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 CNS Story:

OBAMA-BIBLE Dec-26-2008 (710 words) With photo. xxxn

Obama to be sworn in with Bible Lincoln used at first inauguration

By Chaz Muth
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When President-elect Barack Obama is sworn in Jan. 20 as the 44th president of the United States, he will take the oath of office with his hand placed on the same Bible Abraham Lincoln used at his 1861 inauguration.

The use of this particular Bible by the first black man to be elected president of the U.S. is considered significant because it was used to swear in an American leader credited with ending slavery in the country more than a century ago.

The Obama transition team Dec. 23 announced its intention to use the Lincoln Bible, which also has a Catholic connection, since the man who administered the oath of office to the nation's 16th president was the first Catholic chief justice of the United States.

Obama encouraged comparisons between himself and Lincoln during the presidential campaign, which he kicked off in early 2007 on the steps of the Old Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, where Lincoln delivered his legendary "House Divided" speech in 1858 about the dangers of continuing to maintain a nation that was "half slave, half free."

The Jan. 20 inauguration also comes a few weeks before the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's Feb. 12, 1809, birth.

The worn, pinkish, velvet-covered Bible used during the 1861 inauguration of Lincoln isn't necessarily considered a significant book, except for the fact that it was used to swear in the man who is credited with preserving the nation during one of its bleakest periods in history, said Mark Dimunation, chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress, where the Bible is currently stored.

An interesting sidelight about Lincoln's first inauguration brought to mind by the Bible is that Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, a Marylander, was required to administer the oath of office to a man with whom he would continue to cross swords for the next three years. Taney was a bitter political rival of Lincoln's and the author of the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision in 1857 that would indirectly lead to the Civil War.

"President-elect Obama is deeply honored that the Library of Congress has made the Lincoln Bible available for use during his swearing-in," said Emmett Beliveau, executive director of the Presidential Inaugural Committee, in a written statement released by the Obama transition team.

"The president-elect is committed to holding an inauguration that celebrates America's unity, and the use of this historic Bible will provide a powerful connection to our common past and common heritage," he said.

The 1,280-page Bible was purchased by William Thomas Carroll, clerk of the Supreme Court, for Lincoln's March 4, 1861, inauguration, because the Lincoln family Bible was still en route from Springfield, packed away with the first family's belongings, the transition team's statement said.

The back of the Bible is adorned with the seal of the Supreme Court and a statement that reads "I, William Thomas Carroll, clerk of the said court, do hereby certify that the preceding copy of the holy Bible is that upon which the Honorable R.B. Taney, chief justice of the said court, administered to His Excellency, Abraham Lincoln, the oath of office as president of the United States."

The Library of Congress actually has thousands of Bibles in more than 150 languages, about 1,500 of which are considered significant editions for their rare or historic value, Dimunation told Catholic News Service last summer, as he allowed two CNS staff members to hold the Lincoln Bible.

Most of the rare Bibles were gifts to the library, but others have been purchased and varied in price depending on their significance, he said.

"You can't really put a price tag on these books, from a curator's point of view," Dimunation said. "We are a major resource for the study of the Bible. We never talk about the money. It gives people the wrong sense of these books, with texts that remain a valid expression for all sorts of interests."

The Library of Congress planned to place the 1861 inaugural Lincoln Bible on display from Feb. 12 to May 9 as part of its exposition, "With Malice Toward None: The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Exhibition."


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