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Washington Bible

The George Washingon BibleThe Washington Bible is one of United States' Freemasonry's most treasured possessions. It is difficult in the modern age to convey the sense of genuine affection the citizens of the newly formed country held for the man who became their first president. Prior to the time of his election, those who held control of government did so by might and/or heredity. Washington was unique in that he ruled with the consent of the governed. This sea change (which, in today's language we might refer to as a paradigm shift) was huge. Washington had served the colonies as the leader in the Revolutionary War but rather than grabbing the reigns of power as so many other military conquerors had done, simply returned to his home to lead a quiet life. His humility marked him as the appropriate choice for the leadership of the fledgling nation and when word arrived at Mount Vernon that he had been chosen for this position, he simply followed the call of 'duty' and proceeded the very next day to New York where he would become 'President'.

He traveled by horseback along a route which was marked by a huge outpouring of genuine affection by the citizenry (centuries later, roads on which he rode would bear markers noting his passage to that great event). The trip was punctuated by applause, parades, fireworks, and huge banquets culminating in a grand parade through New York. 

Freemasonry was an integral part of that parade with several bodies marching. As Washington was about to be sworn in, he asked for a Bible on which to take his oath of office.  While the most minute details of the inauguration ceremony had been planned, it appears that no one thought about this particular matter. A search of Federal Hall failed to produce one but New York Chancellor Robert R. Livingston who was also the Grand Master of New York Freemasonry knew there would be one in the Lodge Room of St. John's Lodge #1 a few short yards away. The Parade Grand Marshal, General Jacob Morton, was the Worshipful Master of that lodge and was dispatched to obtain the Bible there. When he returned, events proceeded and the country had its first President. We also learn from Allen E. Roberts' Freemasonry In American History that:

The Federal Gazette of Philadelphia reported: "The Impression of his past services, the concourse of spectators, the devout fervency with which he repeated the oath, and the reverential manner in which he bowed down and kissed the sacred volume - all these conspired to render it one of the most august and interesting spectacles ever exhibited on the globe."

Of course, any Mason reading the above would be immediately struck by the wording used as it conveys the sense of humility and respect with which Masonic obligations are taken.

As the oath concluded, Gen. Morton turned down the corner of the page on which Brother Washington's left hand had rested. A silk ribbon was thereafter inserted to mark the place.

Since that time, the Bible has been known as the "Washington Bible" and for over 200 years ago, Freemasons with their keen sense of history have carefully preserved this unique piece of Americana for later generations to enjoy.

A real National Treasure

This national treasure was nearly destroyed on September 11, 2001 when the World Trade Towers in New York were attacked by terrorists. The Bible had been on loan from St. John's Lodge #1 for an exhibit in the Faunces Tavern Museum, just a few blocks from the horrific event. Two days later, Brother Tom Savini, Director of the Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library and Museum was taken under special escort to Faunces Tavern Museum where he was able to recover the Washington Bible. 

Another interesting site is a U. S. Government page which has compiled the passages to which Bibles were open when Presidents took their oath of office. You can find it here.

Some other interesting facts: candidates at St. John's Lodge take their obligation on this Bible which is also used to obligate the Grand Master of New York. Three other presidents have used it for their inauguration and it was to be used at a fourth in 2001, that of George Walker Bush, following in the footsteps of his father, President George Herbert Walker Bush. However, inclement weather caused a last minute cancellation in order not to expose this irreplaceable treasure to the elements. The Bible does not travel by air; only by land so as to minimize the potential for damage. It only travels in the presence of three carefully selected members of St. John's Lodge.

Want to read more about St. John's Lodge #1, AYM, F&AM? You can find their website here.

The Washington Bible and its custodians

The George Washington Bible at the 2005 Grand Lodge of Maine Annual Communication
Photo by Ed King
 

 

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