The Real Meaning of the Reagan Family Bible
Faithful legacy of 40th president to be front-and-center at swearing in of Mike Pence
Vice President-Elect Mike Pence of Indiana is no stranger to showing his admiration for President Ronald Reagan. “There you go again,” he chuckled to Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) during their sole debate last year, reprising the now legendary putdown of President Jimmy Carter by the Gipper in their decisive debate in October 1980. Pence credited Reagan in his decision to enter politics, and often cites him as the icon of modern American conservatism. Pence, like Reagan, is a product of the Midwest. Pence, like Reagan, is gentle in his manners but firm in his convictions. Pence, like Reagan, got his start in radio.
Now there will be a further connection between the two conservatives.
Pence will be sworn in this Friday by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the first African-American justice to swear in either a president or vice president. But though this is a topic worth writing by itself, it’s what Pence will swear on which intersects with the legacy of our 40th president: Ronald Reagan’s family Bible.
This Bible, which belongs to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute in Simi Valley, California, is a piece of American history all its own. It was used by Reagan himself for his inauguration in both terms as governor and as president. It was the Bible of his mother, Nellie Wilson Reagan. It was published in 1901 in Chicago. It was, for many years, bound by tape and worn out, a sign of a faithful family which read it often, until it underwent restoration in 2011. Through the kindness of John Heubusch, executive director of the Reagan Library and Foundation, the Reagan family Bible is heading for Washington once again — and once again will be present at a pivotal moment in American history.
Nellie Reagan used it extensively, writing notes in every page on the margins. On the third page reads two notes. The first, written in blue, points to specific chapters of Scripture: “If in sorrow, if people fail, if you worry …” Clearly Nellie saw it as a historical and spiritual lesson book, and as way to conquer the tribulations of life. The second note on the page, in red ink, reads: “A Thought For Today. You can be too big for God to use / But you cannot be too small.” The page facing the title page also has two spiritual poems written by Nellie.
President Reagan in early 1983 declared that year “The Year of the Bible,” with Proclamation 5018. He pulled no punches against the secularization of society and America, outright saying that no other book ” may be said to be more fundamental and enduring than the Bible” in forming the United States, as “the Bible and its teachings helped form the basis for the Founding Fathers’ abiding belief in the inalienable rights of the individual.” It was deeply rooted in the president’s Christian faith that American liberty was destined for something great.
Reagan conservatism and the Reagan presidency is not a past event, left in dusty history books. It is still as relevant and as powerful as ever.
The Reagan family Bible also acts as a sort of touchstone for the conservatives of today. Just as religious relics — clothing, books, and even possessions — connect the faithful to the saints, bringing them strength, so does the Reagan Bible spiritually connect conservatives to the fortieth president.
Craig Shirley is a New York Times best-selling author and a leading Ronald Reagan biographer, having written four books on the 40th president, including the forthcoming “Reagan Rising” in March 2017. Scott Mauer, Mr. Shirley’s research aide, assisted with this article.