Back on Dec. 10, 2013, Tucker Lieberman posted an article, The long and misguided history of swearing in on Bibles, which was originally published as part of the now defunct Helium Network. I posted a segment to American Creation after it came to my attention. Now the author has expanded and revivified this same article at his blog that’s called, Dead Man Blogging, which is “Dedicated to the writings of (mostly) dead, mostly Western philosophers.”
Here’s a taste:
The term 'book-oath' goes back at least as far as Shakespeare's Henry IV. Part II contains the words: "I put thee now to thy/book-oath: deny it, if thou canst." In pre-Revolutionary America, swearing on the Bible served as a religious test "designed to marginalize infidel deists like Thomas Paine, and religious dissidents especially like members of the Dutch Reformed Church," according to information received from RaySoller.
Placing one's hand on the Bible
Despite this, many U.S. presidents have recited the oath with their hands on a Bible. George Washington did so at his first inauguration. ( . . . ) The next well substantiated claim to this is for the seventh U.S. president, Andrew Jackson, at his inauguration in 1829, followed by the eleventh U.S. president, James Polk, who also kissed the Bible when he swore on it at his 1845 inauguration, an event that was publicized by telegraph. Social critic and comic Dean Obeidallah singled out "two presidents, Teddy Roosevelt and John Quincy Adams, [who] did not use a Bible at their swearing-in ceremonies, but many others certainly did.
Read full article here.