A group blog to promote discussion, debate and insight into the history, particularly religious, of America's founding. Any observations, questions, or comments relating to the blog's theme are welcomed.
CORRECTING the record?!Mr. Soller has done yeoman's work in making the point that we don't know conclusively whether or not President Washington spoke the words "So help me God" at the end of his first presidential oath of office.Let's not be equally as stubborn and potentially wrong in insisting Washington did not say SHMG, as we had been in insisting for so long that he did say it.Personally, I believe Washington did say it, no differently as he did in his Masonic and other oaths.Jay
Here's a taste from the 1/20/2013 Nina Totenberg article:"In my last book in 2005, I actually suggested that he did. I now think that I goofed," [Akhil Amar] the Yale professor says."The source for all the stories about Washington saying, "So help me God" was a biographer who claimed to have attended the inauguration at age 6 and to have heard Washington say those words. But none of the very detailed contemporaneous accounts of the inauguration mentioned the first president adding, "So help me God" to the oath spelled out in the Constitution, and the writer who popularized the notion decades later, Washington Irving, was a famous fabulist, and he was known for making things up."Irving's being a famous fabulist could be excused if he had a personal 65-year old recollection from which he could describe GW's inauguration, but he didn't. He never reported what he had heard. He, instead, chose to plagiarize the overwhelming bulk of his material from the Memoir of Eliza S. M. Quincy, (see pages 51-52).
The Nina Totenberg article had a goof all of its own. She wrote, "The presidential oath is the only one spelled out in the Constitution and the shortest of any official oath. Interestingly, not included in the Constitution are the words used by perhaps all presidents: "So help me God."The inference that perhaps all presidents said SHMG is bad journalism, because it doesn't come close to being accurate. A correct statement would read more like, "Most presidents are not known to have said SHMG". I first thought this comment belonged to Professor Akhil Amar. I sent an email with that thought in mind, but he replied, "I did notice that error in Nina’s reference to 'perhaps all presidents'—but this line was not anything that Nina got from me. I have learned my lesson!"
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