Stephen J. Field: Opinion in Cummings v. Missouri

(1867)

Explanation and Analysis of the Document

Following the Civil War, many states passed laws requiring any person in public office or in certain professions to take a loyalty oath to the Union. These laws were intended to prevent those who had supported or sympathized with the Confederacy from gaining a position of influence or power. It was feared that southern sympathizers in government might undermine the Union victory on the battlefield. The Missouri state constitution included such an oath provision. John A. Cummings was a Catholic priest in Missouri who refused to take the loyalty oath and continued to preach. Fined $500, he appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, which upheld the requirement. On appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, David Dudley Field, the brother of Justice Field, argued on behalf of Cummings. Writing for a five to four majority, Justice Field ruled that the oath provisions were ex post facto laws that punish a person for acts that had not been criminal at...

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Stephen J. Field (Library of Congress)

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