It is perhaps the most unusual George Caleb Bingham painting of all the works of that outstanding Missouri artist. It is an oil painting over a photograph. The painting is of Rev. Abner H. Deane, former Major in the Union Army jailed in independence for preaching without having taken the “Ironclad Oath” prescribed by the Missouri Constitution of 1865. Bingham painted the picture for the purpose of holding the “contemptible oath up to ridicule.”
Rev. Deane (1828-1912) was a pastor in Missouri and Kansas, with his longest pastorate at Pleasant Ridge Church, Cass County, Missouri. Deane was arrested on April 7, 1866 for preaching without having taken the loyalty oath required by all preachers by the State of Missouri. Deane is reported to have given his reason for refusing to take the test oath as, “I have never rebelled against any government and, therefore, I do not need to take such an oath. My commission to preach comes from the Lord and not from the government.” Deane later wrote about his response to the order to stop preaching, “But this I could not do without violating my conscience.”
He remained in jail until his release on June 15, 1866. The Bingham painting helped to publicize the injustice of the test oath throughout the state. It assisted in forcing the release of Deane from the Independence jail. There were other pastors of various denominations who refused to take the test oath and were jailed. However, Deane is the only one to have been preserved by a painting depicting his unwavering commitment to religious liberty and liberty of conscience. Deane’s biography can be found in Volume 3, p. 95 of Missouri Baptist Biography. His wife’s biography is located in Volume 5, p. 49.
Bingham’s painting – Major Deane in Jail was given to William Jewell College in 1940 by Deane’s grandson. It now hangs in the office of the President. A file of documents about Abner H. Deane is located in the Partee Center, William Jewell College, Liberty, Missouri.