's amazing! What are the original sources for this "standard accepted backstory"? I know of no historical source that credits Jacob Morton as "seeing the dilemma," and volunteering that he could get the Bible. As far as I know, the reasoning behind just who or why a Bible was thought necessary has not ever been established.This can be attributed to St. John's Lodge No. 1 in New York City. It may be in the minutes kept by the lodge secretary. It could be in a book of lodge history that was published at some point. It could be in the proceedings of the Grand Lodge of New York for that year. It may even be in the text added to the Bible itself on that page featuring Washington's portrait. I cannot put a finger on the exact source, but it is not fiction or speculation. This enormous historical event involved St. John's Lodge, and believe me the brethren recorded what happened.

Brad Hart said...

Might this also serve as a good example of how oral history can and is often used in the historical record?

Ray Soller said...

I'm sorry, Brad, if this is an example of "oral history," then you, need to present the case for it rather than sit on the sideline and as a spectator just ask the question. Magpie, if there's a single piece of firsthand evidence supporting the proposition that Washington, either as our first president, added SHMG to his oath on April 30, 1789, or that he or Congress anticipated the use of a Bible during the inaugural ceremony, then the availability of this material needs to be disclosed. Otherwise, please don't say "it is not fiction or speculation."

Brad Hart said...

Wow, Ray! Don't get your panties all in a bunch, ok! I was simply asking a question. Good God! I'll try to remember next time to not ask questions but rather simply acquiesce to your opinion without giving it a second thought!

Seriously!

Magpie Mason said...

Mr. Soller, I cannot address your skepticism about that Bible itself. I had said in my original post that the Constitution does not mention using a Bible, so I am not in the camp (if there is one) that says Washington and/or Congress "anticipated the use of a Bible during the inaugural ceremony."

I will not debate the fact that the Bible of St. John's Lodge was brought to the inauguration. I will look for best obtainable version of the truth and report it to the group here, but I'm not going to entertain gratuitous denial of a fact that has been well known for 220 years. It would be like walking into Mt. Vernon and insisting Washington never slept there. (I can hear it now: Sure he lived here, but can anyone prove he ever fell asleep?!)

Now, if you are doubtful of whatever anxiety might have been felt personally by those on the scene, then, again, it's a "Masonic thing."

Morton, marshal of the parade that day, was the current Worshipful Master (presiding officer) of St. John's Lodge as well as the Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of New York. Livingston was the current Grand Master of Masons of the State of New York. Washington was the current Worshipful Master of Alexandria Lodge in Virginia. Many of the other participants in this scene were Freemasons.

I tell you, and this was part of the point of my sharing so much insight into Masonic ritual, that this group of men would not have proceeded with that ceremony without a Bible. Admittedly, that is an intangible, but I won't debate it with anyone who would not understand.

Like I said, I'll keep looking for the earliest and best source of this information. The library at the Grand Lodge of New York happens to be named after Chancellor Livingston, and I'll make inquiries there and at St. John's Lodge itself.

Pinky said...

.
From reports I've seen, George Washington was just about the perfect gentleman when it came to anything done in public and or in any of his correspondence.
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Beyond a doubt and, in particular, at such a solemn occasion it seems he would have done nothing but the proper thing.

I'm sure he closed the oath with So Help Me, God.
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By the way, Magpie, I knew the man who claimed he created the face of the Alfred E. Newman character you're using as your sig cut. His name was William Schmeck. He was a pharmacist in Saginaw, Michigan.
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Ray Soller said...

Magpie, the first indication that I've found for Jacob Morton (1762-1836) having retrieved the Bibile for GW's inauguration is WASHINGTON AND HIS MASONIC COMPEERS by Sidney Hayden (1824 - ?), published 1866. That's a rather late date. Given what you wrote, one has to wonder if there's an earlier source floating around somewhere within the Masonic world.

On page 124 Hayden has this to say:
"Washington reached New York on the 23d of April, and the 30th of the same month was the day fixed for his inauguration. On that occasion, General Jacob Morton was marshal of the day. He was the Master of St. John's, the oldest lodge in the city, and at the same time Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of New York. General Morton brought from the altar of his lodge the Bible with its cushion of crimson velvet, and upon that sacred volume, Robert R. Livingston, Chancellor of the State of New York, and Grand Master of its Grand Lodge, administered to Washington his oath of office as President of the United States."

Please note, Hayden does not say GW added SHMG to his presidential oath of 1789.

I can go along with the view that Jacob Morton retrieved the Masonic Bible for use during the inaugural ceremony, but I have never seen anything to suggest that he or anyone else actually initiated the action.

As far as I know, Benson John Lossing was the first to publicly elaborate in his book, The Home of Washington and Its Associations, Historical, Biographical, and Pictorial - page 217 (1859), that the Bible actually used was the Masonic owned, 1767 British editon of the King James Version which contains a picture of King George II on its frontal page. (The Proceedings of the St. John's Lodge for November 16, 1808, and October 26, 1809, confirm that the Masonic Bible was used at Washington's inauguration, but those minutes, as far as I know, were not published until 1902.)

Lossing, unlike Hayden, does repeat the unsubstantiated claim first made in 1854 by Rufus W. Griswold and repeated in 1857 by Washington Irving that GW had added SHMG to his oath.

If you can find an earlier firsthand source, other than Griswold, from within the Masonic world claiming that GW had actually added SHMG, then I will be glad to hear about it.

Tom Van Dyke said...

firsthand source...claiming that GW had actually added SHMGRay, nobody has said you're wrong on this, only that there's more to it.

bpabbott said...

TVD: "No, Ben, that's unfair. The Magpie Mason is arguing on the preponderance of evidence."

Tom, now you *are* being disengenuous.

There is *no* evidence that the words in question were appended. Only speculation.

Jay, I meant no offence and did not intend to imply you were disengenuous, but as it was one of several possibilities that occured to me, I asked. I'm sure there are other possibilities as well. I hope you will clarify and am even more hopeful you'll correct me.

Regarding the lacking of the historical record, we can only conclude there is much that we have no evidence for one way or the other.

Brad, I like yiou comment regarding oral history. That so many accept that the words in question were spoken by GW does appear to the result of such.

Ray, you're note that GW did not add the words in question to other oaths is an indication of his habit and behavior. It does not allow us to reach a conclusion, but (imo) is the best circumstantial evidence yet presented.

I'll repeat an earlier statement; if anyone can find *one* instance that GW *added* the words in quesiton to the end of an oath, that would be an excellent smoking gun. That he did have opportunity and apparently did not add the words is evidence of his habit and behavior.

Magpie Mason said...

Hi guys,

The question of "habit and behavior" involves Freemasonry again, I'm afraid.

The newspaper story quoted in the book I cited the other day confirms that Washington bowed and kissed the Bible, which of course is part of the story we're all trying to verify (or disprove).

I do not believe he would have kissed the Bible without saying SHMG. It would be a non-sequitur to kiss the Bible without saying those words. Standard operating procedure for a Mason would be to take the oath, say SHMG, and kiss the Bible.

Factor in the momentous occasion of the historic moment, replete with throngs of spectators expecting grand gestures from their immortal heroes, and I cannot imagine Washington giving only half of the customary act of fealty.

And please remember the common dictionary definition of oath: a calling upon God to witness the truth of what one says. Why is this never factored into our discussions? This fact alone could cause those men to send for a Bible and append SHMG to the oath.

More speculation, I know, I know, but it makes more sense than the crossed arms denial.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Tom, now you *are* being disengenuous.Please, Ben.

Ray Soller said...

Magpie, believe as you will, but George Washington was anything other than a circus animal conditioned to jump through all three hoops of a three ring circus, any more than he jumped through all of the hoops in the Episcopal church. And I ask, would it have been a better act if he had been blindfolded?

The anonymous letter from the Philadelphia newspaper is supported by Samuel Otis, Senate Secretary (1789); William Alexander Duer, constitutional scholar and President of Columbia University (1848); and Eliza Susan Morton Quincy, Jacob Morton's younger sister (prior to 1857). All of these firsthand reports fail to mention GW having kissed the Bible.

Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't remember, kissing the Bible was so common that all of these firsthand witnesses just forgot. You know, though, when Jefferson Davis took his first oath of office, those who reported the event did notice that Davis had his hand on the Bible, kissed the Bible, and added SHMG.

FYI, Washington Irving plagiarized his narrative for GW's first inauguration (1857), and took the liberty of writing that GW added SHMG. He provided no footnote, and never reported that he had stolen his material from Eliza Susan Morton Quincy. The other culprit in this story is Rufus Griswold (1854). You should check out his character references. Google on Griswold and "Edgar Allen Poe."

If you want to contribute to the discussion find out why Washington Irving stole his material from Eliza, and then thought that he needed to append SHMG to GW's oath without any explanation. Furthermore, bare in mind that Griswold and Irving were at least as imaginative as those who, today, feel the need to embellish GW's oath ceremony. You need to recognize that Jayson Blair is not the only person in history who is known to have fabricated a story.

jimmiraybob said...

It really does not matter. The story is part of the American identity, to the point where so many presidential successors continued the tradition. That is a form of truth.No. That is myth. We now live in an age that benefits via use of objective, empirical, fact-based, reproducible, and verifiable data to establish truth. It may not matter to you but it does to me. In the end I'd rather base real world decision making on objective facts and not subjective myths, legends or superstition.

jimmiraybob said...

And there is allegorical truth...Allegories are used to express meaning without relying on the literal - pictures for when words fail. Symbolism replaces factual data. Allegory is subjective both in its construction and interpretation; while the same allegorical work expresses truths to some it expresses heresies to others. What truths would/did people take away from Dante’s Divine Comedy? Would those "truths" be contrary to other "truths," for instance Biblical truths derived from allegory? While an allegory may convey what many feel to be “truth” the allegory itself is not by necessity true. Do we all really sit in caves watching shadows with only a few venturing forth into the sunlight? Or was Plato painting a mental picture?

While the allegory is great to convey otherwise complex and hard to otherwise define abstract ideas it is preceded by the meaning, or “truth,” or object, or idea of the allegory that it is constructed to convey.

GW swearing SHMG and kissing the Bible may be an allegory that to you expresses some greater truth, perhaps that America is Chosen by God to act in His name as recognized by our most cherished leaders, but if the allegorical “truth” being asserted is conveyed via a fiction or fictions - on an untruth, or non-truth, or partial truth, or probable truth, or possible truth – then what does that say about the validity or veracity of the claim of the “greater truth”? If our American canon of “greater truths” rest on lies or untruths or fictions or unverifiable occurrences then what is the measure of truth? Is it what makes us feel good? Is it what fulfills our* preconceived notion of the “greater truth” – (remember, the allegory is a constructed device to convey meaning, and, therefore, the “greater truth” would precede the fiction of the allegory).

* and in a pluralistic society who determines what "our" collective allegorical truth-canon should be? The majority? The Christian? The atheist? The one's with the most and biggest guns?

jimmiraybob said...

Which leads us to moral truth.And is it Fred Phelps' and the Westboro Baptist Church's moral truth that I should follow? Jesus' moral truth? Epicurus' moral philosophy*? Their intersection?

You've listed so many kinds of truths and all but the empirical, fact-based truth has so many twists and turns. I'm left dizzy.

* As you say of yourself, I too am an Epicurian. I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us.- Jefferson to to William Short, from Monticello, October 31, 1819.

Pinky said...

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and, divided we fall?

Tom Van Dyke said...

GW swearing SHMG and kissing the Bible may be an allegory that to you expresses some greater truth, perhaps that America is Chosen by God to act in His name as recognized by our most cherished leaders, but if the allegorical “truth” being asserted is conveyed via a fiction or fictions - on an untruth, or non-truth, or partial truth, or probable truth, or possible truth – then what does that say about the validity or veracity of the claim of the “greater truth”?

Well, the "greater truth" is that Washington said "I swear" to an oath


Oath – 1. a solemn usually formal calling upon God or a god to witness to the truth of what one says or to witness that one sincerely intends to do what one says 2.a: solemn attestation of the truth or inviolability of one’s words.

and did it on a Bible. These are historical facts. These acts have meaning. It is reality. To ignore that reality is, um, "disingenuous," Ben. The SHMG and the kissing are minor and unfundamental [possible, probable] additions.

On the whole, I agree with you, JRB. While we should not discount oral history, we should not elevate allegory to fact or truth, even moral truth, except in the way poetry can convey truth. Indeed, allegory is simply poetry in prose form.

So were SHMG and the kissing added as allegory to the fundamental facts? OK, even if so, to focus on the poetic, allegorical flourishes of SHMG and the kissing is to not only disingenuously ignore the "larger" truth, it shows a complete indifference toward finding the fundamental truth in favor of winning debating points.

Magpie Mason said...

Mr. Soller, I see in your profile that among your favorite books is the Gospel of Mark.

I'm not trying to change the subject, but would you be interested in scholarship that shows how the final 10 verses cannot be found in the earliest extant copies of Mark, and that there are multiple versions of the ending of Mark, and that the discrepancies evidently are the handiwork of various early Christian scribes who opted for whatever reasons to write their own endings of Mark?

The version of Mark that we know today therefore is not what was first written. Furthermore, its account of the Crucifixion differs from other Gospels'. Scholars know that Mark was not an eyewitness, and they say the Gospel attributed to him was authored decades after the Crucifixion, and probably in Rome.

I say again I am not trying to change the subject, but you are a smart man, so you see what I'm driving at.

Ray Soller said...

Magpie, If you want to see my view on how Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels, you can read it here, and here.

I can only guess "what [you're] driving at," but if you want to expound on the subject, you know how to reach me. Otherwise, let's focus on the subject at hand, "the religious history of America's founding."

Magpie Mason said...

In researching the SHMG thing, I was just told by a trustee of the Livingston Masonic Library that neither John Quincy Adams nor Theodore Roosevelt used a Bible in their oaths of office. (The former was a virulent anti-Mason, and the latter was an enthusiastic and active Mason.)

Magpie Mason said...

For what it's worth:

The Library of Congress website uses the phrase "contemporary accounts and other sources in the files of the Architect of the Capitol" to attribute the claim that Washington "pronounced the words, 'So help me God' after taking the oath."

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/pihtml/pinotable.html

Ray Soller said...

Magpie, the statement by the LoC, as you quoted above, is pure bunk. If you are able to connect with Dr. James H. Hutson, LoC, he will probably tell you that you need to contact AoC to obtain the basis for the claim that appears at their website, Inaugurals of Presidents of the United States: Some Precedents and Notable Events.

When I last communicated with Dr. Hutson (1/18/2008), he wrote, " As far as I am aware, the Library of Congress has never taken an official position on the wording of Washington's oath of office. I am quite certain that I have never written about this issue or ventured an opinion about it. I would be interested to know on what grounds you believe the Library has endorsed the claim that Washington added so help me God to his oath of office. Jim Hutson" What Dr. Hutson failed to mention is that LoC has edited out all earlier references to where Dr. Marvin Kranz (now retired) had previously made that claim.

My best wishes to you if you are able to obtain a "contemporary source" from Stephen T Ayers, Acting Architect of the Capitol, or anyone else at AoC stating that GW said SHMG.

And, Magpie, as a personal favor, please stop referring to secondary sources on your quest to support the notion that GW said SHMG.

Magpie Mason said...

Mr. Soller,

As I've said all along, I don't believe Washington speaking that phrase after his oath of office (if it happened) would have been considered newsworthy enough to merit reportage either as vocal or as widely published so as to be easily found by us today. So I'm not surprised newspapers, pamphlets, memoirs, or other primary sources elude us.

I'll continue looking, as opportunities present themselves, and will report here.

I believe Washington said it for the reasons I outlined already, but mostly concerning his kissing the Bible, an act one undertakes after swearing to God. That is good enough for me, because I have done it myself, and because the SHMG legend compensates with a cultural truth for what it allegedly lacks in hard facts. Therefore, I am not on a "quest."

Ray Soller said...

Magpie, I am sorry you took exception to the word "quest." If you prefer the word "endeavor," then I apologize for not having used that word instead.

Your explanations for GW having added SHMG appear to be based mainly upon your personal 21st century view of the world. Similarly, I suppose Griswold's & Irving's explanation for having narrated GW's inauguration, as they did, is based upon that same analogous type of 19th century reasoning. However, as a result of my very exhaustive research of the historical record, I've come to the conclusion that the alleged use of SHMG as part of the Washington's first inauguration would have been a very topical matter, which would not have been passed over.

What's surprising to me is that the use of the Bible was not mentioned at all in any of the May 1st New York City newspaper reports, or subsequent ambassadorial or congressional accounts of GW's inauguration. (Even GW's personal secretary, Tobias Lear, failed to mention it in both his diary & his letter to Mt. Vernon.) Was it because the use of the Bible was so common that it was overlooked, or because its use had been a total embarrassment to both the President and Congress?

Please recognize that no one has ever claimed credit for its use, and Chancellor Livingston, the best potential candidate, inspite of being a Federalist up to the time of the inauguration ended up changing over to the ant-Federalist party after the inauguration.

Magpie Mason said...

Your explanations for GW having added SHMG appear to be based mainly upon your personal 21st century view of the world.Mr. Soller,

My original post of April 30 revealed six or seven oaths from the 1600s that include "So help me God," so I suppose I have a 17th century worldview. I even have clay pipes for smoking tobacco.

It finally dawned on me last night to read GW's first inaugural address. Excerpted:

"...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. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow-citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States...." (Emphases mine.)

There are additional references to deity, mention of Heaven, etc.

Ray Soller said...

Magpie, congratulations, I now dub you with the title of "resident 'So Help Me God' proponent." Please carry on with your clay pipes.

Ray Soller said...

Magpie, congratulations, I now dub you with the title of "resident 'So Help Me God' proponent." Please carry on with your clay pipes.

Magpie Mason said...

That's the best you got? Not even a chiding on the Constitution's silence on inaugural addresses?

I feel like I wasted my time.

bpabbott said...

Wasted your time? Why?

What is it you hoped to accomplish?

Magpie Mason said...

Well, I thought perhaps the evidence of George Washington clearly and repeatedly talking about deity in his inaugural address might have provoked more thought from Mr. Soller. To me, it further increases the probability he said SHMG after his oath, and I wondered if it might have affected Mr. Soller similarly.

bpabbott said...

Jay,

I appreciate your posting of GW's pattern of expression. It allows us to know GW better. I don't think anyone questions that he as a theist and saw himself as a Christan (orthodox?, depends upon the definition).

The disagreement is with regards to what is known to have happened. I don't think there would have been any objection by his fellow founders had he done so, as such language was common place to say the least ... I suppose some might have objected to the official oath having been modified, but such an objection would have no religious relevance.

In any event, it appears to me you focus is upon what you find most likely; do I infer correctly? ... Which is quite different from what is known to have been recorded.

I think you've made your opinion quite clear and have added quite a bit of historical context to substantiate it. I also think others have invested themselves in framing what is known to have occured and what we must decide for ourselves.

I think it fair to conclude we don't have perfect knowledge of these events, and that while the assertion is not out of character for his place and time, there is no contemporary record of GW appending the words.

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