SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – “So help me God.”
Those four words mark history – a president-elect is suddenly president as his left palm rests against a Bible. This image, on display Wednesday during President Biden’s inauguration, is an iconic display of America’s peaceful transfer of power. But the Bible isn’t even an official part of the ceremony, instead it’s a tradition that goes back to George Washington.
Back in 1789, the nation’s first president requested that he have a Bible for his Oath of Office, and the tradition continues to this day.
“It’s something that has been used out of honor and respect to recognize a higher authority,” says Ron Fox, a Utah historian who has attended five presidential inaugurations.
“A higher authority than their own,” adds Fox.
The tradition with left hand on Bible and right hand raised during the 35-word Oath of Office is one that offers insights into various Presidents. Obama and Trump chose Lincoln’s personal Bible as they swore the oath. George H.W. Bush chose George Washington’s original Bible.
On Wednesday, President Biden chose his family’s 19th Century Bible, a thick tome he’s used for oath ceremonies over his five decades in public office.
Historian Ron Fox says it wasn’t until 1965 that spouses began to hold the Bible as Presidents took their oath.
“It’s a momentous event. And it’s a momentous time,” says Fox.
“It’s a time of change. It’s a time of renewal. It’s a time where people’s hopes and dreams are realized when they run for office. And hopefully the nation shares those,” adds Fox.