Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Tempest over a Tea Cup

This post has "nothing to do" with my previous post, Jerry-rigging the Presidential Oath, except to illustrate how much, starting with 1821, the manner of administering an oath by an authorized New York official had changed to accommodate the religious convictions of an oath-taker. Here's a small section from Reports of Chancery Cases, decided in the First Circuit of the State of New York, Volume III, page 243, which is about how an oath was administered in a New York court of justice some fifty years after our nation's first presidential inauguration:
[It is interesting] to add here, (although, it is true, it relates to an idolater's oath) the circumstances attending the examination of a Chinese in the Marine court of the city of New York, on the fifth day of December, 1839 as a witness. It was a suit before Judge Schiefflin in the Marine court; and a young man, about seventeen years old, a native of China, who could speak English tolerably well, was called by one of the parties as a witness. The opposite party objected to his evidence being received on the ground that he was not a Christian nor believed in the existence of God. He was then asked by the court if he believed in Christianity, and he replied in the negative. He was next asked, did he believe in the existence of a God? and he said "I do"; for there are several gods in our temples in China." The court then quoted a section of the [1821] Revised Statutes, "Every person believing in any other than the Christian religion, shall be sworn according to the peculiar ceremonies of his religion," ... .

After the court discussed much to do about the acceptable mode of administering an oath involving this particular circumstance, the following protocol was adopted:
The plaintiff knelt down, and the witness [of seventeen years] took in his hand what he called the Chinese Bible, and the judge, as does the Mandarin, told the witness to tell the truth. The witness then handed the bible to the plaintiff. The witness then handed the Bible to the plaintiff. The witness then took a China cup in his hand, and held it while the plaintiff read a small portion of the Chinese Bible. When the plaintiff stopped reading, the witness handed him the cup, which the plaintiff dashed against the ground with much vehemence of manner, and of course broke it into pieces. The witness then shut up the book, and witness and plaintiff kissed it, and the plaintiff stood up. The plaintiff then required the judge to put his, the plaintiff's, name in that part of the book which he had read, which the Judge did, and the witness then began to give his evidence.

A hat tip to Brad Hart and his recent Shakespearean comment. I, otherwise, would have forgotten all about this 1839 courtroom episode involving a tea cup.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

This satirical piece describes the "much ado" about the tea cup...

Ray Soller said...

Angie, thanks, I love that piece. Although, I was a little disappointed that the article didn't didn't mention anything about April Fools' Day. It just goes to show that there's been abundance of holiday spirits being passed around.

Phil Johnson said...

Pretty good. Thanks.