Missouri Oath of Loyalty

The Missouri Oath of Loyalty of 1865

By Galusha Anderson

Excerpted and Introduced by G.E. Rule

from “The Story of a Border City During the Civil War”, Galusha Anderson, 1908

Galusha Anderson 1861

Galusha Anderson 1861

Bio of Galusha Anderson

Galusha Anderson was a Baptist minister in St. Louis from 1858-1866. His decidedly pro-Union “The Story of a Border City During the Civil War” has many faults. Anderson’s opinion of his own importance in events is exaggerated, and at times the reader would be forgiven for thinking that Blair, Lyon, Fremont, Schofield, Rosecrans, et al could have just stayed in bed –it was really Galusha who held the fate of the Union cause in Missouri in his strong hands. At one point he has an agitated southerner blame his preaching for the Union seizure of Camp Jackson. One suspects Anderson would not want to discourage his readers from reaching the same conclusion. Describing his first blast from a St. Louis pulpit against the heresy of secession, Galusha reports the event with a freighted solemnity and attention to minute detail most historians would reserve for the third day at Gettysburg or the final scene at Appomattox.

On the plus side, Anderson does have a fine eye for detail and his book is filled with many interesting anecdotes of life in St. Louis during the Civil War. Galusha’s Union sources (men like James O. Broadhead were his parishioners) seem to be excellent and allow the reader a valuable insight into the thinking of the pro-Union population of St. Louis. For those interested in the topic, Rev. Anderson’s book has many revealing stories of the stresses –and sometimes fractures– that can occur in “Christian fellowship” during a time of political upheaval.

The Missouri Loyalty Oath of 1865 can only be interpreted as an extreme and vindictive attempt to exclude any but the staunchest Unionist from public life in Missouri after the war. It is an abomination to the modern eye schooled by the ACLU to consider even most pornography as untouchable by government power under the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A secret police the Third Reich or Stalinists would admire would have been required to enforce it effectively. It reads better as a script for a Monty Python or Saturday Night Live skit than a serious governing document. One can concede that it may have been only prudent at that time and in that place to suspend the franchise of Confederates who had recently borne arms against the United States and still find the Missouri Oath of Loyalty a breathtakingly oppressive instrument. It says much of the mood of the times in Missouri in 1865 that when the Missouri Supreme Court attempted to overturn the Oath, they were all immediately removed from the bench! What is interesting in the account given by Anderson –a Union man who would never accept second place to anyone in his loyalty to the U.S.—is that he clearly believed the Oath was a gross mistake and a grave injustice to many fine citizens of Missouri.

In fact, no less a Union personage than Major-General Frank Blair –who had done more than all of Missouri’s Radical Republicans combined to keep her in the Union when the issue was in doubt in early 1861– declined to take the Oath in 1865 and was refused the right to vote.  When asked why he would not take the Oath, Blair cheerfully explained that while he would gladly take an Oath professing his loyalty to the Union and Missouri going forward, the fact of the matter was that he had taken up arms against the government of Missouri in May and June of 1861 (see Blair and Lyon Save the Union) and hence could not meet the draconian terms of the current Oath.  The radicals were not amused by this perfectly valid point that vividly illustrated the ridiculousness of their Oath, but refused to bend.

In excerpting from Anderson’s book the section concerning the Missouri Oath of Loyalty of 1865, there is always the danger the resulting piece may give an impression unintended by the author of the original work had he the opportunity to write on the Loyalty Oath solely instead of as part of a larger work. Any perceived problems of that sort should be laid at the door of the editor, not the author.

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The Fight for Missouri by Thomas L. Snead, 1886

The Struggle for Missouri by John McElroy, 1909

The Story of a Border City During the Civil War by Galusha Anderson, 1908

The Crisis by Winston Churchill, 1901

Basil Duke in Missouri by Gen. Basil Wilson Duke, 1911

The Brown-Reynolds Duel, 1911

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If, after eliminating from the Constitution of the State all that pertained to involuntary servitude, thus making it consonant with the [Missouri] Ordinance of Emancipation, the [Missouri Constitutional] Convention had adjourned sine die, it would have covered itself with imperishable glory. But the act of the legislature by which it was created gave to it almost unlimited powers. It was especially called upon so to amend the Constitution that the elective franchise should be preserved in its purity to all loyal citizens, and to make such other amendments as it might think “essential to the public good”. Under this last clause apparently there was nothing that they might not legally do, and in their remaining work they went to the full limit of their powers. Instead of simply revising the old Constitution they in fact made a new one, and in spots it was admirable. It contained the most progressive doctrines of popular government; but in prescribing who should be legal voters their enactments were so extreme that they appear to us now quite ludicrous. To justify this statement we venture to give in full sections 3 and 6 of article II of the Constitution, together with the prescribed oath, believing that any intelligent reader who begins the perusal of them will proceed with increasing interest to the last line.

Sec 3. At any election held by the people under this Constitution, or in pursuance of any law of this State, or under any ordinance or by-law of any municipal corporation, no person shall be deemed a qualified voter, who has ever been in armed hostility to the United States, or to the lawful authorities thereof, or to the Government of this State; or has ever given aid, comfort, countenance, or support to persons engaged in any such hostility; or has ever, in any manner, adhered to the enemies, foreign or domestic, of the United States, either by contributing to them, or by unlawfully sending within their lines, money, goods, letters or information; or has ever disloyally held communication with such enemies; or has ever advised or aided any person to enter the service of such enemies; or has ever, by act or word, manifested his adherence to the cause of such enemies, or his desire for their triumph over the arms of the United States, or his sympathy with those engaged in exciting or carrying on rebellion against the United States; or has ever, except under overpowering compulsion, submitted to the authority, or been in the service, of the so-called “Confederate States of America”; or has left this State, and gone within the lines of the armies of the so-called “Confederate States of America,” with the purpose of adhering to said States or armies; or has ever been a member of, or connected with, any order, society, or organization, inimical to the Government of the United States, or to the Government of this State; or has ever been engaged in guerrilla warfare against loyal inhabitants of the United States, or in that description of marauding commonly known as “bushwhacking;” or has ever knowingly and willingly harbored, aided, or countenanced, any person so engaged; or has ever come into or left this State for the purpose of avoiding enrollment for or draft into the military service of the United States; or has ever, with a view to avoid enrollment in the militia of this State, or to escape the performance of duty therein, or for any other purpose, enrolled himself, or authorized himself to be enrolled, by or before any officer, as disloyal, or as a Southern sympathizer, or in any other terms indicating his disaffection to the Government of the United States in its contest with rebellion, or his sympathy with those engaged in such rebellion; or, having ever voted at any election by the people in this State, or in any other of the United States, or in any of their Territories, or held office in this State, or in any other of the United States, or in any of their Territories, or under the United States, shall thereafter have sought or received, under claim of alienage, the protection of any foreign government, through any consul or other officer thereof, in order to secure exemption from military duty in the militia of this State, or in the army of the United States; nor shall any such person be capable of holding, in this State, any office of honor, trust, or profit, under its authority; or of being an officer, councilman, director, trustee, or other manager of any corporation, public or private, now existing or hereafter established by its authority; or of acting as a professor or teacher in any educational institution, or in any common or other school; or of holding any real estate, or other property, in trust for the use of any church, religious society, or congregation. But the foregoing provisions in relation to acts done against the United States shall not apply to any person not a citizen thereof, who shall have committed such acts, been naturalized, or may hereafter be naturalized, under the laws of the United States, and who has, since such acts, been naturalized, or may hereafter be naturalized, under the laws of the United States; and the oath of loyalty hereinafter prescribed, when taken by such person, shall be considered as taken in such sense.

Sec. 6 The oath to be taken as aforesaid shall be known as the Oath of Loyalty, and shall be in the following terms:

I, A. B., do solemnly swear, that I am well acquainted with the terms of the third section of the second Article of the Constitution of the State of Missouri, adopted in the year eighteen hundred and sixty-five, and have carefully considered the same; that I have never, directly or indirectly, done any of the acts in said section specified; that I have always been truly and loyally on the side of the United States against all enemies thereof, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the United States, and will support the Constitution and laws thereof, as the supreme law of the land, any law or ordinance of any State to the contrary notwithstanding; that I will, to the best of my ability, protect and defend the Union of the United States, and not allow the same to be broken up and dissolved, or the Government thereof to be destroyed or overthrown, under any circumstances, if in my power to prevent it; that I will support the Constitution of the State of Missouri; and that I make this oath without any mental reservation or evasion, and hold it to be binding on me.

We see from this how intensely in earnest were the delegates of the Convention. But this oath was not wholly a creation of theirs. It had a gradual growth. We have seen with what imperativeness General Halleck demanded an oath of allegiance of all officers of the State, county and city, without which they were not permitted to exercise their functions. The generals of the department that came after him rigorously maintained the same policy. The first sovereign Convention adopted it and strenuously enforced it by the sword. This Convention, receiving it from the first, with wonderful genius for probing the conscience, elaborated it. Under its manipulation the oath became retrospective, introspective and prospective. No man could take it without perjury, who by word or act had been in the past, was in the present, or should be in the future, disloyal to the government of the United States. It not only prohibited one who could not subscribe to it from voting, but also from holding any government office of whatever grade, teaching in any school or preaching the gospel. And to make sure that the fountains of justice should be freed from every suspicion of disloyalty, the Convention vacated the offices of the judges of the Supreme Court, circuit and county courts, and special courts of record throughout the State, and of all clerks of courts, county recorders, and circuit attorneys and their assistants, and “empowered and directed” the Governor of the State to fill these offices so vacated by his appointment. Since most judges and subordinate officers of the courts were unable to subscribe to the oath of loyalty without perjury, the Convention was determined that court officials should be appointed that could. And thinking it unsafe to wait for the slow process of a popular election and probably fearing, if they should, that the elections might not go according to their liking, they took a short cut to clean the Augean stables. It looked like revolution. At all events the Convention went to the full limit, if not beyond the limit, of its powers. The judges of the Supreme Court resisted what they regarded a gross usurpation of authority; but their resistance was vain. They were arrested and tried before the City Recorder as disturbers of the peace, and so sank from public view.

While the Convention designated the oath the “Oath of Loyalty”; the people, seizing upon its exact intent, called it the Test Oath. Its object was to test the loyalty of those who were required to take it. But the oath was too indiscriminate. It did not sufficiently recognize different degrees of guilt. Many in our city and State who were at first swept by the excitement of the hour into the ranks of the secessionists, soon saw their error and thereafter loyally supported the Federal government. Others had at times expressed their sympathy with secessionism, but in all their overt acts had been faithful to the Union. It would naturally have been expected that ordinarily wise and humane legislators would have provided for the full, unconditional pardon of such men. But no; this oath of loyalty was pitiless. It made not the slightest provision for the penitent. The majority of the convention seem to have proceeded on the assumption that men who had been guilty of rebellion in any degree, if they had but expressed a sympathetic emotion in its behalf, were unfit either to vote or teach or preach.

And, for a decade, the most genuine and heart-felt repentance would be altogether vain; since the Convention provided, in the 25th section of the second article of the Constitution, that the General Assembly of the State might repeal the provisions of the oath, so far as the affected voters, after 1871, but so far as they pertained to lawyers, school teachers and ministers not till after 1875. Therefore irrespective of the degree of his guilt, to the attorney, the pedagogue or the preacher, these astute constitution-makers, with a scent for disloyalty keener than that of a hound, for ten long years, granted “no place of repentance,” even though he should seek it “diligently with tears.”

* * *

But after the Emancipation Act was passed, the Convention, having, against the earnest protest of some of its own members, doggedly set itself to the work of making a new Constitution, lost, to a large extent, the confidence of many of the best loyal men of the State. Even a goodly number of the delegates that composed it became to the extent of their power obstructionists. Absenteeism grew apace, and only by the rigid enforcement of the rules could the Convention be saved from disastrous disintegration. Some of its members fell into a vein of ridicule and one of them offered a string of satirical resolutions, which, though unmitigated balderdash, the Convention complacently spread on its minutes.

Most of the constituents of the Convention, while generously recognizing the great merit of much of its work, were often ashamed of what it did and said. In fact its debates were never published, beyond the brief and imperfect reports of them in the daily papers. In explanation of this curious fact, it was hinted that the leaders of the Convention were so mortified by them, that they managed to suppress the whole, both good and bad together.

* * *

But blessed be the Supreme Court of the United States! About three years after the new Constitution had been ratified by the people, it declared by barely one majority that the notorious test oath was unconstitutional. A multitude in our State ever after held in grateful memory that one Federal judge, who tipped the scales against the oath that had too long been a thorn in the body politic.