Tuesday, June 1, 2010

My Review of Lillback's "George Washington's Sacred Fire," For Religion in American History


Update: I reproduced the review for Amazon here.


King of Ireland said...

Well done.

Brad Hart said...

Agreed. This was a fantastic review!

Ray Soller said...

Jon, I do give Lillback some credit. He did show that George Washington had actually met "Parson" Weems and that Washington was generally acquainted with Weems. That's much more then can be said for Rufus Griswold who first promoted the unsubstantiated notion that Washington added So help me God to his presidential oath.

Ray Soller said...

Reading Lillback's Sacred Fire provided me with a savory moment where in Chapter 11, page 224 he wrote:

The Second relgious precedent from Washington's inauguration that continues is the addition of the words "So help me God" to his presidential oath of office, which was spoken as Washington had his hand upon the scriptures opened to Genesis 49. These words were not and are not in the Constitution, but every subsequent president in America's history has said them following Washington's lead. Washington's freely taken oath in the name of God has another important significance beyond mere precedent. It eviscerates [my bold] James Thomas Flexner's claim concerning Washington's Inaugural Address. He states that Washington ... avoided, as was his deist custom, the word 'God'" [33] Strange, indeed, that a man who was following Deist custom would scrupulously avoid the name of God in his speech, but then intentionally add it to his oath of office, where it was not required!

Had Lillback consulted with Mary V. Thompson, who wrote the Introduction to his book, he would have learned well before its publication date that:

We did quite a bit of research on this topic [regarding GW's oath], when we were developing the exhibits for the new museum and education center at Mount Vernon. It appears from conversations with scholars at the Papers of the First Federal Congress Project (located at George Washington University in DC) that no contemporary (18th century) descriptions exist documenting that Washington adding the phrase “So help me God” at the end of the oath of office at his first inauguration. [1/26/2007 - MVT to RS email.]

Furthermore, had Lillback taken any time to research the matter he would have discovered that he was way off the mark by claiming that "every subsequent president in America's history has said them following Washington's lead."