When U.S. Presidents take the oath of office, most* have placed their left hand upon a Bible during that solemn moment, raised their right hand, and repeated the oath of office — adding the unofficial words “so help me God” at the end, as was first done by George Washington. On most occasions the Bible has been open to a specific verse.
For his second inauguration [in January 2013], reports a UPI website, President Obama selected three Bibles to use for his oath of office: the Robinson family Bible, the Lincoln Bible and Martin Luther King’s traveling Bible. The family Bible was used at the private swearing-in ceremony on Sunday, January 20, 2013, and the other two were used in the public ceremony on the following Monday. UPI reported that “both bibles were be closed, rather than open to a specific verse, when Obama took the oath of office Monday, as was the Robinson Bible on Sunday.”
William Bennett in his book The American Patriot’s Almanac: Daily Readings on America provides some examples of Scripture passages used by various presidents at their inauguration; others can easily be found by searching online.
Abraham Lincoln, 1861 – opened his Bible at random. In 1865 he used an open Bible, since lost, and noted 3 verses: “Judge not, that ye be not judged”, Matthew 7:1; “Woe to the man by whom the offence cometh!” Matthew 18:7; and, “Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments” Revelation 16:7.
Rutherford Hayes, 1877 – “They compassed me about like bees; they are quenched as the fire of thorns: for in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.” Psalm 118:11-13
Theodore Roosevelt, 1905 –
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.” James 1:22–23
Woodrow Wilson, 1917 –
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. . .” Psalm 46
Franklin Roosevelt, 1933,`37,`41,`45 –
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal . . .” 1 Corinthians 13
Gerald Ford, 1974 –
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5–6
Jimmy Carter, 1977 –
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8
Ronald Reagan, 1981,`85 –
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14
George H.W. Bush, used his Family Bible open to Matthew 5.
Bill Clinton, 1993,`97
“For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Galatians 6:8 (1993). “Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; You will raise up the age-old foundations; And you will be called the repairer of the breach, The restorer of the streets in which to dwell.” Isaiah 58:12 (1997)
George W. Bush,
“Yet those who wait for the Lord Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.” Isaiah 40:31
*According to that UPI website, “Just two presidents (that we know) have chosen to use books other than a bible for their oaths: John Quincy Adams, who used a book of U.S. law, and Lyndon Johnson, who was sworn in aboard Air Force One following the assassination of Kennedy. Johnson used a missal–a book used for Catholic Mass–found on a side table in Kennedy’s Air Force One bedroom.”
There’s no firsthand evidence that George Washington added an extra-constitutional religious codicil to his oath of office. Furthermore, most presidents are not known as having done otherwise.. It’s only been since FDR’s 1933 inauguration that all presidents have done their own thing and appended “So help me God.”.
It’s true that John Quincy Adams “used a book of U. S. Law,” but it was not as a Bible replacement. It was simply used as a source from which the presidential oath could be read. (Chief Justice John Roberts, at President Obama’s first inauguration, should have followed this protocol instead of ad-libbing the words.)
As for including a Bible at a presidential inauguration, George Washington did not plan for a Bible at his second inauguration, and there’s no report that one was used. The next known use of a Bible occurred at the 1829 inauguration of Andrew Jackson.