Back to Court Cases
CUMMINGS v. MISSOURI was initiated during the Civil War in the requirement of the Provisional Government of Missouri for Citizens to take the "Iron Clad Oath" of allegiance to the United States in order to practice law, a profession, be a minister or to vote. If you'd like to know what 99% of legislation is today, look no further than the Bills of Attainder elaborated upon in this case. In every situation wherein a man could exercise a right necessary to sustain his life, the legislature has stepped in, condemned that right without judicial process and then quickly offered a statutory privilege to exercise that function. Upon taking up the license offered by the legislature, Citizens have brought themselves under statutory control outside the protection of the State or US judicial systems. The proper challenge to all licensing statutes is the first instance in which the legislature demands that the Citizen be licensed as they are all Bills of Attainder prohibited by Article I, Section 10 of the US Constitution.
Cummings v. Missouri
U.S. Supreme Court, 71 U.S. 4 Wall. 277 (1867)
1. Under the form of creating a qualification or attaching a condition, the States cannot, in effect, inflict a punishment for a past act which was not punishable at the time it was committed.
2. Deprivation or suspension of any civil rights for past conduct is punishment for such conduct.
3. A bill of attainder is a legislative act which inflicts punishment without a judicial trial. If the punishment be less than death, the act is termed
Page 71 U. S. 278
a bill of pains and penalties. Within the meaning of the Constitution, bills of attainder include bills of pains and penalties.
4. These bills, though generally directed against individuals by name, may be directed against a whole class, and they may inflict punishment absolutely or may inflict it conditionally.
5. The clauses of the Second Article of the Constitution of Missouri (set forth at length in the statement of the case, infra, pp. 71 U. S. 279-281), which require priests and clergymen, in order that they may continue in the exercise of their professions and be allowed to preach and teach, to take and subscribe an oath that they have not committed certain designated acts, some of which were at the time offences with heavy penalties attached, and some of which were at the time acts innocent in themselves, constitute a bill of attainder within the meaning of the provision in the Federal Constitution prohibiting the States from passing bills of that character.
6. These clauses presume that the priests and clergymen are guilty of the acts specified, and adjudge the deprivation of their right to preach or teach unless the presumption be first removed by their expurgatory oath; they assume the guilt and adjudge the punishment conditionally.
7. There is no practical difference between assuming the guilt and declaring it. The deprivation is effected with equal certainty in the one case as in the other. The legal result is the same, on the principle that what cannot be done directly cannot be done indirectly.
8. The prohibition of the Constitution was intended to secure the rights of the citizen against deprivation for past conduct by legislative enactment under any form, however disguised.
9. An ex post facto law is one which imposes a punishment for an act which was not punishable at the time it was committed, or imposes additional punishment to that then prescribed, or changes the rules of evidence by which less or different testimony is sufficient to convict than was then required.
10. The clauses of the Second Article of the Constitution of Missouri, already referred to, in depriving priests and clergymen of the right to preach and teach, impose a penalty for some acts which were innocent at the time they were committed, and increase the penalty prescribed for such of the acts specified as at the time constituted public offences, and in both particulars violate the provision of the Federal Constitution prohibiting the passage by the State of an ex post facto law. They further violate that provision in altering the rules of evidence with respect to the proof of the acts specified -- thus, in assuming the guilt instead of the innocence of the parties, in requiring them to establish their innocence instead of requiring the government to prove their guilt, and in declaring that their innocence can be shown only in one way, by an expurgatory oath.
11. Although the prohibition of the Constitution to pass an ex post facto law is aimed at criminal cases, it cannot be evaded by giving a civil form to that which is, in substance, criminal.
Page 71 U. S. 279
In January, 1865, a convention of representatives of the people of Missouri assembled at St. Louis, for the purpose of amending the constitution of the State. The representatives had been elected in November, 1864. In April, 1865, the present constitution -- amended and revised from the previous one -- was adopted by the convention; and in June, 1865, by a vote of the people. The following are the third, sixth, seventh, ninth, and fourteenth sections of the second article of the constitution:
"SEC. 3. At any election held by the people under this Constitution, or in pursuance of any law of this State, or under any ordinance or by-law of any municipal corporation, no person shall be deemed a qualified voter, who has ever been in armed hostility to the United States, or to the lawful authorities thereof, or to the government of this State; or has ever given aid, comfort, countenance, or support to persons engaged in any such hostility; or has ever, in any manner, adhered to the enemies, foreign or domestic, of the United States, either by contributing to them, or by unlawfully sending within their lines, money, goods, letters, or information; or has ever disloyally held communication with such enemies; or has ever advised or aided any person to enter the service of such enemies; or has ever, by act or word, manifested his adherence to the cause of such enemies, or his desire for their triumph over the arms of the United States, or his sympathy with those engaged in exciting or carrying on rebellion against the United States; or has ever, except under overpowering compulsion, submitted to the authority, or been in the service, of the so-called 'Confederate States of America;' or has ever left this State, and gone within the lines of the armies of the so-called 'Confederate States of America,' with the purpose of adhering to said States or armies; or has ever been a member of, or connected with, any order, society, or organization, inimical to the government of the United States, or to the government of this State; or has ever been engaged in guerilla warfare against loyal inhabitants of the United States, or in that description of marauding commonly known as 'bush-whacking;' or has ever knowingly and willingly harbored, aided, or countenanced any person so engaged; or has ever come into or left this State, for the purpose of avoiding enrollment for or draft
Page 71 U. S. 280
into the military service of the United States; or has ever, with a view to avoid enrollment in the militia of this State, or to escape the performance of duty therein, or for any other purpose, enrolled himself, or authorized himself to be enrolled, by or before any officer, as disloyal, or as a southern sympathizer, or in any other terms indicating his disaffection to the Government of the United States in its contest with rebellion, or his sympathy with those engaged in such rebellion; or, having ever voted at any election by the people in this State, or in any other of the United States, or in any of their Territories, or held office in this State, or in any other of the United States, or in any of their Territories, or under the United States, shall thereafter have sought or received, under claim of alienage, the protection of any foreign government, through any consul or other officer thereof, in order to secure exemption from military duty in the militia of this State, or in the army of the United States; nor shall any such person be capable of holding in this State any office of honor, trust, or profit, under its authority; or of being an officer, councilman, director, trustee, or other manager of any corporation, public or private, now existing or hereafter established by its authority; or of acting as a professor or teacher in any educational institution, or in any common or other school; or of holding any real estate or other property in trust for the use of any church, religious society, or congregation. But the foregoing provisions, in relation to acts done against the United States, shall not apply to any person not a citizen thereof, who shall have committed such acts while in the service of some foreign country at war with the United States, and who has, since such acts, been naturalized, or may hereafter be naturalized, under the laws of the United States and the oath of loyalty hereinafter prescribed, when taken by any such person, shall be considered as taken in such sense."
"SEC. 6. The oath to be taken as aforesaid shall be known as the Oath of Loyalty, and shall be in the following terms:"
" I, A. B., do solemnly swear that I am well acquainted with the terms of the third section of the second article of the Constitution of the State of Missouri, adopted in the year eighteen hundred and sixty-five, and have carefully considered the same; that I have never, directly or indirectly, done any of the acts in said section specified; that I have always been truly and loyally on the side of the United States against all enemies thereof, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the United States, and will support the Constitution and laws thereof as the supreme
Page 71 U. S. 281
law of the land, any law or ordinance of any State to the contrary notwithstanding; that I will, to the best of my ability, protect and defend the Union of the United States, and not allow the same to be broken up and dissolved, or the government thereof to be destroyed or overthrown, under any circumstances, if in my power to prevent it; that I will support the Constitution of the State of Missouri; and that I make this oath without any mental reservation or evasion, and hold it to be binding on me."
"SEC. 7. Within sixty days after this Constitution takes effect, every person in this State holding any office of honor, trust, or profit, under the Constitution or laws thereof, or under any municipal corporation, or any of the other offices, positions, or trusts, mentioned in the third section of this Article, shall take and subscribe the said oath. If any officer or person referred to in this section shall fail to comply with the requirements thereof, his office, position, or trust, shall, ipso facto, become vacant, and the vacancy shall be filled according to the law governing the case."
"SEC. 9. No person shall assume the duties of any state, county, city, town, or other office, to which he may be appointed, otherwise than by a vote of the people; nor shall any person, after the expiration of sixty days after this Constitution takes effect, be permitted to practise as an attorney or counselor at law; nor, after that time, shall any person be competent as a bishop, priest, deacon, minister, elder, or other clergyman of any religious persuasion, sect, or denomination, to teach, or preach, or solemnize marriages, unless such person shall have first taken, subscribed, and filed said oath."
"SEC. 14. Whoever shall, after the times limited in the seventh and ninth sections of this Article, hold or exercise any of the offices, positions, trusts, professions, or functions therein specified, without having taken, subscribed, and filed said oath of loyalty, shall, on conviction thereof, be punished by fine, not less than five hundred dollars, or by imprisonment in the county jail not less than six months, or by both such fine and imprisonment; and whoever shall take said oath falsely, by swearing or by affirmation, shall, on conviction thereof, be adjudged guilty of perjury, and be punished by imprisonment in the penitentiary not less than two years."
In September, A.D. 1865, after the adoption of this constitution, the Reverend Mr. Cummings, a priest of the Roman
Page 71 U. S. 282
Catholic Church, was indicted and convicted in the Circuit Court of Pike County, in the State of Missouri, of the crime of teaching and preaching in that month, as a priest and minister of that religious denomination, without having first taken the oath prescribed by the constitution of the State, and was sentenced to pay a fine of five hundred dollars and to be committed to jail until said fine and costs of suit were paid.
On appeal to the Supreme Court of the State, the judgment was affirmed; and the case was brought to this Court on writ of error, under the twenty-fifth section of the Judiciary Act.
Page 71 U. S. 316
MR. JUSTICE FIELD delivered the opinion of the court.
This case comes before us on a writ of error to the Supreme Court of Missouri, and involves a consideration of the test oath imposed by the constitution of that State. The plaintiff in error is a priest of the Roman Catholic Church, and was indicted and convicted in one of the circuit courts of the State of the crime of teaching and preaching as a priest and minister of that religious denomination without having first taken the oath, and was sentenced to pay a fine of five hundred dollars, and to be committed to jail until the same was paid. On appeal to the Supreme Court of the State, the judgment was affirmed.
The oath prescribed by the constitution, divided into its separable parts, embraces more than thirty distinct affirmations or tests. Some of the acts, against which it is directed, constitute offences of the highest grade, to which, upon conviction, heavy penalties are attached. Some of the acts have never been classed as offences in the laws of any State, and some of the acts, under many circumstances, would not even be blameworthy. It requires the affiant to deny not only that he has ever "been in armed hostility to the United States, or to the lawful authorities thereof," but, among other things, that he has ever, "by act or word," manifested his adherence to the cause of the enemies of the United
Page 71 U. S. 317
States, foreign or domestic, or his desire for their triumph over the arms of the United States, or his sympathy with those engaged in rebellion, or has ever harbored or aided any person engaged in guerrilla warfare against the loyal inhabitants of the United States, or has ever entered or left the State for the purpose of avoiding enrollment or draft in the military service of the United States; or, to escape the performance of duty in the militia of the United States, has ever indicated, in any terms, his disaffection to the government of the United States in its contest with the Rebellion.
Every person who is unable to take this oath is declared incapable of holding, in the State,
"any office of honor, trust, or profit under its authority, or of being an officer, councilman, director, or trustee, or other manager of any corporation, public or private, now existing or hereafter established by its authority, or of acting as a professor or teacher in any educational institution, or in any common or other school, or of holding any real estate or other property in trust for the use of any church, religious society, or congregation."
And every person holding, at the time the constitution takes effect, any of the offices, trusts, or positions mentioned is required, within sixty days thereafter, to take the oath, and, if he fail to comply with this requirement, it is declared that his office, trust, or position shall ipso facto become vacant.
No person, after the expiration of the sixty days, is permitted, without taking the oath,
"to practice as an attorney or counselor at law, nor after that period can any person be competent, as a bishop, priest, deacon, minister, elder, or other clergyman, of any religious persuasion, sect, or denomination, to teach, or preach, or solemnize marriages."
Fine and imprisonment are prescribed as a punishment for holding or exercising any of "the offices, positions, trusts, professions, or functions" specified, without having taken the oath, and false swearing or affirmation in taking it is declared to be perjury, punishable by imprisonment in the penitentiary.
Page 71 U. S. 318
The oath thus required is, for its severity, without any precedent that we can discover. In the first place, it is retrospective; it embraces all the past from this day, and, if taken years hence, it will also cover all the intervening period. In its retrospective feature, we believe it is peculiar to this country. In England and France, there have been test oaths, but they were always limited to an affirmation of present belief, or present disposition towards the government, and were never exacted with reference to particular instances of past misconduct. In the second place, the oath is directed not merely against overt and visible acts of hostility to the government, but is intended to reach words, desires, and sympathies, also. And, in the third place, it allows no distinction between acts springing from malignant enmity and acts which may have been prompted by charity, or affection, or relationship. If one has ever expressed sympathy with any who were drawn into the Rebellion, even if the recipients of that sympathy were connected by the closest ties of blood, he is as unable to subscribe to the oath as the most active and the most cruel of the rebels, and is equally debarred from the offices of honor or trust, and the positions and employments specified.
But, as it was observed by the learned counsel who appeared on behalf of the State of Missouri, this Court cannot decide the case upon the justice or hardship of these provisions. Its duty is to determine whether they are in conflict with the Constitution of the United States. On behalf of Missouri, it is urged that they only prescribe a qualification for holding certain offices and practising certain callings, and that it is therefore within the power of the State to adopt them. On the other hand, it is contended that they are in conflict with that clause of the Constitution which forbids any State to pass a bill of attainder or an ex post facto law.
We admit the propositions of the counsel of Missouri that the States which existed previous to the adoption of the Federal Constitution possessed originally all the attributes of sovereignty; that they still retain those attributes,
Page 71 U. S. 319
except as they have been surrendered by the formation of the Constitution and the amendments thereto; that the new States, upon their admission into the Union, became invested with equal rights, and were thereafter subject only to similar restrictions, and that among the rights reserved to the States is the right of each State to determine the qualifications for office and the conditions upon which its citizens may exercise their various callings and pursuits within its jurisdiction.
These are general propositions, and involve principles of the highest moment. But it by no means follows that, under the form of creating a qualification or attaching a condition, the States can in effect inflict a punishment for a past act which was not punishable at the time it was committed. The question is not as to the existence of the power of the State over matters of internal police, but whether that power has been made in the present case an instrument for the infliction of punishment against the inhibition of the Constitution.
Qualifications relate to the fitness or capacity of the party for a particular pursuit or profession. Webster defines the term to mean
"any natural endowment or any acquirement which fits a person for a place, office, or employment, or enables him to sustain any character, with success."
It is evident from the nature of the pursuits and professions of the parties placed under disabilities by the constitution of Missouri that many of the acts from the taint of which they must purge themselves have no possible relation to their fitness for those pursuits and professions. There can be no connection between the fact that Mr. Cummings entered or left the State of Missouri to avoid enrollment or draft in the military service of the United States and his fitness to teach the doctrines or administer the sacraments of his church; nor can a fact of this kind or the expression of words of sympathy with some of the persons drawn into the Rebellion constitute any evidence of the unfitness of the attorney or counselor to practice his profession, or of the professor to teach the ordinary branches of education, or of
Page 71 U. S. 320
the want of business knowledge or business capacity in the manager of a corporation, or in any director or trustee. It is manifest upon the simple statement of many of the acts and of the professions and pursuits that there is no such relation between them as to render a denial of the commission of the acts at all appropriate as a condition of allowing the exercise of the professions and pursuits. The oath could not, therefore, have been required as a means of ascertaining whether parties were qualified or not for their respective callings or the trusts with which they were charged. It was required in order to reach the person, not the calling. It was exacted not from any notion that the several acts designated indicated unfitness for the callings, but because it was thought that the several acts deserved punishment, and that, for many of them, there was no way to inflict punishment except by depriving the parties who had committed them of some of the rights and privileges of the citizen.
The disabilities created by the Constitution of Missouri must be regarded as penalties -- they constitute punishment. We do not agree with the counsel of Missouri that "to punish one is to deprive him of life, liberty, or property, and that to take from him anything less than these is no punishment at all." The learned counsel does not use these terms -- life, liberty, and property -- as comprehending every right known to the law. He does not include under liberty freedom from outrage on the feelings as well as restraints on the person. He does not include under property those estates which one may acquire in professions, though they are often the source of the highest emoluments and honors. The deprivation of any rights, civil or political, previously enjoyed may be punishment, the circumstances attending and the causes of the deprivation determining this fact. Disqualification from office many be punishment, as in cases of conviction upon impeachment. Disqualification from the pursuits of a lawful avocation, or from positions of trust, or from the privilege of appearing in the courts, or acting as an executor, administrator, or guardian, may also, and often has been, imposed as punishment. By statute 9 and 10
Page 71 U. S. 321
William III, chap. 32, if any person educated in or having made a profession of the Christian religion did, "by writing, printing, teaching, or advised speaking," deny the truth of the religion, or the divine authority of the Scriptures, he was for the first offence rendered incapably to hold any office or place of trust, and for the second he was rendered incapable of bringing any action, being guardian, executor, legatee, or purchaser of lands, besides being subjected to three years' imprisonment without bail. [Footnote 1]
By statute 1 George I, chap. 13, contempts against the King's title arising from refusing or neglecting to take certain prescribed oaths and yet acting in an office or place of trust for which they were required were punished by incapacity to hold any public office, to prosecute any suit, to be guardian or executor, to take any legacy or deed of gift, and to vote at any election for members of Parliament, and the offender was also subject to a forfeiture of five hundred pounds to anyone who would sue for the same. [Footnote 2]
"Some punishments," says Blackstone,
"consist in exile or banishment, by abjuration of the realm or transportation; others in loss of liberty by perpetual or temporary imprisonment. Some extend to confiscation by forfeiture of lands or movables, or both, or of the profits of lands for life; others induce a disability of holding offices or employments, being heirs, executors, and the like. [Footnote 3]"
In France, deprivation or suspension of civil rights, or of some of them, and among these of the right of voting, of eligibility to office, of taking part in family councils, of being guardian or trustee, of bearing arms, and of teaching or being employed in a school or seminary of learning, are punishments prescribed by her code.
The theory upon which our political institutions rest is, that all men have certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and that, in the pursuit of happiness, all avocations, all honors, all positions are alike open to everyone, and that in the protection
Page 71 U. S. 322
of these rights all are equal before the law. Any deprivation or suspension of any of these rights for past conduct is punishment, and can be in no other wise defined.
Punishment not being, therefore, restricted, as contended by counsel, to the deprivation of life, liberty, or property, but also embracing deprivation or suspension of political or civil rights, and the disabilities prescribed by the provisions of the Missouri Constitution being in effect punishment, we proceed to consider whether there is any inhibition in the Constitution of the United States against their enforcement.
The counsel for Missouri closed his argument in this case by presenting a striking picture of the struggle for ascendency in that State during the recent Rebellion between the friends and the enemies of the Union, and of the fierce passions which that struggle aroused. It was in the midst of the struggle that the present constitution was framed, although it was not adopted by the people until the war had closed. It would have been strange, therefore, had it not exhibited in its provisions some traces of the excitement amidst which the convention held its deliberations.
It was against the excited action of the States, under such influences as these, that the framers of the Federal Constitution intended to guard. In Fletcher v. Peck, [Footnote 4] Mr. Chief Justice Marshall, speaking of such action, uses this language:
"Whatever respect might have been felt for the State sovereignties, it is not to be disguised that the framers of the Constitution viewed with some apprehension the violent acts which might grow out of the feelings of the moment, and that the people of the United States, in adopting that instrument, have manifested a determination to shield themselves and their property from the effects of those sudden and strong passions to which men are exposed. The restrictions on the legislative power of the States are obviously founded in this sentiment, and the Constitution of the United States contains what may be deemed a bill of rights for the people of each State. "
Page 71 U. S. 323
"No State shall pass any bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts."
A bill of attainder is a legislative act which inflicts punishment without a judicial trial.
If the punishment be less than death, the act is termed a bill of pains and penalties. Within the meaning of the Constitution, bills of attainder include bills of pains and penalties. In these cases, the legislative body, in addition to its legitimate functions, exercises the powers and office of judge; it assumes, in the language of the textbooks, judicial magistracy; it pronounces upon the guilt of the party without any of the forms or safeguards of trial; it determines the sufficiency of the proofs produced, whether conformable to the rules of evidence or otherwise; and it fixes the degree of punishment in accordance with its own nations of the enormity of the offence.
"Bills of this sort," says Mr. Justice Story,
"have been most usually passed in England in times of rebellion, or gross subserviency to the Crown, or of violent political excitements -- periods in which all nations are most liable (as well the free as the enslaved) to forget their duties and to trample upon the rights and liberties of others. [Footnote 5]"
These bills are generally directed against individuals by name, but they may be directed against a whole class. The bill against the Earl of Kildare and others, passed in the reign of Henry VIII, [Footnote 6] enacted that "all such persons which be or heretofore have been comforters, abettors, partakers, confederates, or adherents unto the said" late earl, and certain other parties, who were named, "in his or their false and traitorous acts and purposes, shall in likewise stand, and be attainted, adjudged, and convicted of high treason," and that
"the same attainder, judgment, and conviction against the said comforters, abettors, partakers, confederates, and adherents, shall be as strong and effectual in the law against them, and every of them, as though they and every of them
Page 71 U. S. 324
had been specially, singularly, and particularly named by their proper names and surnames in the said act."
These bills may inflict punishment absolutely or may inflict it conditionally.
The bill against the Earl of Clarendon, passed in the reign of Charles the Second, enacted that the earl should suffer perpetual exile, and be forever banished from the realm; and that, if he returned, or was found in England, or in any other of the King's dominions, after the first of February, 1667, he should suffer the pains and penalties of treason, with the proviso, however, that if be surrendered himself before the said first day of February for trial, the penalties and disabilities declared should be void and of no effect. [Footnote 7]
"A British act of Parliament," to cite the language of the Supreme Court of Kentucky,
"might declare, that if certain individuals, or a class of individuals, failed to do a given act by a named day, they should be deemed to be, and treated as convicted felons or traitors. Such an act comes precisely within the definition of a bill of attainder, and the English courts would enforce it without indictment or trial by jury. [Footnote 8]"
If the clauses of the second article of the Constitution of Missouri to which we have referred had in terms declared that Mr. Cummings was guilty, or should be held guilty, of having been in armed hostility to the United States, or of having entered that State to avoid being enrolled or drafted into the military service of the United States, and, therefore, should be deprived of the right to preach as a priest of the Catholic Church, or to teach in any institution of learning, there could be no question that the clauses would constitute a bill of attainder within the meaning of the Federal Constitution. If these clauses, instead of mentioning his name, had declared that all priests and clergymen within the State of Missouri were guilty of these acts, or should be held guilty of them, and hence be subjected to the like deprivation, the clauses would be equally open to objection. And
Page 71 U. S. 325
further, if these clauses had declared that all such priests and clergymen should be so held guilty, and be thus deprived, provided they did not, by a day designated, do certain specified acts, they would be no less within the inhibition of the Federal Constitution.
In all these cases, there would be the legislative enactment creating the deprivation without any of the ordinary forms and guards provided for the security of the citizen in the administration of justice by the established tribunals.
The results which would follow from clauses of the character mentioned do follow from the clauses actually adopted. The difference between the last case supposed and the case actually presented is one of form only, and not of substance. The existing clauses presume the guilt of the priests and clergymen, and adjudge the deprivation of their right to preach or teach unless the presumption be first removed by their expurgatory oath -- in other words, they assume the guilt and adjudge the punishment conditionally. The clauses supposed differ only in that they declare the guilt instead of assuming it. The deprivation is effected with equal certainty in the one case as it would be in the other, but not with equal directness. The purpose of the lawmaker in the case supposed would be openly avowed; in the case existing, it is only disguised. The legal result must be the same, for what cannot be done directly cannot be done indirectly. The Constitution deals with substance, not shadows. Its inhibition was leveled at the thing, not the name. It intended that the rights of the citizen should be secure against deprivation for past conduct by legislative enactment, under any form, however disguised. If the inhibition can be evaded by the form of the enactment, its insertion in the fundamental law was a vain and futile proceeding.
We proceed to consider the second clause of what Mr. Chief Justice Marshall terms a bill of rights for the people of each State -- the clause which inhibits the passage of an ex post facto law.
By an ex post facto law is meant one which imposes a punishment
Page 71 U. S. 326
for an act which was not punishable at the time it was committed; or imposes additional punishment to that then prescribed; or changes the rules of evidence by which less or different testimony is sufficient to convict than was then required.
In Fletcher v. Peck, Mr. Chief Justice Marshall defined an ex post facto law to be one "which renders an act punishable in a manner in which it was not punishable when it was committed." "Such a law," said that eminent judge,
"may inflict penalties on the person, or may inflict pecuniary penalties which swell the public treasury. The legislature is then prohibited from passing a law by which a man's estate, or any part of it, shall be seized for a crime, which was not declared by some previous law to render him liable to that punishment. Why, then, should violence be done to the natural meaning of words for the purpose of leaving to the legislature the power of seizing for public use the estate of an individual, in the form of a law annulling the title by which he holds the estate? The Court can perceive no sufficient grounds for making this distinction. This rescinding act would have the effect of an ex post facto law. It forfeits the estate of Fletcher for a crime not committed by himself, but by those from whom he purchased. This cannot be effected in the form of an ex post facto law, or bill of attainder; why, then, is it allowable in the form of a law annulling the original grant?"
The act to which reference is here made was one passed by the State of Georgia rescinding a previous act under which lands had been granted. The rescinding act, annulling the title of the grantees, did not, in terms, define any crimes, or inflict any punishment, or direct any judicial proceedings; yet, inasmuch as the legislature was forbidden from passing any law by which a man's estate could be seized for a crime which was not declared such by some previous law rendering him liable to that punishment, the Chief Justice was of opinion that the rescinding act had the effect of an ex post facto law, and was within the constitutional prohibition.
Page 71 U. S. 327
The clauses in the Missouri Constitution which are the subject of consideration do not, in terms, define any crimes or declare that any punishment shall be inflicted, but they produce the same result upon the parties against whom they are directed as though the crimes were defined and the punishment was declared. They assume that there are persons in Missouri who are guilty of some of the acts designated. They would have no meaning in the constitution were not such the fact. They are aimed at past acts, and not future acts. They were intended especially to operate upon parties who, in some form or manner, by action or words, directly or indirectly, had aided or countenanced the Rebellion, or sympathized with parties engaged in the Rebellion, or had endeavored to escape the proper responsibilities and duties of a citizen in time of war, and they were intended to operate by depriving such persons of the right to hold certain offices and trusts, and to pursue their ordinary and regular avocations. This deprivation is punishment, nor is it any less so because a way is opened for escape from it by the expurgatory oath. The framers of the constitution of Missouri knew at the time that whole classes of individuals would be unable to take the oath prescribed. To them there is no escape provided; to them the deprivation was intended to be, and is, absolute and perpetual. To make the enjoyment of a right dependent upon an impossible condition is equivalent to an absolute denial of the right under any condition, and such denial, enforced for a past act, is nothing less than punishment imposed for that act. It is a misapplication of terms to call it anything else.
Now some of the acts to which the expurgatory oath is directed were not offences at the time they were committed. It was no offence against any law to enter or leave the State of Missouri for the purpose of avoiding enrollment or draft in the military service of the United States, however much the evasion of such service might be the subject of moral censure. Clauses which prescribe a penalty for an act of this nature are within the terms of the definition of an ex
Page 71 U. S. 328
post facto law -- "they impose a punishment for an act not punishable at the time it was committed."
Some of the acts at which the oath is directed constituted high offences at the time they were committed, to which, upon conviction, fine and imprisonment or other heavy penalties were attached. The clauses which provide a further penalty for these acts are also within the definition of an ex post facto law -- "they impose additional punishment to that prescribed when the act was committed."
And this is not all. The clauses in question subvert the presumptions of innocence, and alter the rules of evidence, which heretofore, under the universally recognized principles of the common law, have been supposed to be fundamental and unchangeable. They assume that the parties are guilty; they call upon the parties to establish their innocence; and they declare that such innocence can be shown only in one way -- by an inquisition, in the form of an expurgatory oath, into the consciences of the parties.
The objectionable character of these clauses will be more apparent if we put them into the ordinary form of a legislative act. Thus, if instead of the general provisions in the constitution, the convention had provided as follows : Be it enacted, that all persons who have been in armed hostility to the United States shall, upon conviction thereof, not only be punished as the laws provided at the time the offences charged were committed, but shall also be thereafter rendered incapable of holding any of the offices, trusts, and positions, and of exercising any of the pursuits mentioned in the second article of the Constitution of Missouri -- no one would have any doubt of the nature of the enactment. It would be an ex post facto law, and void, for it would add a new punishment for an old offence. So, too, if the convention had passed an enactment of a similar kind with reference to those acts which do not constitute offences. Thus, had it provided as follows: Be it enacted, that all persons who have heretofore, at any time, entered or left the State of Missouri, with intent to avoid enrollment or draft in the military service of the United States, shall, upon conviction
Page 71 U. S. 329
thereof, be forever rendered incapable of holding any office of honor, trust, or profit in the State, or of teaching in any seminary of learning, or of preaching as a minister of the gospel of any denomination, or of exercising any of the professions or pursuits mentioned in the second article of the constitution -- there would be no question of the character of the enactment. It would be an ex post facto law, because it would impose a punishment for an act not punishable at the time it was committed.
The provisions of the constitution of Missouri accomplish precisely what enactments like those supposed would have accomplished. They impose the same penalty, without the formality of a judicial trial and conviction, for the parties embraced by the supposed enactments would be incapable of taking the oath prescribed; to them, its requirement would be an impossible condition. Now, as the State, had she attempted the course supposed, would have failed, it must follow that any other mode producing the same result must equally fail. The provision of the Federal Constitution, intended to secure the liberty of the citizen, cannot be evaded by the form in which the power of the State is exerted. If this were not so, if that which cannot be accomplished by means looking directly to the end can be accomplished by indirect means, the inhibition may be evaded at pleasure. No kind of oppression can be named, against which the framers of the Constitution intended to guard, which may not be effected. Take the case supposed by counsel -- that of a man tried for treason and acquitted, or, if convicted, pardoned -- the legislature may nevertheless enact that, if the person thus acquitted or pardoned does not take an oath that he never has committed the acts charged against him, he shall not be permitted to hold any office of honor or trust or profit, or pursue any avocation in the State. Take the case before us -- the Constitution of Missouri, as we have seen, excludes, on failure to take the oath prescribed by it, a large class of persons within her borders from numerous positions and pursuits; it would have been equally within the power of the State to have extended the
Page 71 U. S. 330
exclusion so as to deprive the parties, who are unable to take the oath, from any avocation whatever in the State. Take still another case: suppose that, in the progress of events, persons now in the minority in the State should obtain the ascendency, and secure the control of the government; nothing could prevent, if the constitutional prohibition can be evaded, the enactment of a provision requiring every person, as a condition of holding any position of honor or trust, or of pursuing any avocation in the State, to take an oath that he had never advocated or advised or supported the imposition of the present expurgatory oath. Under this form of legislation, the most flagrant invasion of private rights, in periods of excitement, may be enacted, and individuals, and even whole classes, may be deprived of political and civil rights.
A question arose in New York, soon after the treaty of peace of 1783, upon a statute of that State, which involved a discussion of the nature and character of these expurgatory oaths, when used as a means of inflicting punishment for past conduct. The subject was regarded as so important, and the requirement of the oath such a violation of the fundamental principles of civil liberty and the rights of the citizen, that it engaged the attention of eminent lawyers and distinguished statesmen of the time, and, among others, of Alexander Hamilton. We will cite some passages of a paper left by him on the subject in which, with his characteristic fullness and ability, he examines the oath and demonstrates that it is not only a mode of inflicting punishment, but a mode in violation of all the constitutional guarantees, secured by the Revolution, of the rights and liberties of the people.
"If we examine it" (the measure requiring the oath), said this great lawyer,
"with an unprejudiced eye, we must acknowledge not only that it was an evasion of the treaty, but a subversion of one great principle of social security, to-wit, that every man shall be presumed innocent until he is proved guilty. This was to invert the order of things and, instead of obliging the State to prove the guilt in order
Page 71 U. S. 331
to inflict the penalty, it was to oblige the citizen to establish his own innocence to avoid the penalty. It was to excite scruples in the honest and conscientious, and to hold out a bribe to perjury. . . . It was a mode of inquiry who had committed and of those crimes to which the penalty of disqualification was annexed, with this aggravation, that it deprived the citizen of the benefit of that advantage, which he would have enjoyed by leaving, as in all other cases, the burden of the proof upon the prosecutor."
"To place this matter in a still clearer light, let it be supposed that, instead of the mode of indictment and trial by jury, the legislature was to declare that every citizen who did not swear he had never adhered to the King of Great Britain should incur all the penalties which our treason laws prescribe. Would this not be a palpable evasion of the treaty, and a direct infringement of the Constitution? The principle is the same in both cases, with only this difference in the consequences -- that, in the instance already acted upon, the citizen forfeits a part of his rights; in the one supposed, he would forfeit the whole. The degree of punishment is all that distinguishes the cases. In either, justly considered, it is substituting a new and arbitrary mode of prosecution to that ancient and highly esteemed one recognized by the laws and constitution of the State. I mean the trial by jury."
"Let us not forget that the Constitution declares that trial by jury, in all cases in which it has been formerly used, should remain inviolate forever, and that the legislature should at no time erect any new jurisdiction which should not proceed according to the course of the common law. Nothing can be more repugnant to the true genius of the common law than such an inquisition as has been mentioned into the consciences of men. . . . If any oath with retrospect to past conduct were to be made the condition on which individuals, who have resided within the British lines, should hold their estates, we should immediately see that this proceeding would be tyrannical, and a violation of the treaty; and yet, when the same mode is employed to divest
Page 71 U. S. 332
that right, which ought to be deemed still more sacred, many of us are so infatuated as to overlook the mischief."
"To say that the persons who will be affected by it have previously forfeited that right, and that, therefore, nothing is taken away from them, is a begging of the question. How do we know who are the persons in this situation? If it be answered, this is the mode taken to ascertain it -- the objection returns -- 'tis an improper mode, because it puts the most essential interests of the citizen upon a worse footing than we should be willing to tolerate where inferior interests were concerned, and because, to elude the treaty, it substitutes for the established and legal mode of investigating crimes and inflicting forfeitures, one that is unknown to the Constitution, and repugnant to the genius of our law."
Similar views have frequently been expressed by the judiciary in cases involving analogous questions. They are presented with great force in The matter of Dorsey, [Footnote 9] but we do not deem it necessary to pursue the subject further.
The judgment of the Supreme Court of Missouri must be reversed, and the cause remanded with directions to enter a judgment reversing the judgment of the Circuit Court, and directing that court to discharge the defendant from imprisonment, and suffer him to depart without day.
AND IT IS SO ORDERED.
THE CHIEF JUSTICE, and MESSRS. JUSTICE SWAYNE, DAVIS, and MILLER dissented. In behalf of this portion of the Court, a dissenting opinion was delivered by MR. JUSTICE MILLER. This opinion applied equally or more to the case of Ex parte Garland (the case next following), which involved principles of a character similar to those discussed in this case. The dissenting opinion is, therefore, published after the opinion of the court in that case.
4 Black. 44.
10 U. S. 6 Cranch 137.
Commentaries, ¤ 1344.
28 Henry VIII, chap. 18; 3 Stats. of Realm, 694.
Printed in 6 Howell's State Trials, p. 391.
Gaines v. Buford, 1 Dana 510.
7 Porter 294.
Back to Court Cases