Vallandigham’s Constitution-Peace-Reunion Speech

January 14, 1863 – Outgoing Democratic Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham of Ohio delivered a speech excoriating President Abraham Lincoln’s war policies and calling for peaceful coexistence with the Confederacy.

Former U.S. Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham | Image Credit:

Vallandigham had been one of the Lincoln administration’s most vocal critics since the war began. He led the “Copperheads,” or anti-war northerners who denounced the administration’s abuse of civil liberties and called for negotiating peace with the Confederacy.

He narrowly lost reelection for his U.S. House seat when Republicans re-zoned his district to exclude many of those who had voted for him two years before. Vallandigham delivered a farewell speech in the lame duck session of Congress on the 14th, titled “Constitution-Peace-Reunion.”

Vallandigham declared, “You have not conquered the South. You never will.” The Confederacy could not be forced back into the Union just as someone could not “force the wife to sleep with the husband.” Lincoln “confessed it on September 22 (when he issued his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation), war for the Union was abandoned; war for the Negro openly begun and with stronger battalions than before. With what success? Let the dead at Fredericksburg and Vicksburg answer… But ought this war to continue? I answer no–not a day, not an hour.”

Vallandigham next attacked the business and financial leaders who backed the war in the North:

“And let not Wall street, or any other great interest, mercantile, manufacturing, or commercial, imagine that it shall have power enough or wealth enough to stand in the way of reunion through peace. Money you have expended without limit, and blood poured out like water. Defeat, debt, taxation, and sepulchers–these are your only trophies. The war for the Union is… a most bloody and costly failure.”

Vallandigham then turned to the unconstitutional measures the administration had employed to wage war. He referred to “repeated and persistent arbitrary arrests, the suspension of habeas corpus, the violation of freedom of the mails, of the private house, of the press and of speech, and all the other multiplied wrongs and outrages upon public liberty and private right.” To Vallandigham, all this “have made this country one of the worst despotisms on earth for the past 20 months.”

He argued that the only sensible solution to the crisis was to “Stop fighting. Make an armistice… Withdraw your army from the seceded States.” Vallandigham urged the administration to invoke the aid of a foreign nation to mediate “an informal, practical recognition of the Confederacy.”

Denouncing the “fanaticism and hypocrisy” of the notion that ending the war would preserve slavery, Vallandigham said, “I see more of barbarism and sin, a thousand times, in the continuance of this war… and the enslavement of the white race by debt and taxes and arbitrary power.” He closed by declaring, “In considering terms of settlement we (should) look only to the welfare, peace, and safety of the white race, without reference to the effect that settlement may have on the African.”

Vallandigham soon became a key figure in the growing anti-war movement, as more and more northerners became disenchanted with the mounting costs of war in both men and money.



Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 497; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 107; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 591-92; Vallandigham, Clement Laird, “The Constitution – Peace – Reunion,” Appendix to the Congressional Globe: Containing the Speeches, Important State Papers and the Laws of the Third Session Thirty-seventh Congress (Washington, DC: Globe Office, 1863), edited by John C. Rives, 52-60; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 188-89; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q163

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