US Presidents Who Didn't Swear In On The Bible

According to The White House Historical Association, Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution reads, "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." It's a tradition for elected presidents to take this oath on their inauguration day. As they speak these words, the president will have one hand raised and the other on an opened Bible. Per The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance, this custom was employed at George Washington's inauguration on April 30, 1789.

The National Park Service states that Washington was sworn in using a borrowed Bible from a Masonic Lodge. After taking the oath, reports indicate that he kissed the Bible. Although it's unknown if Washington uttered these words himself, Middle Tennessee State University reports that several presidents now end the oath by stating "So help me, God."

However, swearing on a Bible is not mandated by the U.S. Constitution. In fact, the National Constitution Center states that the Constitution indicates that a president does not have to be religious in order to hold public office (as is noted in Article VI, Clause 3, otherwise called the "No Religious Test Clause" ). Nevertheless, several presidents have followed in Washington's footsteps and used a Bible during their inauguration. There are, however, some exceptions.

It's undetermined if early presidents used a Bible

It's unknown if the early presidents used a Bible while they were sworn in. Michael Nelson stated in his book, "Guide to the Presidency and the Executive Branch" that while Washington took the Oath of Office using a Bible, it cannot be definitively proven that any president up to James K. Polk's 1845 inauguration that any president used a Bible for the Oath (though Nelson does state that it is strongly believed that Andrew Jackson used a Bible for two inaugurations). Whether or not a Bible was present at these early ceremonies isn't quite clear. However, a heavier focus for documentation purposes was placed on what each incoming president said during their inaugural speech.

After Polk, there was still an inconsistent use of the Bible while swearing-in. For example, if a book of law or the Bible at the inauguration of Franklin Pierce. Another way Pierce diverged from tradition was that he decided to affirm his oath instead of swearing it , though it is unclear why he chose to do so. Historians have theorized that this could have been due to the recent death of his son or that he may have been questioning his own religious beliefs.

More than one president was sworn in without a bible

On September 6, 1901, History writes that President William McKinley was shot by Leon Czolgosz while visiting the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. At the time, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was in Vermont. However, it seemed that McKinley was going to survive his injuries. At one point Roosevelt told reporters (via History), "You may say that I am absolutely sure the president will recover." He then left on a camping trip. Sadly, McKinley died from an infection eight days after the shooting. On September 14th, Roosevelt became the 26th president. As he was on vacation, the National Park Service writes that Roosevelt did not have his formal attire with him. Moreover, The Library of Congress states that he also did not have a Bible. As a result, Roosevelt was sworn in sans Bible at the home of his friend Ansley Wilcox. 

Similarly, it's believed that Lyndon B Johnson, vice president for John F. Kennedy, also did not use a Bible when he was sworn in after the president's assassination. Instead, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Johnson used a Missal, a Catholic book of prayers, to swear his oath while on board Air Force One (pictured above).