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I Do Solemnly Swear

President Barack Obama on Jan. 20, 2009, took the oath of office on a Bible from the Library’s collections that is steeped in history — the same Bible upon which Abraham Lincoln swore March 4, 1861, to uphold the Constitution.

The front side of the Lincoln Bible. 2008 Inauguration of James Buchanan at the East Front of the U.S. Capitol, the first known photograph an inauguration. 1857

The first Lincoln Inaugural is rife with historical significance, coming at a time when the survival of the United States was never more endangered, according to Clark W. Evans, an expert on Lincoln who heads the Reference Services Section of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division at the Library of Congress.

Following the lead of seven states in the lower South, Evans noted, the slave states of the upper South were threatening to secede from the Union. Amid fears of assassination, the president-elect had secretly arrived in Washington on Feb. 23, 1861.

To view the Lincoln Inaugural Bible today is to conjure up the remarkable scene, which unfolded on the East Front of the Capitol almost 148 years ago. Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, then 84 years old, administered the oath of office. As the author of the infamous "Dred Scott" decision of 1857, which held in part that Congress did not have the power to abolish slavery in the territories, Taney was clearly no friend to Lincoln or the cause of emancipation. In the Inaugural Address that followed, President Lincoln appealed to his countrymen to follow "the better angels of our nature."

The Bible was originally purchased by William Thomas Carroll, Clerk of the Supreme Court. The Lincolns’ family Bible, which is also in the Library’s collections, had been packed with other belongings that were traveling from Springfield.

The inaugural Bible itself is bound in burgundy velvet with a gold-washed white metal rim around the three outside edges of both covers. All its edges are heavily gilt. In the center of the top cover is a shield of gold wash over white metal with the words "Holy Bible" chased into it. The book is 15 cm long, 10 cm wide, and 4.5 cm deep when closed. The 1,280-page Bible was published in 1853 by the Oxford University Press.

In the back of the volume, along with the seal of the Supreme Court, it is annotated: "I, William Thomas Carroll, clerk of the said court do hereby certify that the preceding copy of the Holy Bible is that upon which the Honble. R. B. Taney, Chief Justice of the said Court, administered to His Excellency, Abraham Lincoln, the oath of office as President of the United States ... "

The Lincoln Inaugural Bible will go on display at the Library of Congress Feb. 12 to May 9, 2009, as part of an exhibition titled "With Malice Toward None: The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Exhibition." The exhibit will then travel to five other American cities.

The Library has periodically provided historic bibles and other works from its collections for use in ceremonial occasions. When Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) took his individual ceremonial oath of office on Jan. 4, 2007, it was with one hand upon Thomas Jefferson's copy of Koran. Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, requested to take the oath upon Jefferson's personal copy of George Sale’s 1734 translation of the Koran, commonly called the Alcoran of Mohammed (London: Hawes, Clarke, Collins and Wilcox, 1764). The two-volume work, which resides in the Library’s Rare Book and Special Collections Division, is one of nearly 6,500 titles sold to Congress by Jefferson in 1815 to replace the Congressional Library that had been destroyed when the British burned the Capitol during the War of 1812. Sale’s English translation is credited with introducing the West to the Koran. It is the first to have been translated directly from the Arabic to English. Jefferson’s copy was rebound by the Library in 1918.

The Library holds 1,500 editions of the Bible in more than 150 languages. This extensive collection offers an unparalleled opportunity to witness the Bible’s transformation over 800 years. Sixteen of these volumes, in addition to the Giant Bible of Mainz and Gutenberg Bible, are on display.

The Library’s exhibition “I Do Solemnly Swear” offers a glimpse into the history of American presidential inaugurations. Eighteen presidents are featured in the display, from George Washington to John F. Kennedy.

A. The front side of the Lincoln Bible. 2008. Michaela McNichol. Rare Book and Special Collections Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction information not available.

B. Inauguration of James Buchanan at the East Front of the U.S. Capitol, the first known photograph an inauguration. 1857. Manuscript Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction information not available.