Repeal of Test Oath (1884)

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Repeal of Test Oath (1884)
The “Test Oaths” were oaths of allegiance in which an individual affirmed that he had not aided the Confederacy during the Civil War. The first law requiring such an oath, the so-called “ironclad oath,” was passed on July 2, 1862. The legislation was extended to require oaths for holding government positions and appointments, military service, jury duty and registering to vote. There were several cases brought before the Supreme Court regarding such radical reconstruction legislation, with the Court finding some measures unconstitutional in Cummings v. Missouri and Ex parte Garland. But overall, the Court failed to make many solid, lasting judgments on the test oaths.

Republicans kept the oaths in place for two decades after the end of the war, despite numerous attempts by Democrats to have them repealed. Finally, under the leadership of Senator Samuel Cox, Democrats in congress fought for and passed a bill repealing the ironclad and jury test oaths with a two-thirds majority in the House and a smaller margin in the Senate in 1884. President Arthur signed the bill into law on May 13. While one section of the law remained in place, requiring that anyone who had served in the US military before joining the Confederate military not be allowed to serve again for the US, all other areas of government service no longer required an oath of past allegiance.

The repeal of the test oaths took place after radical reconstruction had already come to an end. After notable success in the election of 1882, Democrats in congress had managed to finally defeat the measure that represented one of the last remnants of the Civil War.

Sean Dennis Cashman, America in the Gilded Age (New York: New York University Press, 1993)

Samuel S. Cox, Three Decades of Federal Legislation (Providence: J. A. & R. A. Reid, 1885)
Harold M. Hyman, To Try Men’s Souls (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1981)

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