Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com The Great American Political Divide
Audacious Caesars and Test Oaths
“Mr. President, if this [North Carolina] Convention, like a French National Assembly, were to declare itself in permanent session, and abrogate all the powers of government, it would give no greater shock to public sentiment, and make no more dangerous stride towards despotism, than would be effected by this [test oath] ordinance.
What, then, will be their surprise, not to say indignation, if this ordinance shall pass, and they are told that no man can ever vote again – nay, that no man will be allowed to remain in the State, but everyone will be exiled who does not take an oath that the Convention has ordained?
Sir, every North Carolinian rejoices in the idea, that, like St. Paul, he was free-born. And, although his freedom was purchased at a great price, no less than the blood of his fathers shed in every battle-field of American independence, from the shores of the Hudson to the everglades of Florida, it came to him as an inheritance, the more valued, because of its association with his ancestral pride and glory.
His right to dwell in and breath the pure air of the land of his birth; his right to participate in the election of rulers, and, if it suit his inclination and the will of the majority, to be himself invested with a portion of the powers of the republic, he will suffer neither to be taken away nor trifled with.
He did not acquire them by an oath, and he will spurn any oath offered to him as a condition of their continued enjoyment. It is one of those blunders characterized by Talleyrand as worse than a crime, for statesmen by their measures will encroach upon and offend so sacred a feeling as the pride of nativity – the self-respect and manhood of a high-spirited and free-born American.
Sir, the people when presented with this oath, will turn upon this Convention, and inquire “upon what food have these our Caesars,” at Raleigh, “fed, that they have grown so great?” We thought they were our servants; how have they become our masters?
We had a free election according to the usages and Constitution of our fathers when we chose them as our representatives; by what legerdemain, by what audacity, do they declare that we shall never vote again . . . nor inhabit our present homes, but shall be driven out as fugitives and vagabonds, unless we take an oath that they have dictated?
We render to the government our loyalty and duty, as we cherish and support our wives and children, and perform other obligations as members of society; but we will take no oaths upon compulsion, to bind us to those duties, and least of all, an oath that is accompanied by the polite alternatives of exile or degradation.
Mr. President, the very mention of a test oath carries us back to the “bigot monarchs and the butcher priests” of the days of the Tudors and Stuarts, and beyond these, to the Inquisition itself. It is a device of power in Church and in State, to perpetuate itself by force, against free discussion and inquiry, and in defiance of what in more liberal times we call public sentiment.”
(The Papers of William A. Graham, Volume V, 1857-1863, J.G. Hamilton, Max Williams, editors, NCAH, 1973, excerpts, pp. 314-317)