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West Point Oath of Allegiance

Discussion in 'Civil War History - General Discussion' started by FarawayFriend, Jan 16, 2016.

  1. FarawayFriend

    FarawayFriend Major Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner

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    Watching a Civil War Journal video on Youtube about Westpoint classmates who became Civil War enemies I found it remarkable that up until 1861 the cadets swore the Oath of Allegiance to their home states. Only in 1861 that was changed and the cadets had to swear their Oath of Allegiance now to the United States. At that time there were still a lot of cadets from the southern states attending the USMA and the change of the oath must have been a tough thing for them.

    “The day after the firing on Fort Sumter, the United States Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, directed that all United States Military Academy (West Point) cadets must take a "new oath of allegiance." Previously, each cadet had taken an "oath of allegiance to his respective State." Now, they were required to "swear feilty* to the United Statesparamount to any other state, county or political entity." While the cadets were in full uniform, the new oath was administered in the chapel in the presence of the Academy staff. “
    http://thomaslegion.net/generalroberteleestateloyalty.html

    What I'm asking myself is, if the earlier graduates had sworn the oath to their respective states, how could they become regarded as traitors later when they showed loyalty to their states according to their oaths?
    This is not meant as a provocation, but to help me understand better. Thanks in advance for your comments!

    As for details on the oath, see this old thread here:
    http://civilwartalk.com/threads/the-oath-of-allegiance.1035/
     

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  3. John Winn

    John Winn Captain

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    I think they were considered traitors not because of the oath they took as students at the Academy but, rather, the fact that when the war broke out they were in the US army and left so as to take up arms against the United States.
     
  4. War Horse

    War Horse Captain Forum Host Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner Regtl. Quartermaster Gettysburg 2017 Member of the Year

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    That's an interesting thought. I'm not sure if once assigned to a regular army position they took another oath or not. Good question.
     
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  5. thomas aagaard

    thomas aagaard 2nd Lieutenant

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    As I see it the oath Lee swore as a Cadet do not in any way bind him in anyway in 1861.

    But Treason is very clearly defined in the Constitution:
    Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.
    The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attainted.

    The text in the oaths is not relevant if you are a US citizen.

    IF we are talking "did the cadets who went south break their oaths?"
    (from the oath sworn as an cadet in 1857)
    "that I will serve in the army of the United States for eight years"
    So if a cadet decide to leave the Academy and go home without permission, then he is breaking his oath, but it is not treason. And clearly going south to join the enemy is breaking the oath.,

    And if we look at the oath for officers from 1830 read:
    "I, _____, appointed a _____ in the Army of the United States, do solemnly swear, or affirm, that I will bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully
    against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever, and observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States, and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the rules and articles for the government of the Armies of the United States."

    If an officer after the war broke out decided to resign, that do I my opinion result in him violating his oath.
    And if he resign to join "their enemies or opposers whatsoever" well... clearly a broken oath in my opinion.

    Iam do belive you had to swear it anew when promoted.
    The last time we had a debate about this, someone mentioned this in regard to Lee, who was promoted to full COL in 61 just shortly before he resigned and went south.
     
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  6. FarawayFriend

    FarawayFriend Major Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner

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    Clearly when the US Constitution was written no one could have foreseen or even thought possible the later conflict. But as it was, did then one oath, sworn to the United States when entering the US Army override the earlier oath sworn to the home state? Coming to think of that further, who decided which oath was more important, the first one or the second one? And to wildly exaggerate my OP and playing the devil's advocate, couldn't one even say that, given the way things had developed until April 1861, the oath to the United States sworn by cadets who are citizens of the seceeding states was an act of treason considering their former oath to their respective home state?

    (Oh my gosh, I'm afraid I will be crucified for this ...)
     
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  7. thomas aagaard

    thomas aagaard 2nd Lieutenant

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    It you swear an oath you are bound by it.
    And if you swear two oath that conflict that is your mistake.

    A general like Thomas could very well have been prosecuted for Treason by the state of Virginia had they won the war.
     
  8. Legion Para

    Legion Para Captain Retired Moderator

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  9. ErnieMac

    ErnieMac Captain Forum Host Trivia Game Winner

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    One thing to note is that Edwin Stanton was not Secretary of War the day after 1st Bull Run, Simon Cameron held that position until January, 1862.
     
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  10. MRB1863

    MRB1863 Captain Forum Host

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    Upon enlistment in the United States Army, I recall swearing to an oath. Although I do not remember it "word-for-word", Wiki quotes it as; Enlistment Oath.— Each person enlisting in an armed force shall take the following oath:
    "I, (state name of enlistee), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."
     
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  11. rpkennedy

    rpkennedy Major

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    Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania.

    R
     
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  12. Legion Para

    Legion Para Captain Retired Moderator

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    Even with 150 years of hindsight, we can't fully understand and appreciate the decision these Cadets were faced with. This also includes serving officers in the United States Army.

     
  13. FarawayFriend

    FarawayFriend Major Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner

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  14. FarawayFriend

    FarawayFriend Major Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner

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    Thank you, this was the video I was watching.
     
  15. Legion Para

    Legion Para Captain Retired Moderator

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    You can discuss legality all day long. These Cadets and serving Officers were faced with a very emotionally charged decision to make. Duty, Honor, Loyalty and State Allegiance meant a great deal more in 1861 than they do in 2016.

    If the Civil War were to happen today in April 2016, would your allegiance be with your native state or your country? When you answer this question, you are not doing so under the same emotional duress as in 1861.
     
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  16. thomas aagaard

    thomas aagaard 2nd Lieutenant

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    Just because I am of the opinion that they broke their oath, don't mean that I can't TRY understand why they did so.
    Their decision had a moral, legal and emotional dimension to them.

    Most of them did their jobs to the best of their ability until they resigned and I don't think we should blame them.

    But the few men who (mis)used their position and actively supported the rebellion when still being in unionservice... I do think they should have been prosecuted.

    And the decision they had to make are something that you see soldiers make. in al revolutions:
    Do they stay loyal to the "system"? or not?
    Unless one have actually had to make a similar decision I really don't think we can understand it.. but we can try.
     
  17. bankerpapaw

    bankerpapaw 2nd Lieutenant

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  18. E_just_E

    E_just_E Moderator Moderator

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    After the Graduation from the USMA, the cadets became enlisted officers of the US Army. This is the 1830 version of the oath of enlistment for officers:

    I, _____, appointed a _____ in the Army of the United States, do solemnly swear, or affirm, that I will bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever, and observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States, and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the rules and articles for the government of the Armies of the United States.

    It implies that all of that lasts as long as the appointment lasts, since the oath is give by the person, as appointed. If the appointment was terminated by resignation, the former officers have no reason to obey eg. "the orders of the officers appointed over" them (or anything else.)

    So. Resignation of the appointment set them free of those obligations. To correct that, they changed the officer enlistment oath in 1862 to:

    I, ___________ , do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I have never borne arms against the United States since I have been a citizen thereof; that I have voluntarily given no aid, countenance, counsel, or encouragement to persons engaged in armed hostility thereto; that I have neither sought nor accepted nor attempted to exercise the functions of any office whatsoever under any authority or pretended authority in hostility to the United States; that I have not yielded voluntary support to any pretended government, authority, power, or constitution within the United States, hostile or inimical thereto. And I do further swear (or affirm) that, to the best of my knowledge and ability, I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter, so help me God.

    and in 1864 to:

    I, ___________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God

    The last version lasted until 1959.
     
  19. AndyHall

    AndyHall Colonel Forum Host

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    I'm sorry, but I don't think that's true. This seems to make that clear:

    "Regulations for the United States Military Academy," 1857 edition:

    I, ______ of the State of _______ aged _____ years, ______ months, having been selected for an appointment as Cadet in the Military Academy of the United States, do hereby engage with the consent of my (Parent or Guardian) in the event of my receiving such appointment, that I will serve in the army of the United States for eight years, unless sooner discharged by competent authority. And I ____________ DO SOLEMNLY SWEAR [emphasis original], that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the United States of America, and that I will serve them HONESTLY and FAITHFULLY [emphasis original], against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever; and that I will observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States, and the orders of the Officers appointed over me, according to the Rules and Articles of War."

    There's no allegiance to the state here, only a reference to what state the cadet was from.

    Anyway, why would a national military academy have cadets swear allegiance to their respective states? That's no way to build a national army or officer corps.
     
  20. FarawayFriend

    FarawayFriend Major Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner

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    @E_just_E thank you, that is very interesting! The 1862 version lasted only two years, what might be the reason to change it again?

    Very good question, and I was also surprised to hear that in the video, but found it confirmed when I looked on the internet.
    Maybe it was because here lays the difference between “Federal“ and “Confederate“? “Federal“ in my opinion means that the states in such a union exist, but are not overly important. The union is what is important, therefore you can have people swear allegiance to one particular state - that implies you are swearing to the union. For example I have also sworn an oath of allegiance to my homestate of Lower Saxony, but that of course implies that I have to obey the laws of the Federal Republic of Germany. It goes without saying. And that commitment to a union IMHO was exactly what was criticised in the south. They did not want a Union, they wanted to be separate states loosely bound into a Confederation. The stress then lay more on the separate states not on their union, so that created the dicrepancy which was formerly not existant, as state and union were much closer bonded together.
    Sorry, I cannot explain it more clearly - I hope you can guess what I mean from my uneducated stammering, lol.
     
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  21. E_just_E

    E_just_E Moderator Moderator

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    Can you imagine trying to memorize that? :wink:

    Too long and complex
     
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