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Masonic order used for the swearing in of U.S. Presidents


For the sixth time in history, a pre-revolutionary Bible owned by the Masonic order was to be used for the swearing in of a U.S. president.
   George W. Bush had intended to take the oath of office as the nation's 43rd president on the historic Masonic bible. George Washington was the first, in 1789. The last was George H.W. Bush, who used the Bible in 1989.
   On Friday, 19 January 2001, three officials of the Manhattan-based St. John's Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons boarded an Amtrak liner for Washington, D.C., carrying the nine-pound, 234-year-old King James Bible in a special container. At Union Station, they were met by inaugural committee officials and escorted to the inaugural site. They were literally waiting in the wings in a room adjacent to the inauguration platform when, at the 12th hour, a decision was made (attributed to the Vice President, but not confirmed) not to jeopardize the Bible because of the rain then pelting the area.
   Bound in London in 1767, the Bible was brought to the colonies and given by Jonathan Hampton to the St. John's Lodge in lower Manhattan three years later when he became its grand master.
Just before Washington was to take his oath of office on the steps of Federal Hall in New York City on April 30, 1789, it was discovered that there was no Bible on hand. The then-New York Gov. Robert Livingston, a Masonic grand master, borrowed the lodge's bible from St. John's Masonic Lodge, which had meeting rooms just a short distance away. A statue of Washington marks the site in front of the present-day Federal Hall on Wall Street.
   No printer in the colonies produced Bibles at the time, and the London import, bound in maroon Moroccan leather with silver hasps, was ''probably close to a year's wages for the average fellow.'' Despite its age and history, the lodge today puts no monetary value on the book. ''I guess the word is priceless,'' a representative said.
   Other presidents who have placed their left hand on the Masonic Bible were Warren G. Harding in 1921, Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953, and Jimmy Carter in 1977. Among the six, only Washington and Harding were Masons.
Harry Truman, probably the most active Mason among the nation's chief executives, did not use it, nor did several other Masons who served as president.
   In 1867, President Andrew Johnson, attending the dedication of a new Masonic temple in Boston, asked that the George Washington inaugural Bible be brought to his hotel room, and was seen by aides ''to weep as he held it in his hands".
In addition to its role in presidential oath-taking, the Bible was used at Washington's funeral in December, 1799, the dedication of the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. in 1885, the re-laying of the U.S. Capitol's cornerstone in 1959, and the christening of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington at Norfolk, Va., in 1992.
   It was on display at the New York world's fair in 1964-65 and at the White House for 30 days after the elder Bush's inaugural.
Between travels, it is maintained by the National Parks Service in a protective display case at Federal Hall, open to Genesis 49, 50, the pages on which Washington rested his hand to be sworn in.






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