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January 8, 2009

Who Said 'So help me God' First?

A U.S. District Court judge will hear a case next week from an atheist who wants to block a long-held tradition prayers and mentions of God at the inauguration.

Cathy Lynn Grossman at USA Today wrote a piece that shows some history behind God included at the inauguration. She writes that the website and video produced by the official committee in charge of the inauguration say George Washington set a precedent by saying "So help me God." But experts at the Library of Congress and the first president's home, Mt. Vernon, now say that there is no documentation that the famous phrase came from Washington's mouth.

So who gets the blame or credit for the famous phrase "So help me God"?

Chester Arthur said the famous phrase at his inauguration in 1881. Beth Hahn, historical editor for the U.S. Senate Historical Office told Grossman that it was the first eyewitness documentation and was included in in The New York Times.

Washington began with "fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the Universe ?" Then said, "In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own; nor those of my fellow-citizens at large, less than either: No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States."

He concludes by turning back to God, "the benign Parent of the human race, in humble supplication," and asks for God's "divine blessing" for the nation.

Blessings by clergy at the inauguration - initially by the Senate chaplain and then, since 1933, by clergy invited by the president-elect - have been part of inaugurations for more than two centuries without much attention.

Comments

Interesting. Arthur does seem to be one of the most obscure presidents ever.

No wonder "Chet" Arthur said "So help me God"; he was the VP and sworn in right after President Garfield was gunned down by a man upset at not getting a political appointment! Considering all those Clinton-era appointees, Obama might have reason to imitate President Arthur...

And by the by, just because there's no eyewitness documentation doesn't make it untrue; most of history would have to be thrown out were that the sole criterion. Non-eyewitness documentation should be taken quite seriously indeed, if with a grain of salt.