Tag Archives: Clement L. Vallandigham

McClellan Repudiates His Party’s Platform

September 8, 1864 – Former General-in-Chief George B. McClellan officially accepted the presidential nomination by the Democratic Party. However, he alienated the peace wing of the party by repudiating their call to end the war at any cost.

Democratic campaign poster | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Since being removed from command by President Abraham Lincoln, McClellan had remained sequestered at his Orange, New Jersey, home awaiting reassignment. Despite calls from McClellan’s supporters, Lincoln refused to reinstate him. McClellan responded by supporting the Democratic Party in hopes of ousting Lincoln and his Republicans in this year’s election. The Democrats in turn nominated him to directly challenge Lincoln for the presidency.

The Democrats were sharply divided between those who wanted to continue fighting the war until the Union was restored and those who wanted to end the war immediately, regardless of whether the Union was restored. They had compromised at their convention by nominating a War Democrat for president and a Peace Democrat (George H. Pendleton) for vice president, and by endorsing the Peace Democrats’ platform. McClellan quickly learned that the two were not reconcilable.

McClellan faced tremendous pressure. The war faction, particularly eastern Democrats, urged him to renounce the peace platform, especially now that the Federals had captured Atlanta. If McClellan accepted the nomination but said nothing about the platform, War Democrats would perceive it as a tacit approval and possibly withdraw their support.

Conversely, if McClellan did anything less than endorse the peace faction’s call to end the war at any cost, he risked alienating them. Clement L. Vallandigham, the Peace Democrat who authored the platform, warned McClellan, “Do not listen to your Eastern friends who, in an evil hour, may advise you to insinuate even a little war into your letter of acceptance… If anything implying war is presented, 200,000 men in the West will withhold their support.”

Maj Gen G.B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikispaces

From his home, McClellan wrote six drafts of his acceptance letter, trying in vain to satisfy both sides. In the early drafts, McClellan seemed to lean toward the peace faction by calling for an immediate armistice to negotiate an end to the war, and supporting a resumption of war only if negotiations failed. But influential War Democrats persuaded him to remove this pledge because once the war stopped, it would most likely not be started again, with or without Union.

McClellan submitted the final draft of his acceptance letter to the nominating committee at midnight. To placate the Peace Democrats, he pledged that if elected, he would “exhaust all the resources of statesmanship” to end the war. McClellan then explained why he accepted the nomination, even though he had not sought it:

“The existence of more than one Government over the region which once owned our flag is incompatible with the peace, the power, and the happiness of the people. The preservation of our Union was the sole avowed object for which the war was commenced. It should have been conducted for that object only, and in accordance with those principles which I took occasion to declare when in active service.”

McClellan then backed the War Democrats by firmly declaring that the war would not end until the Union was restored:

“The Union must be preserved at all hazards. I could not look in the face of my gallant comrades of the army and navy, who have survived so many bloody battles, and tell them that their labor and the sacrifice of so many of our slain and wounded brethren had been in vain, that we had abandoned that Union for which we have so often periled our lives. A vast majority of our people, whether in the army and navy or at home, would, as I would, hail with unbounded joy the permanent restoration of peace, on the basis of the Union under the Constitution, without the effusion of another drop of blood. But no peace can be permanent without Union.”

McClellan stated that when “our present adversaries are ready for peace, on the basis of the Union,” he would be willing to negotiate with them in “a spirit of conciliation and compromise… The Union is the one condition of peace–we ask no more.”

This letter enraged the Peace Democrats, and many hurried to call a new convention to nominate a different candidate. However, they were unable to do so, and most (including Vallandigham) eventually backed McClellan simply because it was too late to find an alternative.

McClellan’s letter meant that if he was elected, everything besides restoring the Union, including ending or reinstating slavery, would be negotiable. But the Confederates would not accept restoration as a condition for peace because their only condition was separation. This ensured that the war would continue until a clear victor emerged.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 179-80; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 456; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11564-85; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 494; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 656; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 568; 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. 775-76

The 1864 Democratic National Convention

August 29, 1864 – Delegates assembled at Chicago to nominate an opponent for Abraham Lincoln, but they were split over how to deal with the Confederacy.

The Democrats had delayed their convention for over two months in hopes that the Federal war effort would stagnate enough so that voters would turn to them to end the costly conflict. But the Democrats did not have the momentum they were hoping for; although Richmond remained uncaptured, the fall of Atlanta was imminent, and the Federals had won a sensational victory at Mobile Bay.

Also, the party was deeply divided between War Democrats who sought to continue the war until the Confederacy returned to the Union, and Peace Democrats (i.e., Copperheads) who sought peace at any price, even if it meant Confederate independence. The Peace Democrats seemed to outnumber the war faction, as delegates cheered the playing of “Dixie” at the convention and gave little applause to Federal war tunes.

Both sides agreed on two things: abolishing slavery should not be a war aim, and Lincoln and the Republicans had ruined the country. August Belmont announced, “Four years of misrule by a sectional, fanatical and corrupt party, have brought our country to the verge of ruin.” An Iowa delegate declared, “With all his vast armies Lincoln has failed, failed, failed, and still the monster usurper wants more victims for his slaughter pens.”

Convention Chairman Thomas Seymour delivered a speech in which he stated, “The Administration cannot save the Union. We can. Mr. Lincoln views many things above the Union. We put the Union first of all. He thinks a (emancipation) proclamation more than peace. We think the blood of our people more precious than edicts of a president.”

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

The delegates adopted their party platform on the 30th. Clement L. Vallandigham, the former Ohio congressman exiled by Lincoln for encouraging men to avoid the draft, chaired the resolutions subcommittee responsible for writing the party platform. This ensured that the Peace Democrats would dictate what policies the party would embrace. It was resolved:

“That this convention does explicitly declare, as the sense of the American people, that after four years of failure to restore the Union by the experiment of war, during which, under the pretense of a military necessity, or war power higher than the Constitution, the Constitution itself has been disregarded in every part, justice, humanity, liberty, and the public welfare demand that immediate efforts be made for a cessation of hostilities, with a view to an ultimate convention of the States, or other peaceable means, to the end that at the earliest practicable moment peace may be restored on the basis of the Federal Union of the States.”

This was greatly influenced by the Peace Democrats, and it indicated that the party wanted peace above all else, including reunion. The delegation declared, “That the aim and object of the Democratic party is to preserve the Federal Union and the rights of the States unimpaired.” As such, they condemned the Republicans’ “administrative usurpation of extraordinary and dangerous powers not granted by the Constitution,” which included arresting political dissidents, implementing martial law, suspending habeas corpus, and infringing on the right to bear arms.

The delegates noted the Lincoln administration’s “shameful disregard” of “our fellow citizens who now are, and long have been, prisoners of war in a suffering condition.” This was a criticism of the administration’s refusal to exchange prisoners of war because the Confederacy would not exchange black troops. Consequently, Federal prisoners languished in overcrowded and diseased prison camps such as Andersonville.

The delegates next debated who their presidential nominee should be, with some Peace Democrats refusing to endorse any candidate “with the smell of war on his garments.” Several peace candidates were suggested, including Chairman Seymour, New York Governor Horatio Seymour, and New York Congressman Fernando Wood. Other potential candidates included L.W. Powell of Kentucky and former President Franklin Pierce.

Peace Democrats initially objected to former General-in-Chief George B. McClellan, but his backers assured them that “the General is for peace, not war… If he is nominated, he would prefer to restore the Union by peaceful means, rather than by war.” Before the convention had begun, McClellan made his views clear: “If I am elected, I will recommend an immediate armistice and a call for a convention of all the states and insist upon exhausting all and every means to secure peace without further bloodshed.”

Having written the party platform, the Peace Democrats agreed to allow the War Democrats to nominate McClellan. He received 174 votes on the first ballot, with Thomas Seymour garnering 38 and Horatio Seymour 12. Horatio Seymour announced he would not accept the nomination and was dropped. McClellan received 202 1/2 votes on the next ballot, and Vallandigham moved that his nomination be made unanimous.

Democratic campaign poster | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

To balance the ticket, George H. Pendleton of Ohio was nominated for vice president. Pendleton had opposed the war and voiced sympathy for the Confederacy. Rumors quickly spread that McClellan was so embarrassed by the peace platform that he would refuse to endorse it. But he remained the Democratic nominee nonetheless, poised to defeat his former commander-in-chief in the upcoming election.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 178-79; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 451; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11302; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11543-73; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 491-92; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 653-54; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 166; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 562-64; 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. 771-72, 791; Schweikart, Larry and Allen, Michael, A Patriot’s History of the United States (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), p. 343; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 775; 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), Q364

The 1863 Northern State Elections

October 13, 1863 – Various northern states held elections for local and state offices. Since these states were considered crucial to the war effort, President Abraham Lincoln anxiously awaited the results.

Elections for governors and state legislatures took place in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa. Democrats had made gains in these states in last year’s Federal elections, and Lincoln worried that the voters might go against his Republican Party again this year. More Democratic victories would indicate that the people were tiring of the way Lincoln was handling the war.

Republicans entered these contests with some momentum thanks to recent military victories, including news that Federal forces had reinforced the Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga. But Democrats railed against Lincoln’s war policies, including his suppression of civil liberties and enforcement of conscription. They also warned workers that Lincoln’s commitment to emancipation could mean that freed slaves might come north and compete for their jobs.

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

In Ohio, Republicans feared defeat so much that they joined forces with pro-war Democrats to form a “Union” ticket and nominate Democrat John Brough for governor. Brough was opposed by Clement L. Vallandigham, the Copperhead whom Lincoln had banished from the U.S. for encouraging people to oppose the war effort. While exiled in Windsor, Canada, Vallandigham campaigned for “peace at any price,” even if it meant granting Confederate independence.

Lincoln told Navy Secretary Gideon Welles that Ohio caused him “more anxiety… than he had in 1860 when he was chosen” president. Lincoln furloughed Federal employees and soldiers from that state so they could go home and vote, presumably for Republican and “Union” candidates. Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, a former Ohio governor, left his post to campaign in his home state. Republicans Governors Oliver P. Morton of Indiana and Richard Yates of Illinois also campaigned in Ohio.

In Pennsylvania, staunch Republican Unionist Andrew Curtin ran for reelection. His opponent was Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice George W. Woodward. Republicans re-published Woodward’s statements prior to the war, which included, “Slavery was intended as a special blessing to the people of the United States,” and, “Secession is not disloyalty” because Lincoln’s election forced the southern states to leave.

Woodward also wrote, “I cannot in justice condemn the South for withdrawing… I wish Pennsylvania could go with them.” Although he had two sons serving in the Army of the Potomac, Woodward had ruled the Enrollment Act unconstitutional in his state. George B. McClellan, the still-popular former general-in-chief, wrote that if he lived in Pennsylvania, he would “give to Judge Woodward my voice and my vote.”

Democrats rallied for the possibility of Woodward and Vallandigham allying with Democrat New York Governor Horatio Seymour “in calling from the army troops from their respective States for the purpose of compelling the Administration to invite a convention of the States to adjust our difficulties.”

In response, Chase warned business leaders who reaped financial rewards from the administration’s fiscal policies, “Gov. Curtin’s reelection or defeat is now the success or defeat of the administration of President Lincoln.” At Curtin’s request, Lincoln granted leaves of absence and 15-day railroad passes to Federal employees from Pennsylvania so they could come home and vote. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton also granted furloughs to Pennsylvania soldiers so they could “vote as they shot.”

To Lincoln’s relief, Chase telegraphed from Ohio that Vallandigham’s defeat was “complete, beyond all hopes.” Brough won a 57-percent majority, or 100,000 more popular votes than Vallandigham (288,000 to 187,000). Soldiers overwhelmingly favored Brough, 41,000 to 2,000. When Lincoln received news of this victory, he telegraphed, “Glory to God in the highest, Ohio has saved the Nation.”

Curtin also won reelection in Pennsylvania, but just by 51.5 percent, or 15,000 votes. The soldier turnout was much smaller than Ohio, largely because Woodward’s court had ruled that soldiers could not vote outside their home districts. Nevertheless, Curtin’s jubilant campaign managers wired Lincoln, “Pennsylvania stands by you, keeping step with Maine and California to the music of the Union.”

Iowa officials reported that the Republicans had “swept the state overwhelmingly,” and pro-administration candidates made gains in Indiana as well. Ultimately, anti-war Democrats calling the war a failure and seeking peaceful coexistence with the Confederacy alienated their pro-war counterparts, who aligned with Republicans in supporting preservation of the Union at all costs.

Republicans credited these victories partly to letters Lincoln had written defending his war policies to Erastus Corning and John Birchard in June, and to Governor Seymour in August. His letters were later published as a pamphlet titled, “The Letters of President Lincoln on Questions of National Policy,” that sold for eight cents. This election made Lincoln more popular than ever in the North, and it emboldened him to continue his efforts to destroy the Confederacy.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 333; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9649-60, 9727-38; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 828; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 359-60; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 573-75; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 421; 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. 684-88; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 775; 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), Q463

The Vallandigham Affair Continues

June 11, 1863 – Exiled Copperhead Clement L. Vallandigham was nominated to run for governor of Ohio, and President Abraham Lincoln issued a response to those protesting his abuse of civil liberties.

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

Lincoln had banished Vallandigham to the South last month after Vallandigham had delivered incendiary speeches condemning the administration’s war policies and encouraging others to oppose the war effort. After Federal authorities escorted Vallandigham to Tennessee, President Jefferson Davis directed Confederate officials to consider the former Ohio congressman an “alien enemy” and send him to Wilmington, North Carolina.

In the North, Vallandigham continued enjoying widespread support for his opposition to the war, as more and more people joined the Copperheads in calling for negotiating a peace with the Confederacy. Delegates to the Ohio Democratic convention nominated Vallandigham for governor, despite his banishment, by a vote of 411 to 11.

Davis wanted nothing to do with Vallandigham, then under guard at Wilmington. He feared that sheltering Vallandigham would discredit the northern peace movement, which the Confederacy actively supported. Davis told Vallandigham to either reject the nomination or leave the South. Vallandigham chose the latter, and in mid-June, Confederates shipped him to Bermuda. He was later sent to Canada, where he ran for governor while in exile.

Meanwhile, protests of Lincoln’s handling of the Vallandigham affair continued. A delegation of New York Democrats led by Erastus Corning had adopted resolutions condemning the military suppression of civil liberties. Lincoln drafted a response and read it to his cabinet before sending it to the New Yorkers. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles remarked, “It has vigor and ability and with some corrections will be a strong paper.” Lincoln sent the letter and had a copy printed in the New York Tribune, titled, “Letter to Erastus Corning, et al.”

Lincoln began by praising the delegation for their “eminently patriotic” vow to uphold the Union and support the administration’s prosecution of the war as long as it remained within constitutional boundaries. While Lincoln conceded that military arrests of civilians would be unconstitutional in peacetime, he noted that the Constitution allowed for the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus “in cases of Rebellion or Invasion,” when “the public Safety may require it.”

The president argued that “public Safety” required the suspension because the country indeed faced a “clear, flagrant, and gigantic” rebellion. According to Lincoln, this “giant rebellion” had stretched into the northern states, where “under cover of ‘liberty of speech,’ ‘liberty of the press,’ and ‘Habeas corpus,’ (the rebels) hoped to keep on foot amongst us a most efficient corps of spies, informers, suppliers, and aiders and abettors of their cause.”

This brought the war to the home front, and this required military intervention because civil courts were “utterly incompetent” to address such subversion. Lincoln explained that being “Thoroughly imbued with a reverence for the guaranteed rights of individuals,” he had been “slow to adopt the strong measures” such as military suppression, and he guessed that a time would come “when I shall be blamed for having made too few arrests rather than too many.”

Lincoln rejected the argument that Vallandigham had been arrested “for no other reason than words addressed to a public meeting.” He wrote that Vallandigham had been arrested “because he was laboring, with some effect, to prevent the raising of troops (and) to encourage desertions… He was damaging the army, upon the existence and vigor of which the life of the nation depends.” The president then posed a rhetorical question to prove his point:

“Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert?… I think that in such a case to silence the agitator and save the boy is not only constitutional, but withal a great mercy.”

Lincoln disagreed with the New Yorkers’ resolution that military suppression during war would lead to limits on personal freedoms in peace. He wrote that he could no more accept this premise “than I am able to believe that a man could contract so strong an appetite for emetics during temporary illness, as to persist in feeding upon them through the remainder of his healthful life.”

Nearly 10 million people ultimately read this letter, which proved vastly popular among Republicans and other champions of the war effort. The Loyal Publication Society printed and distributed 500,000 copies, with many politicians using it for their campaigns.

Lincoln followed up this letter with one to Matthew Birchard, leading delegate to the Ohio Democratic Convention that nominated Vallandigham for governor. This was a response to Birchard and others coming to Washington to protest Vallandigham’s banishment. Lincoln wrote this letter at the urging of Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, a former Ohio governor who was familiar with the state’s politics.

Unlike Lincoln’s first letter, this one was much more scathing. He accused Vallandigham of being responsible “personally, in a greater degree than… any other one man” for desertions, draft evasions, and terrorism against Unionists. Nominating him for governor encouraged “desertion, resistance to the draft and the like.”

Lincoln pledged to revoke Vallandigham’s banishment if each Ohio delegate pledged to “do all he can to have the officers, soldiers, and seamen of the army and navy… paid, fed, clad, and otherwise well provided and supported.” The delegates called such an ultimatum a “sacrifice of their dignity and self-respect,” and refused. Vallandigham’s banishment continued, as did military arrests in the northern states.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 290, 294; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9361-419; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 304, 308; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 524-25; Historical Times Encyclopedia Of The Civil War (2010, retrieved 6/4/2012); Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 361, 364-65; 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. 598; Porter, George Henry, Ohio Politics During the Civil War Period (New York: 1911), p. 167; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 775; Vallandigham, James L., A Life of Clement L. Vallandigham (Baltimore, MD: Turnbull Brothers, 1872), p. 293-95; 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), Q263

Lincoln Banishes Vallandigham

May 19, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln directed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to banish former Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham to the South for voicing anti-war views that the administration considered dangerous.

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

Vallandigham had been an outspoken opponent of Lincoln and the war since the conflict began. He was a prominent leader of the “Peace” Democrats, or “Copperheads,” in Ohio, where he had narrowly lost his congressional seat due to Republicans redrawing his district’s boundaries.

On May 1, Vallandigham delivered a speech to thousands of spectators at a party rally in Mount Vernon. He asserted that peace with the South could be negotiated, but Lincoln and his Republican Party refused to negotiate. This, Vallandigham said, was because they no longer sought to preserve the Union, but rather to free slaves and enslave whites by destroying civil liberties.

Vallandigham declared that the war would end only if soldiers began deserting in droves and the people hurled “King Lincoln from his throne.” He warned pro-war New Englanders that if they continued supporting the conflict, western states might secede and rejoin the South.

Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, commanding the Federal Department of the Ohio, had sent two staff members to listen to Vallandigham’s speech. After receiving their report on what the former congressman said, Burnside directed his aide-de-camp to take a company of Federal soldiers aboard a special train and arrest Vallandigham at his Dayton home.

At 2:30 a.m. on the 5th, the troops broke down Vallandigham’s door and pulled him out of bed amidst the screams of his wife and sister-in-law. The Federals dragged Vallandigham to the waiting railcar, which took him to Burnside’s headquarters at Cincinnati, where he was jailed.

Maj Gen A.E. Burnside | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

The Federals charged Vallandigham with violating Burnside’s General Order No. 38, issued on April 13. The order stated that “the habit of declaring sympathy for the enemy will not be allowed in this department,” and anyone committing such “treason, expressed or implied,” would be seized and brought before a military tribunal.

Burnside claimed he had the authority to enforce this order based on Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus last September, under which anyone expressing “disloyalty” or discouraging support for the war effort could be subject to military trial, regardless of the constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and expression.

A military commission assembled on May 6 and tried Vallandigham for:

“Publicly expressing, in violation of General Orders No. 38, from Head-quarters Department of the Ohio, sympathy for those in arms against the Government of the United States, and declaring disloyal sentiments and opinions, with the object and purpose of weakening the power of the Government in its efforts to suppress an unlawful rebellion.”

According to witnesses’ testimony–

“… he addressed a large meeting of citizens at Mount Vernon, and did utter sentiments in words, or in effect, as follows: declaring the present war ‘a wicked, cruel, and unnecessary war’; ‘a war not being waged for the preservation of the Union’; ‘a war for the purpose of crushing out liberty and creating a despotism’; ‘a war for the freedom of the blacks and the enslavement of the whites’; stating that, ‘if the Administration had so wished, the war could have been honorably terminated months ago’; characterizing the (Burnside’s) military order ‘as a base usurpation of arbitrary authority’; declaring ‘that he was at all times and upon all occasions resolved to do what he could to defeat the attempts now made to build up a monarchy upon the ruins of our free government.’”

Vallandigham refused to enter a plea, arguing that a military tribunal had no authority where civilian courts functioned. The commissioners convicted Vallandigham the next day, but they expressed reluctance to execute him by firing squad. They ultimately recommended sending him to confinement at Fort Warren, Massachusetts, for two years or “during the continuance of the war.” Burnside approved the sentence, declaring that speeches such as Vallandigham’s were “weakening the power of the Government (to put down) an unlawful rebellion.”

Vallandigham’s conviction sparked protests throughout the North. Democrats and even some Republicans expressed outrage that someone could be thrown in prison for simply delivering a speech, and nearly every member of President Lincoln’s cabinet opposed the action. Nevertheless, Lincoln gave Burnside his “kind assurance of support” after learning of Vallandigham’s conviction in a newspaper.

When the Chicago Times backed Vallandigham and attacked the Lincoln administration, Burnside closed the newspaper down. An outraged mob burned the office of the Dayton Journal, the Republican newspaper in Vallandigham’s home town.

The pro-Democrat New York Atlas declared that “the tyranny of military despotism” displayed by Vallandigham’s conviction proved “the weakness, folly, oppression, mismanagement, and general wickedness of the (administration).” The New York Herald feared this was only the first of “a series of fatal steps which must terminate at last in bloody anarchy.”

Another Democrat noted that Vallandigham’s vocal opposition to the war was mild compared to then-Congressman Lincoln’s blistering speech in the House of Representatives condemning President James K. Polk and the Mexican War in 1849. New York Governor Horatio Seymour, a prominent pro-war Democrat whose support the Lincoln administration needed, issued a statement on the incident:

“The transaction involved a series of offenses against our most sacred rights. It interfered with the freedom of speech; it violated our rights to be secure in our homes against unreasonable searches and seizures; it pronounced sentence without a trial, save one which was a mockery, which insulted as well as wronged. The perpetrators now seek to impose punishment, not for an offense against law, but for a disregard of an invalid order, put forth in utter violation of the principles of civil liberty.

“If this proceeding is approved by the Government and sanctioned by the people, it is not merely a step toward revolution, it is revolution; it will not only lead to military despotism, it establishes military despotism. If it is upheld, our liberties are overthrown. The safety of our persons, the security of our property, will hereafter depend upon the arbitrary wills of such military rulers as may be placed over us, while our constitutional guarantees will be broken down. Even now the Governors and the courts of some of the great Western States have sunk into insignificance before the despotic powers claimed and exercised by military men who have been sent into their borders.”

Losing Seymour seriously jeopardized the administration’s hopes for a political alliance between Republicans and War Democrats.

On the 16th, a protest meeting took place in Albany, New York, headed by New York Central Railroad President Erastus Corning. The attendees consisted mostly of state Democrats supportive of Governor Seymour, and they adopted resolutions calling Vallandigham’s conviction a “blow… against the spirit of our laws and Constitution,” and the end of “the liberty of speech and of the press, the right of trial by jury, the law of evidence, and the privilege of habeas corpus.” The resolutions stated that upholding the conviction would be “a fatal blow at the supremacy of law, and the authority of the State and Federal Constitutions.”

Vallandigham’s arrest and conviction raised serious questions about whether a civilian could be seized by military force for giving a speech, and whether a military court could override a civilian court by trying and convicting said civilian. Former Senator George H. Pugh of Ohio applied for a writ of habeas corpus on Vallandigham’s behalf, but Judge Humphrey H. Leavitt of the U.S. Circuit Court for the Southern District of Ohio denied it. Citing the law passed by Congress on March 3 authorizing the president to suspend habeas corpus, Leavitt ruled that the president’s war powers included arresting Vallandigham for incendiary speech and subjecting him to military trial.

Lincoln recognized the political problem of such a harsh punishment, and so he sought a compromise by publicly supporting Vallandigham’s arrest but commuting his sentence. Lincoln ordered the former congressman banished to the Confederacy, and he also directed Secretary of War Stanton to reopen the Chicago Times. Federal cavalry soon escorted Vallandigham to Tennessee and handed him over to Confederate officials, who were reluctant to take him.

Meanwhile, protests continued throughout the month. Petitions condemning the “arbitrary arrest, illegal trial, and inhuman imprisonment of Hon. C.L. Vallandigham” circulated in Ohio. New Jersey Governor Joel Parker told an audience in Newark that the conviction and deportation “were arbitrary and illegal acts. The whole proceeding was wrong in principle and dangerous in its tendency.” Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton, a Republican and Lincoln ally, alleged that the president’s actions emboldened Copperheads in his state. Despite such mass indignation, Lincoln refused Burnside’s offer to resign.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19965-76, 19978-86; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 281-82, 286, 289; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8898, 8921-31, 9361; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 632-33; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 288, 292, 299, 301, 303; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 522-24; Lincoln, Abraham, Abraham Lincoln Complete Works, Vol. Two (New York, NY: The Century Co., 1920), edited by John G. Nicolay and John Hay, p. 239; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 349, 353-55, 357-60; 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. 596-97; Pittman, Benn, The Trials for Treason at Indianapolis, Disclosing the Plans for Establishing a North-Western Confederacy (Cincinnati, OH: Moore, Wilstach & Baldwin, 1865), p. 253; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 775; Vallandigham, Clement Laird, The Trial Hon. Clement L. Vallandigham by a Military Commission: and the Proceedings Under His Application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of Ohio (Cincinnati, OH: Rickey and Carroll, 1863), p. 11, 23, 33-34, 40, 259-72; Vallandigham, James L., A Life of Clement L. Vallandigham (Baltimore, MD: Turnbull Brothers, 1872), p. 288-93; “Vallandigham Meeting in Newark,” The New York Times, 31 May 1863; 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), Q263

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: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

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.

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References

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