The Lincoln Bible resolution

Published 8:43 am Friday, February 20, 2009

Placing his hand on a small, burgundy velvet Bible, President Abraham Lincoln spoke the words that every U.S. President has spoken as he took his presidential oath of office, “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” His words, like every other president’s, would go down in history as the nation watched another peaceful transition of power in the history of our democracy. What President Lincoln did not realize, however, was the 148-year history that this particular Bible would come to represent.

Historical buildings and the symbols, artifacts and objects within them help to tell the story of our nation. Since the inauguration of George Washington, each of the 44 presidents of the United States has placed his hand on a Bible while swearing the Constitutional oath of office, and many presidents have chosen to use a Bible that holds personal or historical significance to them. The Bible has not only played a storied role in our presidential inaugurations, but it is a symbol that represents the unique religious heritage so rich to our nation’s more than 200-year history.

This year, President Barack Obama chose to swear his oath of office on the same Bible that Abraham Lincoln used at his inauguration in 1861. As our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln led us out of the dark period of slavery in the United States so that African Americans could be given the freedom they deserved, and the Lincoln Bible has come to represent a 148-year epoch in civil rights, from the freeing of slaves, to desegregation and now to the swearing in of the first black president of the United States.

That small, burgundy velvet Bible that Abraham Lincoln used has become one of the objects so important to our American history. Though small in size, Lincoln’s Bible holds vast historical significance. It uniquely captures both America’s long journey of civil rights and America’s rich religious heritage — together providing an important symbol of the story of our nation.

That is why I have introduced a resolution calling on the Capitol Preservation Commission and the Architect of the Capitol to place the Lincoln Bible on permanent display at the Capitol Visitor Center, the newest addition to the United States Capitol. Each day, nearly 15,000 visitors go through that building to learn the history and operations of the United States Congress through artifacts, documents, videos and images. It is important that those items accurately reflect our history and for visitors to see the times of triumph, times of loss, times of revolution and times of conviction that have defined our nation. It is also important each portion of our nation’s history is accurately represented.

Currently, no inauguration Bible is on display in the Capitol Visitor Center and there is no mention of the significant role that our religious heritage played in the civil rights movement. In fact, a small iron table used by Abraham Lincoln during his second inauguration to hold the Bible is on display in the Center, but without the Lincoln Bible. We cannot afford to miss opportunities like this to share the complete story of our nation with the 15,000 visitors who visit daily. It is only appropriate that the Lincoln Bible be placed on display to enrich the experience for Capitol visitors so that they may fully appreciate both America’s journey of civil rights and our nation’s rich religious heritage.

Our Founding Fathers established our nation “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence” and with the idea that “all men are created equal.” Their foresight wove the rich tapestry of faith and freedom that makes our nation one of liberty and justice for all. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to make sure that this rich history is preserved and sustained.