Era of the Oath: Northern Loyalty Tests during the Civil War and Reconstruction

By Harold Melvin Hyman | Go to book overview

3 LOYALTY DEFINED: THE IRONCLAD TEST OATH

The true conditions of American loyalty are not to be found in passionate exactions of partisan leaders, or in the frantic declamations of the pulpit, the rostrum or the press. People who do not like my political opinions may hurl at me the epithet "disloyal"; but when they have, thrown this missile, they have not taken a single step towards defining, to me or others, what the true conditions of loyalty are.--GEORGE TICKNOR CURTlS*

"THE QUESTION OFTEN OCCURRED TO ME," NOTED NATHANIEL HAWthorne during a visit to Washington in the summer of 1862, "what proportion of all these people . . . were true at heart to the Union, and what part were tainted with treasonable sympathies and wishes."1

Hawthorne was not alone in this concern. From the halls of Congress came more legislation designed to demarcate the loyal from the disloyal, legislation which increasingly looked to the past allegiance of the subscriber. When freedom came to the slaves of the District of Columbia in April 1862, the ex-slaveowner who sought compensation for his freed bondsmen had first to swear to his past, as well as his future, loyalty to the Union.2. In a subsequent fugitive slave law, as in the first Confiscation Act ( June 1862), and in a law affecting voters in the federal District, only those who swore to the civil servants' oath of August 1861 could seek official redress or vote.3 The majority of Congress was in agreement with Schuyler Colfax's demand that ". . . allegiance to the Union [be] the test . . . of protection under the law."4

The same oath found a place in another loyalty test which executive officials initiated. By midsummer of 1862 public announcements for bids on federal contracts bore a requirement that no offers would be considered unless they contained the loyalty oaths of the owners or directors of the firms making the bid.5

Congress turned its attention to the federal courts and the loyalty of jurors. How, patriots demanded of their representatives, were rebels to be punished for treason under judicial processes unless juries were

____________________
*
G. T. Curtis, The True Conditions of American Loyalty [Speech Delivered Before the Democratic Union Association, March 28, 1863 ] ( Papers from the Society for the Diffusion of Political Knowledge, V [n.p., 1863 ]), 59.

-21-

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Era of the Oath: Northern Loyalty Tests during the Civil War and Reconstruction
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Note by the Publisher iv
  • Preface vi
  • Contents viii
  • Illustrations x
  • About the Notes x
  • Introduction Loyalty on Demand xii
  • 1 - Congress, Cabinet And Civil Servants 1
  • 2 - The First Year: Loyalty Tests Spread 13
  • 3 - Loyalty Defined: The Ironclad Test Oath 21
  • 4 - The Key To Freedom 33
  • 5 - A Problem of Peace: Postwar Administration And the Test Oath 48
  • 6 - Congress, the Executive, And the Test Oath 58
  • 7 - The Personal Factor In Loyalty Oaths 69
  • 8 - Vacant Chairs In Congress 83
  • 9 - Bench, Bar, And Oath 95
  • 10 - The Supreme Court Decides 107
  • 11 - First Breach 121
  • 12 - Final Repeal 135
  • Conclusion 151
  • Table of Cases Cited 160
  • Index 223
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