Political Candidates’ Loyalty Oaths

When Washington mustered his revolutionary army, when South Carolinians called for secession, and when Senator Joseph P. McCarthy kindled fears of Communist infiltration, many people affirmed their loyalty to the nation by swearing oaths. Perhaps the oath givers hoped to subdue the anxieties of those anxious times by reducing the ambiguities in the behavior and beliefs of others. Candidates for political office have not escaped suspicion; eight states still require political candidates to swear oaths of loyalty before their names can appear on the ballot. But constitutional doctrine and changing times have diminished the loyalty oath’s scope and significance. This article examines the wane of political candidates’ loyalty oaths and uses the Maryland experience as a basis for evaluating what remains.