Presidential history

A White House Foundation Stone

Init Eye White House At the end of World War II, President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) became aware that the White House needed extensive repairs.  Plaster was cracked, floors were sagging and repeated coats of white paint had covered the decorative carving on the exterior.  Upon further examination, the conditions were discovered to be even worse than anticipated.  A refurbishment project for the White House was undertaken over several years: the interior was completely removed and the exterior walls were supported with stronger foundations.  A steel frame was built within the shell.

During an inspection of the construction, President Truman noticed carvings on some of the stones in the original White House walls.  These marks were “signatures” left by the eighteenth-century stonemasons who worked on the original construction.  President Truman, an active Freemason, arranged for many of these stones to be sent to Grand Lodges across the United States.

The stone pictured here was sent to the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts in 1952 along with a letter signed by President Truman.  The president explained that “these evidences of the number of members of the Craft who built the President’s official residence so intimately aligns Freemasonry with the formation and founding of our Government that I believe your Grand Lodge will cherish this link between the Fraternity and the Government of the Nation, of which the White House is a symbol.”GL2004_0146S1 White House Stone

One of the White House foundation stones is on view as part of the National Heritage Museum’s exhibition, "The Initiated Eye: Secrets, Symbols, Freemasonry, and the Architecture of Washington, D.C."  The exhibition presents 21 oil paintings by Peter Waddell based on the architecture of Washington, D.C., and the role that our founding fathers and prominent citizens – many of whom were Freemasons – played in establishing the layout and design of the city.  The exhibition is supplemented with approximately forty objects from the National Heritage Museum’s collection. 

"The Initiated Eye" will be on view through January 9, 2011.  The paintings in the exhibition are the work of Peter Waddell, and were commissioned by, and are the property of, the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington, D.C., with all rights reserved.  This exhibition is supported by the Scottish Rite Masons of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A.

Left: Within These Walls, 2005, Peter Waddell (b. 1955), Washington, D.C.  Courtesy of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington, D.C.  Right: White House Foundation Stone, 1792-1800, American, Collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts at the National Heritage Museum, GL2004.0146.  Photograph by David Bohl.


Tippecanoe and Log Cabins, Too!

Hard Cider and Log Cabine Almanac 1841 This Hard Cider and Log Cabin Almanac, from the Van Gorden-Williams Library’s collection, is an enlightening 24 pages of political memorabilia. Like other almanacs of the time, it contains valuable astronomical information for farmers and others. However, interleaved with charts of sunrises and sunsets, phases of the moon, and high tides, are illustrations and articles supporting William Henry Harrison’s 1840 presidential campaign.

Historians often view the 1840 election as the first modern campaign, in which the parties began promoting their candidates nationally, using events and advertising to create their nominee’s image and push their agenda. The Whig Party backed William Henry Harrison, the 68-year-old former governor of the Indiana Territory and hero from the War of 1812.

This almanac’s title comes from Harrison’s campaign symbol, the log cabin. It appeared on ribbons, medals, banners, brooches, buttons, prints, plates, needle cases, snuff boxes, and many other items. Some Harrison supporters even built log cabins to house their campaign rallies. Ironically, the Whigs adapted the image from an insult by Harrison’s Democratic opponents, who said he would prefer retirement in his log cabin, drinking hard cider, to being president. His campaign co-opted the log cabin idea to make Harrison—born to an elite Virginia family—seem more like a man of the people.

Touting Harrison’s accomplishments as a general and referring to him as “the Washington of the West,” the almanac features engraved illustrations of his treaty negotiations with Shawnee leader Tecumseh, as well as the battle against the Native American uprising at Tippecanoe. There Harrison earned his nickname “Old Tip,” which later led to his (other) campaign slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” Illustrations of his War of 1812 victories at Fort Meigs and the Thames are also presented.

The almanac came to the National Heritage Museum bound into a newspaper, the Auburn Daily News and Log Cabin Herald, from Auburn, New York, dated June 17, 1840. The newspaper, like the almanac, includes articles endorsing Harrison and ads for rallies in his honor. It also denounces his opponent, incumbent Martin Van Buren, for “having brought the government to the state of bankruptcy” and “pocketing the people’s money until there was no more to filch.”

In the election, Harrison narrowly won the popular vote, but the tally translated into a landslide in the Electoral College. His presidency, however, is infamous for its brevity. His inaugural address, the longest on record, clocked in at 8,445 words and nearly two hours. After standing in a cold wind without a coat, hat or gloves during the ceremony, Harrison caught pneumonia. He died on April 4, 1841, after only 32 days in office. 

Photo: Hard Cider and Log Cabin Almanac for 1841: Harrison and Tyler. Washington City: Sold wholesale and retail by John Kenedy, 1841. Call number: RARE AY 81 .P7 H3, Gift of Doris Hudson May


George Washington’s Inaugural Bible

When Barack Obama takes the presidential oath of office next week, he will participate in a ceremony that dates back to George Washington’s 1789 inauguration. His choice to swear his oath on an historical Bible—the one that Abraham Lincoln used in 1861—is much rarer. Only four presidents have used Bibles that former presidents used, and all four chose the same one: George Washington’s.

GWBible after8 cropped

George Washington’s inauguration as the first U.S. president was held on April 30, 1789, in New York City. According to a 1908 account by New York’s St. John’s Lodge No. 1, although the ceremony was elaborately planned, at the last minute, organizers decided that the president should place his hand on a Bible when taking the oath of office. Jacob Morton, parade marshal and Master of St. John’s, quickly walked to his nearby lodge meeting room, and borrowed its 1767 King James Bible. Robert R. Livingston, State Chancellor and presiding Grand Master of Masons in New York, then administered Washington’s oath of office on it.

No one knows where the Bibles that the first fourteen presidents used came from, but we do know that in 1857, William Carroll, the clerk of the Supreme Court, procured a Bible for James Buchanan’s inauguration. Carroll and his successors provided the next half-dozen inaugural Bibles—including Abraham Lincoln’s. Then, on March 4, 1885, Grover Cleveland created a new tradition when he chose to swear his oath of office on a Bible his mother had given him when he was 15. Since then, most presidents have used family Bibles.

Freemason Warren G. Harding was the first president known to select the Washington Bible for his 1921 inauguration. Dwight D. Eisenhower followed in 1953, Jimmy Carter in 1977, and George Bush in 1989. George W. Bush intended to use it in 2001, but rainy weather changed the plan. He used a family Bible instead.

The George Washington Bible has been featured at a number of other important public and Masonic occasions, including Washington’s funeral procession in 1799; the dedication of the Masonic Temples in Boston and Philadelphia, in 1867 and 1869, respectively; the 1885 dedication of the Washington Monument, and its rededication 112 years later; a 1932 reenactment of Washington’s inauguration, commemorating the bicentennial of the first president’s birth; the inaugurations of some of New York’s governors; the installations of many of the Grand Masters of New York; and numerous exhibitions. Usually on display at New York’s Federal Hall, this Bible was on view at the National Heritage Museum for a 2005 exhibition on George Washington’s Masonic life and legacy.

Sources

Proceedings of the Sesqui-centennial celebration of St. John's Lodge, no. 1. (A.Y.M.) F. & A.M. of the State of New York: December 7th ... 5907. New York: St. John's Lodge, no. 1. (A.Y.M.) F. & A.M., 1908. Call number: 17.97751 .N1 1908 

Web site of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, http://inaugural.senate.gov/history/chronology/index.cfm

Thanks to St. John's Lodge No. 1 for their help with this entry. For more information on the George Washington Bible, please click the link "The Lodge" on the St. John's Lodge web site.


Bible, 1767. Printed by Mark Baskett, London. Photo courtesy of St. John’s Lodge No. 1, Ancient York Masons, Free & Accepted Masons, New York, New York. This Bible was opened to Genesis 49–50 when George Washington took his oath of office on it.