Friday, June 13, 2008

George Washington's Inauguration

As fellow blogger Ray Soller (of American Creation) has noted, there is a great deal of skepticism over whether or not George Washington uttered the phrase, "So help me God" at the conclusion of his oath of office. To be honest, this is an issue that I have never before considered. Like most people, I probably just assumed that the historical record accurately accounted for the authenticity of this event. However, as Mr. Soller has pointed out in his excellent article (Freeman's Oath - reference), there is strong reason to not only question but to doubt the legitimacy of the "So help me God" claim.

Like most history nerds, I was a devout follower of HBO's hit miniseries, John Adams. One of the most powerful scenes of the entire series is the inauguration of George Washington as the republic's first president. Not only does the scene attempt to recreate the oath of office -- including Washington uttering "So help me God," -- but the whole clip effectively arouses a sense of Christian patriotism, which I am sure was extremely effective in invoking a "spiritual" response from the average viewer.

To be perfectly honest, I have absolutly no idea if Washington did or did not conclude his oath of office with, "So help me God." I do believe, however, that Mr. Soller has shed light on some very important evidence that should be considered in detail. Hopefully we can continue this discussion, including the views of those who support the "So help me God" claim.

Here is the Washington Inauguration according to HBO's John Adams:


Brian Tubbs said...

Anyone who actually reads Washington's inaugural speech - and sees its unambiguous and clear references to God and its call on the nation to depend on God - will have little reason to question that Washington uttered "so help me God" at the end of the oath.

Ray Soller said...

Even after reading Washington's inaugural address, as many scholars have, there's no convincing reason to believe that he added "so help me God" to his presidential oath. When Washington signed his Revolutionary War Loyallty Oath of May 12, 1778, that had been approved by the Continental Congress, he did not write in "so help me God."(see In the original legislation, Congress left the religious codicil outside of the quoted text, thereby making "so help me God" optional.

Philander D. Chase, Senior Editor, Papers of George Washington, University of Virginia, put it this way, " ... Washington as president was a remarkably strict constructionist of the Constitution, and it seems to me very unlikely that he would have altered or amended the constitutional oath regardless of whatever views he may have had on the subject, and his personal views as far as they are known seem to have been pretty comfortable with the oath as it appears in the Constitution." (Personal e-mail dated Nov. 17, 2005)

Furthermore, when examining his first inaugural address, there's not a single instance where he uses the word "God," and I don't know if anyone can find Washington making a testimonial reference to the word "God" in the entire post-Colonial era.

Perhaps, most telling of all, when it came to Washington's second inauguration, there's no report of a Bible being present, absolutely no mention of a Supreme Being in his inaugural address, and no planned church service following the ceremony.