The Civil War News & Views Open Discussion Forum

The Meaning of Allegiance Prior to 1866

Many Americans, especially in law in government positions, prior to the amending the Constitution in the 1860s, believed the following...

"The population of the Union consisted of the citizens of the different States. No CITIZEN owed any allegiance beyond that which was due to the State wherein he resided. Each State had its own code of laws. In one the civil law of Rome was observed, in another the common law of England. In one a certain amount of property was necessary to a citizen before he could enjoy the privilege of voting. In another suffrage was universal. A citizen of Virginia was no better entitled to a vote in Massachusetts than he would have been in Belgium. In some of the States a residence of two years was required. In others a residence of one year was sufficient. In about half the States the voting was by ballot. In the other half viva voce. In most of the States aliens were permitted to own real estate. In several this privilege was denied them."

"In reality the United States constituted nothing more than a Commonwealth of Republics. The individual States were represented in a central government by two Senators or ambassadors. Those they appointed, in their sovereign character, to serve six years, two years longer than the Presidential term. New York, with her population of nearly 4,000,000 inhmabitants, was entitled to no more consideration in the Senate than was Florida, with her population of 75,000. Their relative position in this respect was not dissimilar to that of Russia and Belgium, near the Court of St. James. And it is deserving of remark that the smaller States, in the aggregate, always displayed a greater amount of judicious statesmanship than the larger."

Dudley Mann, United States Minister, United States Assistant Secretary of State, Confederate Commissioner to Europe.

The question of who had precidence in allegiances was not confined to just those of secessionist states...from the O.R.

CAMP ALERT, November 21, 1861.

Brigadier-General WRIGHT, Commanding Department of the Pacific:

GENERAL: We, the officers of the Second Regiment Cavalry California Volunteers, beg leave to respectfully submit for your consideration and adjudication the following questions, which materially affect their allegiance to the General Government and their duties as officers in the service of the United States:

First. Which are we to consider of paramount importance and authority, our allegiance to the Federal Government or that which we owe to this State?

Second. If our allegiance is primarily due to the Federal Government, are we to obey orders directed to us from the State Government?

Third. If our allegiance is due first to the State Government of California, are we bound to obey the Federal Army authorities?

Fourth. The oath of allegiance taken by each and all of us, as well as by the men under our orders, was to the Government of the United States of America, and utterly exclusive, even to abnegation of State allegiance. Are we to be held by this oath, or was it of no effect?

Fifth. Are we to understand that the Governor or any other State authority of California is rightfully empowered to take charge and control of such property belonging to the Federal Government as may be required for the use and subsistence of the various volunteer corps called into existence by the Federal Government for the suppression of State rebellion and treason?

Sixth. Has the Governor of California any rightful authority to fill vacancies among the officers of this or any othervolunteer regiment,which has been or may be called into the field by the General Government, after such regiment has been duly organized, accepted, commissioned, and turned over to the Federal Government or its legally appointed agents?

Seventh. If the Second Regiment Cavalry California Volunteers were serving at the East, and vacancies should occur among its officers, would those vacancies be filled by the dictatorial authority of the Governor of California, or would the Federal authorities exercise that power?

The officers of the Second Regiment Cavalry California Volunteers most earnestly disclaim the slightest intention to utter one word or make one inquiry that can be construed as evincing any want of respect whatever to the properly constituted authorities, either Federal or State, always hoping that they will be the first to set a praiseworthy example either as citizens or soldiers, but they find themselves involved in the most serious and perplexing doubts, which materially impair their usefulness and check the full expression of their loyalty and devotion to their beloved country and her majestic cause. They there- fore unite in respectfully asking their chief military commander on this far-distant coast to solve these doubts and direct them aright.

Most respectfully submitted.

JOHN C. CREMONY, Captain Company B,
JAMES WINNE, Captain Company G,
ALBERT BROWN, Captain Company L,