Sarah Palin’s new book, America By Heart: Reflections On Faith, Family and Flag, repeats the debunked myth that George Washington, at his first inauguration, added the phrase “So help me God” to the oath of office. The myth was started by Washington Irving and repeated by Rufus Wilmot Griswold in his 1854 book The Republican Court, or, American Society in the Days of Washington.
Washington Irving told the story of how he was present at the first inauguration.
Submitted by -David Drumm (Nal) — guest editor
However, Irving was barely 6 years old at the time and had observed the proceeding from 200 feet away. There’s no way he could have seen, let alone heard what happened. There is no other report or evidence that George Washington said what Irving claimed.
But that’s enough for Sarah Palin, who is well-known for believing in myths.
Newdow v. Roberts, a federal lawsuit filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, sought to enjoin the Hon. John Roberts, Jr., Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, from adding the phrase, “So help me God,” to the Presidential oath of office. The dismissal was affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit in 2009 as moot, and due to lack of standing for future inaugurations. Roberts did add the phrase, “So help me God” to the end of a flubbed oath.
From Peter R. Henriques, Professor of History, Emeritus, at George Mason University:
One of the most widely held myths about George Washington is that immediately after he took the prescribed oath to become the nation’s first President, he solemnly added the words, “So help me God” and thus began a tradition that has been followed ever since.
In fact, an examination of the historical evidence demonstrates that claim [that Washington added the words, “So help me God”] is almost certainly false.
-David Drumm (Nal)