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." As the Museum of the Bible explains, it's a tradition for elected presidents to take this oath on their inauguration day. As they speak these words, the president will have their right raised while their left hand rests on a Bible. Per Our White House, this custom began in 1789 with George Washington's inauguration.

On April 30 that year, the National Constitution Center 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 (via Our White House). Although it's unknown if Washington uttered these words himself, Americans United for Separation of Church and State reports that several presidents now end the oath by stating "So help me, God."

However, an opinion piece from CNN notes that swearing on a Bible is not mandated by the U.S. Constitution. In fact, the Pew Research Center writes that the Constitution indicates that a president does not have to be religious in order to hold public office. Nevertheless, several presidents have followed in Washington's footsteps and used a Bible during their inauguration. There are, however, some exceptions (per The Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

It's undetermined if early presidents used a Bible

Americans United for Separation of Church and State reports that it's unknown if Presidents John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and Andrew Jackson used a Bible while they were sworn in. Additionally, Slate writes that it's unknown if Martin Van Buren, William Harry Harrison, and John Tyler did as well. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, there is little to indicate that the five presidents that succeeded Tyler used a Bible during their inauguration. However, Franklin Pierce, the 14th President, did use a Bible at his inauguration. Instead of swearing on it, Pierce decided to affirm it due to him questioning his religious beliefs.

The National Constitution Center notes that a Bible was likely present during each of these ceremonies; it's simply unclear if they were used while they were sworn in. Per National Constitution Center, it became more commonplace to document if a president used a Bible to swear in his oath after Abraham Lincoln's inauguration. That being said, it is known that in 1825, John Adams, the 6th President of the United States, did not use a Bible when he was sworn in. He reportedly used a book of laws. CNN explains that he likely did this to maintain a separation of church and state.

More than one president was sworn in without a bible

On September 6, 1901, History writes that President William McKinley was shot while visiting the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Per Britannica, the assailant was a known anarchist named Leon Czolgosz. At the time, the National Constitution Center explains that Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was in Vermont. However, it seemed that McKinley was going to survive his injuries. At one point Roosevelt told reporters, "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, 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 have a Bible when he was sworn in after the president's assassination (via Slate). 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).