Thursday, November 3, 2016

Voter Documents After the Civil War

As we near Election Day, there has been much talk about who is eligible to vote and what forms of identification or documents someone needs to be able to vote. This may seem like something new but various documents were required in the past. For Erath County resident James Ferguson and others who lived in states that had made up the Confederacy they had to take an Oath of Amnesty before having their rights restored including the right to vote.

President Lincoln offered a general amnesty in 1863 and President Andrew Johnson, continued Lincoln’s policy in 1865. The purpose of the amnesty was to restore rights to individuals who lived in states that formed the Confederacy. Among these rights was that to own property, with the exception of slaves. There were certain individuals to whom the amnesty did not apply such as former officers in the Confederate forces above a certain rank and those who owned property in excess of $20,000. These individuals could be pardoned under a special petition. Part of the amnesty was to swear an oath where the individual swore:

"I, _____, do solemnly swear or affirm, in presence of Almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support 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."

In order for an individual to vote in either local, state, or federal elections individuals had to take the Oath of Amnesty. Once the oath was taken and individual’s rights were restored. A certificate was issued stating that the individual had taken the oath and their name was placed on the register of voters.

In the James Ferguson papers, in the archives, are his Oath of Amnesty certificate and his Register’s Office Oath. His Oath of Amnesty certificate (below) states that he has taken the Oath of Amnesty, prescribed by President Andrew Johnson in front of a witness and his name placed on the list of voters.

The Register’s Oath (below) is a two-sided document with the oath on one side and the certificate on the other side. The oath states that he is twenty one years old, has not committed a felony, participated in any rebellion or civil war against the United States, or given aid or comfort to the enemies of the United States, and “will faithfully support the Constitution and obey the laws of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, encourage others to do so. So help me God.”
So as you go to the polls to vote think of James Ferguson and what he had to do in order to vote.

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