Clement L. Vallandigham, an outgoing Democratic congressman from Ohio, had been one of the Lincoln administration’s fiercest critics ever since the war began. On January 14, Vallandigham delivered a farewell speech on the floor of the House of Representatives that excoriated President Abraham Lincoln’s war policies and called for peaceful coexistence with the Confederacy.
Vallandigham led the “Copperheads,” or northerners opposed to the war and slave emancipation. He narrowly lost reelection for his House seat when Republicans re-zoned his district to exclude many of those who had voted for him in 1860. In this lame duck session of Congress, the lame duck Vallandigham titled his final speech “Constitution-Peace-Reunion.”
The outgoing congressman proudly declared that he had always opposed the war, and through God’s blessing, “not so much as one drop of its blood is upon my garments.” While he did not support southern independence, Vallandigham concluded, “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.” His solution to the crisis was to–
“Stop fighting. Make an armistice–no formal treaty. Withdraw your army from the seceded states. Reduce both armies to a fair and sufficient peace establishment. Declare absolute free trade between North and South. Buy and sell… Recall your fleets. Break up your blockade. Reduce your navy. Restore travel. Open up railroads. Re-establish the telegraph. Reunite your express companies. No more monitors and ironclads, but set your friendly steamers and steamships once again in motion. Visit the North and West. Visit the South. Exchange newspapers. Migrate. Intermarry. Let slavery alone. Hold elections at the appointed times. Let us choose a new President in sixty-four. And when the gospel of peace shall have descended again from heaven into their hearts, and the gospel of abolition and hate been expelled, let your clergy and the churches meet again in Christian intercourse, North and South.”
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 added, “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.”
He strongly and equally opposed abolition, reuniting North and South through force, and Confederate independence. If the war continued as it did, Vallandigham predicted, “I see nothing before us but universal political and social revolution, anarchy and bloodshed, compared with which the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution was a merciful visitation.”
Vallandigham’s speech was not based in reality, for both North and South had invested so much into the war by this time that there was no chance that both sides would, as he hoped, simply stop fighting. Nevertheless, Vallandigham soon became a key figure in the growing anti-war movement, and he would use this popularity to run for governor of Ohio later this year. His anti-war message became stronger 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.
- Catton, Bruce and Long, E.B. (ed.), Never Call Retreat: Centennial History of the Civil War Book 3. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. (Kindle Edition), 1965.
- Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian. New York: Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (Kindle Edition), 2011.
- 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.
- Vallandigham, Clement L. (John C. Rives ed.), “The Constitution – Peace – Reunion.” The Congressional Globe: Containing the Speeches, Important State Papers and the Laws of the Third Session of the Thirty-seventh Congress. Washington, DC: Congressional Globe Office, 1863.
- Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990.