Sunday, March 01, 2009

Library of Congress Historian promotes George Washington myths

In May 2005, Dr. Marvin Kranz, historical specialist, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, was interviewed by Senator Durbin about the history of presidential inaugurations. About three and half minutes into the interview Dr. Marvin Kranz says "George Washington took the first inaugural address, and when he was about to take the first inaugural address he said 'where is the bible?'. Nobody had a bible. He wanted to take it on a bible." About four minutes into a video on the Library of Congress web site page titled Presidential Inaugurations: Historical Insights, George Washington's First Inauguration Dr. Marvin Kranz says "Washington said he wanted to take the oath on the bible".

I don't think so. There is no eyewitness evidence that I am aware of that supports the assertion that George Washington "said he wanted to take the oath on the bible" or said "where is the bible?". If he had wanted a bible he could have brought one with him. The first chief justice of New York state, John Jay, was also the second president of the American Bible Society. It is possible that he thought that the swearing-in lacked legitimacy without a bible and made the initial request that one be provided for the ceremony. Chancellor Livingston, Grandmaster of the New York Masons, apparently sent someone, maybe fellow Mason Jacob Morton, to the nearby Masonic lodge to fetch a bible. George Washington's only role here was probably as spectator to all of this. Unfortunately, when it comes to George Washington, it appears that religionists have introduced a number of propaganda myths, and those myths have been repeated so many times that even PhD historians employed by our Library of Congress have been repeating them.

The truth is there is no known eyewitness account stating who requested the bible so we don't know. The first account that I know of which claims Jacob Morton was the person who obtained the bible and the red velvet cushion from the Masonic temple is found on page 124 of Washington and His Masonic Peers by Sidney Hayden, 1867. That is a long time after the fact, its not an eyewitness account, so it appears that we don't know who fetched the bible either. George Washington neither requested the bible nor did he append "so help me God" to his oath of office. Shame on Dr. Kranz for asserting otherwise while speaking as a government employee and historical expert on presidential inaugurations.

1 comment:

  1. But it's so fun to make up stuff about historical figures! That's what we do with the bible, it's a grand old time. :)