Virginia and the Oath
April 23, 1868
The New York Times unexpectedly disapproves of the iron-clad oath and fails to see why it should be implemented among the Southern people. The oath will do no good but instead keep experienced and fit politicians out of office in a time when they are most needed. This method of reconstruction with white citizen's rights being degraded is ridiculous, and "no reconstruction is possible that ostracizes the capacity, integrity, and force of the white population of the South."
Virginia and the Oath. The New York Times is a Republican newspaper, ridiculed for its temporizing disposition by the ultra Radical press, but which nevertheless, in our opinion, does much to maintain Radical ascendancy by keeping the more conscientious northern Republicans in the traces. It objects to the policy and the measures-of the Radicals, yet acquiesces in them, and remains steadfast to the party on the ground of public necessity. - It becomes thus the link which binds the moderate people to the party whose hideousness it portrays, but to whose power it yields. The confessions of the Times adverse to the Radical party are useful, as are the confessions of an opium-eater or the follower of any vice. Though hating no power to save himself, his confusions at least excite disgust for the vice, and deter others from indulging in it. The Times has a striking article upon the oath known as the "iron-clad," the trouble it places in the way of reconstruction. It finds no justification for the application of that oath to southern people generally; and questions the propriety of using it to exclude even prominent southern leaders in the War from office. The Times cites the complaints of district commanders that the oath was a serious embarrassment to them in filling offices naming especially General Sickles-whose testimony is the stronger for coming from him-who wrote positively concerning these embarrassments. Referring to General Meade's construction that members of the first Legislatures elected under the new constitutions will be compelled to take the iron-clad oath, the Times avers that it will deprive the States where it is prescribed of the " aid of its most capable " and trustworthy citizens at a time when " experience, character, and ability will be " preeminently required." In Georgia the test thus ordered by the General for her first Legislature will be more rigid than her new Constitution prescribes. But the Times considers the situation of Virginia as worse than that of Georgia. Congress had done quite enough to impede reconstruction; but our scallawag Convention, it declares, has prolonged and aggravated the evil done by Congress by making the test-oath a part of the Constitution, and, says the Times, this " should cause the rejection of the Constitution." It adds: " What has been defensible only as a temporary expedient, is to be incorporated " into the organic law of the State as a " means of keeping the State forever in " negro hands. The Governor, Lieutenant- " Governor, members of the Legislature, " Secretary of State, Auditor, State Treasurer, Attorney-General, delegates to a " future constitutional convention, and even " the mayors and councillors of cities and " towns, are all to be required to subscribe " an oath which not ten good men in a "thousand resident southerners can take " without perjury. The Convention has in " this way endeavored to keep the State " Government in the hands of the ignorant " negro multitudes, and the knavish white" Virginia." This is the opinion of an able and deliberate Republican editor. Great must be the wrong, indeed, when such a man speaks in the strong and emphatic language above quoted. The Times refers to General Schofield's remonstrance to the Convention against the oath, concurs in his deprecation of it, and cannot doubt that the Constitution will be defeated. In that event the Times supposes other legislation will be necessary, adding: "When that contingency arises, " it will be necessary to discriminate between positive hostility to Federal authority and the resistance to degradation and " bondage in which the white citizens of Virginia will be fully justified by the provision " denounced by General Schofield " But where is their resistance to " Federal authority ?" Has anybody seen it-anybody heard of it ? It is a figment of the unscrupulous invention of Butler, Washburn of Illinois, Logan, Forney, and that sort of men, who make stories to inflame the public mind and give a pretext for the imposition of burdens and disabilities on the southern people. When the war was over every man in the South was a citizen of the United States far more loyal to the Constitution than any member of the Radical party-far more to be trusted. Had the Government been wise it would have at once restored these people to the rights of citizens, and thus have strengthened the Union by the addition of the whole southern white population, with its energies and intellect, to the grand aggregate of national power. Instead of that the ruling party set about making the South of their way of thinking and voting by disfranchising enough whites to make the negroes the ruling population. The true heart, manhood, and mind of the South which gave to the Union in its past days its greatest renown were hindered, obstructed, and put away, while the negroes, with a few incompetent and degraded whites, were made to rule the State. The Times is right. This sort of reconstruction is impossible. It would destroy the South and afflict the nation with disasters. No reconstruction is possible that ostracizes the capacity, integrity, and force of the white population of the South. As long as that sort of reconstruction is pressed upon us we shall continue to resist, as we may, its " degradation and bondage."
About this article
“Virginia and the Oath,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed May 20, 2022, https://reconstructingvirginia.richmond.edu/items/show/1004.