Monday, June 1, 2015

Power of the Pen

No Union troops had been in Washington, Arkansas for the entire war. It was only after the surrender to the United States that Union troops arrived from Michigan to keep the order and offer the opportunity for local citizens to sign and abide by an oath of loyalty to the United States. Some of Washington’s citizens were understandably reluctant to take the oath, being perhaps somewhat xenophobic as the blue uniforms arrived in droves.
But the mayor of the town, one John Eakin, highly educated and rhetorically gifted editor of the local newspaper, published a highly persuasive editorial in the paper on June 7, 1865 that held great sway, both among the Southerners. Reading it, many were persuaded to sign the oath of loyalty, thereby receiving amnesty, as provided by the President of the United States of America. The editorial was printed as follows:
“TO SOUTHERN MEN—The duties of conscience are so peculiar and appropriate for each man’s own decision, that we cannot presume to advise regarding them in any manner whatever. We are free, however, to express our own opinion, that others may consider of it.
“With the capture of President Davis and his cabinet, the dispersion of congress without intention or hope of re-assembling, the impossibility of new elections or conventions of the people, and the final surrender of the last army of the South under General Smith, the Southern Confederacy dies, and becomes extinct.
“With it dies all obligations of allegiance—Nothing remains to which allegiance may attach.
“Each man is free in conscience, without loss of dignity or self-respect, to take the oath of allegiance to the United States, provided he means honorably to abide by it, live peaceably under its government, and claim its protection. It is a fair bargain, and he will not be justified in any mental reservations to the contrary. If he cannot take it honestly, he had better not take it at all, but transfer his allegiance, with his person, family and property to some other government, so far as he may be able to do so.
“We are satisfied that our single devotion to the cause of the Confederacy, during its existence, has fulfilled all the obligations of patriotism. With a conscience clear of offence, we are willing to transfer that allegiance, so left in abeyance, to the government of the United States, and hope to observe it quite as faithfully.”
The loyalty oath read as follows: “I do solemnly swear, in the presence of Almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Union of the States thereunder, and that I will, in like manner abide by and faithfully support all laws and proclamations which have been made during the existing rebellion with reference to the emancipation of slaves, so help me God.”

No matter how strongly I felt about my homeland as a Southerner, I do believe Eakin’s logic and rhetorical skill would have convinced me to sign the oath and to abide by it with a clear conscience.

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