Martinsburg, Wv. [ 1865]. Partially printed broadside, 8 1/2 x 8 inches, completed in manuscript. Old folds, some creasing, 5¢ revenue stamp affixed to upper left corner. Very good. Item #WRCAM52977
A rare loyalty oath printed for citizens of Martinsburg, West Virginia, a Virginia-West Virginia border town, at the conclusion of the Civil War. In fact, the oath is signed by John Johnson and attested to by a clerk, J. Canby, on April 27, 1865, just a little over two weeks after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House. This particular oath was designed to provide voting privileges only to those people loyal to the state of West Virginia. The Legislature was fearful that voting would be corrupted by the "return of West Virginia Rebels to their former homes, with feelings inimical to the new State and its laws..." - Parker. West Virginia had only achieved statehood less than two years earlier, on June 20, 1863. Unionist influences decided to form a new state from parts of northwestern Virginia after the Wheeling Conventions in 1861. As a result, West Virginia became the only state formed by separating a portion of a Confederate state and forming a new Union state during the course of the Civil War. As such, West Virginia became an important border state during the War, given its close proximity to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the Union arsenal at Harper's Ferry. And though the state was formed by Unionists, several secessionist counties were included in the new state, including Berkeley County, which supplied the Confederacy with five companies but only two to the Union. Martinsburg itself changed hands several times during the War, falling mostly under Union control after Gettysburg. Loyalty oaths such as this must have served as an important tool to bring secessionist tendencies to an end after the War's conclusion. The broadside reads, in part: "I do solemnly swear that...I have never voluntarily given aid, comfort or assistance to persons engaged in armed hostility against the United States, the re- organized government of Virginia, or the State of West Virginia; that I have not at any time sought, accepted, exercised or attempted to exercise any office or appointment whatever, under any authority or pretended authority, hostile or inimical to the United States, the re-organized government of Virginia, or the State of West Virginia...I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of West Virginia: and that I take this oath freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion." Possibly unique, with no other copies in OCLC or auction records. Parker, Granville: THE FORMATION OF THE STATE OF WEST VIRGINIA.... (Wellsburg, Wv.: Glass & Son, 1875), p.253.