THE TEST OATH
February 17, 1871
The Iron-Clad Oath was initiated so only Union men could take office and have power in the Union in the war, but that proved to be ineffective. The Test Oath was for rebels, but did not prohibit them from running for office. The Test Oath has been abolished, which according to the Dispatch, is good because the conditions were "absurd and comical."
The nets of tho Federal Government upon the subject of the test-oath are another "Comedy of Errors." The first phase was the general application of that oath to all officers. No man could enter upon the duties of a Federal office without taking that oath. The only persons who could take it were the so-called Union or "truly loyal" men. Indeed, Mr. Trumbell very wittily said In the United States Senate on Monday last that " the test-oath of 1862 was never prescribed for anybody but Union men.'' and being categorically interrogated by Mr. Nye thus : " Does the honorable Senator moan to claim that the test-oath, as it is called, the iron-clad oath, was made for Union men alone? Mr. Trumbell. replied: "Yes, sir; for nobody else could ever take it. No rebel could ever take that oath." The sarcasm wrapped up In the inevitable deduction from the premises was so pithy that it excited many grave Senators to laughter.. The oath was intended for none but Union men-the truly loyal-and Republicans at that. It was intended that they alone should hold all the offices, and the oath was the gate that was to open the bright fields and rich pastures of the public offices to them only. They had fallen heir to all the offices formerly held by southern men-the places in the army, the navy, and on the civil list. But greed was only whetted by increase of emoluments, and the strategy of the test-oath was adopted to rule out the South altogether from participation in the public honors and compensations. But this exclusiveness was more than could be maintained. It became evident that the party must provide some way to win over the men whose consciences were more compromising than their love of office and so the means of accommodating these were provided. The process of pardon was resorted to under the belief that it would be exercised with such discretion that none but "truly repentant loyalists" would get its benefits. This was the Trojan horse. Men got its benefits for whom it was never intended. It was found impossible to work the machine as it was intended to operate. The whole thing became a muddle, and thousands who had been declared by the laws of Congress to be the chief offenders-those who had held Federal offices, or had taken the oath to support the Federal Constitution before the war, and afterwards aided or sympathized with the Confederacy-were rendered capable of holding office under the Federal Government. For the purpose of completing the objects of this pardoning process a modified oath was provided, and so we found that the greatest offenders were in this way enabled to hold Government offices, while the rest of the rebels were deprived of any such opportunity. They were considered as having no disabilities to be relieved from, and the modified oath was only for those who had had such disabilities and been relieved therefrom. This was a pretty state of things, and caused not a little vexation among the framers of the machine whose working was so contrary to expectations. Now, then, the present Congress proceeded to relieve the great body of rebel? who, having no disabilities under the 14th amendment, could not be relieved and could not be allowed to take the modified oath , and could not lake the test-oath, which, as Mr. Trumbull said, was made "only for Union men." And the bill abolishing tho test-oath for "persons who participated in the late rebellion, but who are not disqualified from holding office by the 14th amendment," was passed, and has become a law by lapse of the time within which it might have been vetoed by the President. Thus is the test-oath abolished, save for those who are disqualified by the fourteenth amendment and have not been relieved from their disabilities by Congress, and for the "Union men." So the attitude of the test-oath is still absurd and comical. If we think of the men who came under the ban of the fourteenth amendment whose disabilities have been removed, we shall see that a great part of those who were most prominent in resisting the Federal Government have been so relieved, and that those who are not so relieved consist in great part of persons who were not among the most offensive to the Federal Government, who are quiet and independent gentlemen, who seek no office and who feel no consciousness of being more fitly the objects of the persecution of the Federal Government than their fellow citizens generally. When the Government is ready to change its mistaken policy, they expect to be relieved from the ban along with their people generally; but they are not likely to ask for special grace. But the poor Union men, who are expected to continue their bitter oath-their renunciation of all sympathy with the dead Confederacy-can nothing be done for them? We heartily concur with General Grant in his appeal against the injustice of requiring them to continue this " cussing," so incompatible with the national harmony, which all avow it to be their object to cultivate and restore. The lesson taught by the history of this test-oath, the purpose it was intended to subserve, and the ridiculous attitude in which it has placed the Republican party, Is that it is in the last degree impolitic to continue a policy of penalties and punishments after a civil war, and that the true course to restore to a nation the harmony and the strength that have been impaired and weakened by internal strife is to wipe out the recollections of war and all the bitter rancors it engendered by a policy oi clemency and impartiality-abolishing from the laws and from the hearts of the people, as far as Government agency can, all resentments and all malignities.
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“THE TEST OATH,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed May 18, 2022, https://reconstructingvirginia.richmond.edu/items/show/1984.