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 that, inasmuch as the character of the insurrection had changed and the struggle was now clearly defined, and as the germs of treason which had threatened to shake the Constitution everywhere had disappeared in the loyal States, all the political prisoners willing to take the oath of allegiance, with such exceptions as he deemed necessary, were thereby ordered to be set free. In order to carry out this measure, he appointed a commission composed of General Dix and Mr. Pierrepont to examine all the prisoners, with power to retain or release then or send them before the ordinary courts. Most of them, after taking the requisite oath, saw the gates of their prison thrown open. This oath was a grave innovation upon the political usages of the American republic. Was it useful? Was it necessary? Experience has taught us what little value there is in the oath which governments exact from public functionaries, whether elected or otherwise. The Americans have never known this oath, with the exception of military men, with whom it is a noble practice in all countries to swear fidelity to the flag, and with the exception also of the chief magistrate of the republic.1 But the oath of allegiance exacted from the political prisoners before they were set at liberty was rather a release on parole, because those prisoners, in virtue of their sympathies, belonged to a faction which was at open war with the government and claimed to be treated as a foreign power. It was natural, therefore, to exact from those who resided at the North, and whose sympathies for this hostile power were known, a pledge not to aid or favor it. Circumstances led the Federal government to extend the practice of exacting pledges, from the free States, where Southern accomplices were not numerous, to those sections of country where the two parties faced each other, and finally to those rebel States they had conquered. If on one hand it was proper on the part of the government to impose this oath upon persons who continued to reside in the territories wrested from the rebellion, and whom it considered as belonging to the Union, on the other hand the inhabitants of those States who believed themselves to be legally separated from it justly claimed, according to their view of the matter, the treatment accorded
1 The author is here slightly wrong: an oath of allegiance is exacted from other government officers.—Ed.
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