Tag Archives: Copperheads

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

Lincoln Predicts His Own Defeat

August 23, 1864 – President Abraham Lincoln asked his cabinet members to endorse a confidential memo acknowledging that he would probably not win the upcoming presidential election.

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The continuing stalemate on nearly all military fronts emboldened Lincoln’s political enemies as the election approached. Anti-war Democrats (i.e., “Copperheads”) dreaded the prospect of Lincoln winning reelection. Prominent Copperhead Marcus M. “Brick” Pomeroy, editor of the La Crosse (Wisconsin) Democrat, published an editorial stating that if Lincoln “is elected… for another four years, we trust some bold hand will pierce his heart with dagger point for the public good.”

Lincoln also faced strong opposition from within his own party, primarily from the Radical Republicans who asserted that he had not prosecuted the war vigorously enough. On August 18, over two dozen prominent Radicals met at New York Mayor George Opdyke’s home to discuss holding a new party convention that would replace Lincoln as their nominee.

Some Radicals, such as former Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase and Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, did not participate in the meeting, preferring instead to wait and see what the Democrats did at their convention at the end of August. Nevertheless, the attendees agreed to call for a new convention in Cincinnati on September 28 to “concentrate the union strength on some one candidate who commands the confidence of the country, even by a new nomination if necessary.”

But in a follow-up meeting in late August, the Radicals conceded “that it was useless and inexpedient to attempt to run Mr. Lincoln.” They instead proposed asking Lincoln to voluntarily step down in favor of a more Radical candidate. They also sent letters to the northern governors asking them if they believed Lincoln should be replaced. To their dismay, none did.

Meanwhile, Zachariah Chandler of Michigan worked behind the scenes to garner Radical support for Lincoln. Henry W. Davis, co-sponsor of the Wade-Davis bill and the vitriolic Wade-Davis manifesto, agreed to back Lincoln only if he ousted Postmaster General Montgomery Blair from his cabinet (Davis and Blair were bitter political rivals in Maryland). Other Radicals also hinted at possibly supporting Lincoln if he dropped Blair.

Despite this potentially new support base, the conservative Republicans who had consistently supported Lincoln still worried that he would lose the election. Party boss Thurlow Weed warned Lincoln in early August that his defeat was possible. In an interview, Lincoln acknowledged, “I cannot but feel that the weal or woe of this great nation will be decided in the approaching canvas.” Then Lincoln received a somber letter from political ally Henry J. Raymond on the morning of August 23.

In response to the growing opposition to him, Lincoln wrote a memorandum that read:

“This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.”

The growing opposition, combined with the fact that no president had been reelected since Andrew Jackson 32 years before, prompted Lincoln’s doubt. Lincoln also worried that a new president, which would most likely be a Democrat, would cancel many of his war policies. He could even seek a compromise with the South, which might include granting Confederate independence or withdrawing the Emancipation Proclamation.

Lincoln sealed the memo shut and brought it to his weekly cabinet meeting on the 23rd. He asked for the members’ endorsement by signing the back of the paper without reading it. Lincoln feared this document would spread alarm throughout the North if made public. They all signed, even though none knew that they approved Lincoln’s secret prediction of his own defeat.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 182; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11178-90, 11268, 11313-23, 11367-78, 11696-707; 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 11511-42; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 489; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 647-48; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 554-55, 557-59; 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), Loc 55465-68

 

The Niagara Peace Talks

July 5, 1864 – Influential newspaper editor Horace Greeley begged President Abraham Lincoln to meet with Confederate agents who were supposedly willing to discuss ways of ending the war.

The War Department had censored the press since Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant began his grand offensive in May, leading most northerners to believe that the Federals were on the verge of winning the war. But after two months, the truth could no longer be hidden. The Confederate armies had not been destroyed, neither Richmond nor Atlanta had been captured, and the horrific number of casualties sparked calls to stop the conflict.

Horace Greeley | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

This outcry was led by Greeley of the New York Tribune. Greeley wrote Lincoln that his “irrepressible friend” William “Colorado” Jewett had informed him that “two Ambassadors” representing President Jefferson Davis on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls had “full & complete powers for a peace.” Greeley pleaded with Lincoln to meet with them because:

“Confederates everywhere (are) for peace. So much is beyond doubt. And therefore I venture to remind you that our bleeding, bankrupt, almost dying country also longs for peace–shudders at the prospect of fresh conscription, of further wholesale devastations, and of new rivers of human blood. And a wide-spread conviction that the Government and its prominent supporters are not anxious for Peace, and do not improve proffered opportunities to achieve it, is doing great harm.”

Greeley wrote, “I entreat you to submit overtures for pacification to the Southern insurgents.” Lincoln believed that Greeley was being duped by Confederates seeking to stir up antiwar passions and influence the upcoming elections. In fact, Federal agents had reported that Copperheads were in direct contact with Confederate agents in Canada to try forming a Midwestern alliance with the Confederacy. This became known as the “Northwest Conspiracy.”

Nevertheless, Lincoln authorized Greeley to escort to Washington “any person anywhere professing to have any proposition of Jefferson Davis in writing, for peace, embracing the restoration of the Union and abandonment of slavery.”

Three Confederate agents arrived at Niagara Falls on the 12th–Clement C. Clay of Alabama, James Holcombe of Virginia, and Jacob Thompson of Mississippi. These men had numerous contacts among the Copperheads in the northern states, and now they communicated through Greeley to try to get the Federal government to negotiate peace.

Greeley objected to being Lincoln’s envoy, and so the president dispatched his secretary John Hay to travel with Greeley to Niagara Falls. The men delivered a message written by Lincoln and endorsed by Secretary of State William H. Seward:

“To Whom it may concern: Any proposition which embraces the restoration of peace, the integrity of the whole union, and the abandonment of slavery, and which comes by and with an authority that can control the armies now at war against the United States, will be received and considered by the Executive Government of the United States, and will be met by liberal terms on other substantial and collateral points, and the bearer or bearers thereof shall have safe conduct both ways.”

The Confederates expected Lincoln to insist on restoring the Union, but they were surprised by his insistence on ending slavery because it exceeded his Emancipation Proclamation and all congressional legislation. Lincoln added this requirement for peace knowing that the Confederates would find it unacceptable; he could then announce that he tried negotiating a settlement but the Confederacy refused.

Greeley and Hay delivered Lincoln’s message to the Confederate agents, who read it and explained that they were not prepared to negotiate a peace based on these terms because that would signify a Confederate surrender. The Confederates sent a transcript of the meeting to the Associated Press, “throw(ing) upon the Federal Government the odium of putting an end to all negotiation.”

They wrote, “If there be any citizen of the Confederate States who has clung to the hope that peace is possible,” Lincoln’s terms “will strip from their eyes the last film of such delusion.” As for “any patriots or Christians” in the North “who shrink appalled from the illimitable vistas of private misery and public calamity,” they should “recall the abused authority and vindicate the outraged civilization of their country.”

Lincoln’s message was nothing more than a political maneuver, which backfired when the anti-administration press published it and condemned him for refusing to end the carnage without freeing the slaves. Democrats railed that if Lincoln would simply abandon emancipation, the war could end. But they did not seem to understand that the Confederates would not agree to restoring the Union on any terms.

Both the Confederates and the Copperheads wanted an armistice, but for different reasons. Copperheads believed it would lead to negotiations that would ultimately bring the South back into the Union. Confederates believed it would lead to their independence, and they humored the Copperheads’ “fond delusion” of restoration as a means to their end.

The Niagara Falls meeting proved to Greeley that the Confederates would not negotiate based on either restoration or emancipation. However, the Confederates continued encouraging the antiwar movement, and the military stalemate in Virginia and Georgia made Lincoln’s reelection prospects seem increasingly bleak.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21727-42; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 433-34, 437; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10930, 11089-133; 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 9717-37; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 465; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 646-47; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 533-34, 540-42; 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. 761-63, 766; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 351

The Charleston Riot

March 28, 1864 – Violence erupted between anti-war Democrats and Federal soldiers on furlough in Charleston, Illinois.

Illinois State Flag | Image Credit: All-Flags-World.com

Charleston had been politically divided since before the war, and the dueling Unionist and Copperhead newspapers in town worked to intensify the enmity on both sides. When men of the 54th Illinois came home, they forced local Judge Charles H. Constable to swear loyalty to the U.S. after Constable had ordered the release of Federal army deserters. Other suspected Copperheads were beaten or shot.

A traditional festival called “Court Day” took place on the 28th; this was the day that the circuit court (which included Judge Constable) began its session. The festival included music, celebration, food, drink, and speeches. With Federal soldiers in attendance, many Copperheads armed themselves in case the troops tried waging any more violence against them.

John R. Eden, an anti-war activist running for Congress, delivered a speech hailed by the Copperheads. Liquor flowed among the spectators, and a confrontation between a soldier and a Copperhead led to a fist fight. Both men drew their pistols and fired, killing each other. Pandemonium ensued.

The Copperheads began firing at the soldiers, many of whom were unarmed and ran for cover. Coles County Sheriff John O’Hair, a Copperhead leader, joined his comrades and helped them gather weapons from nearby wagons. Both Colonel Greenville Mitchell and Major Shuball York of the 54th were shot; York was especially targeted because he was a local abolitionist planning to oppose Eden in the upcoming election.

The troops regrouped, grabbed their stacked rifles, and drove the Copperheads out of town. The violence finally ended after nine men (two Copperheads, six soldiers, and a bystander) were killed and another 20 wounded. A local newspaper reported: “This afternoon a dreadful affair took place in our town…”

Federal reinforcements from Mattoon later arrived and helped round up about 50 alleged participants. Sheriff O’Hair escaped the posse and fled to Canada. Eventually 16 men were held as instigators. President Abraham Lincoln, whose father and stepmother had lived in Coles County, waived the prisoners’ right to habeas corpus and ordered them imprisoned at Fort Delaware before finally releasing them in November. Nobody was convicted of any wrongdoing.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 389; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 412; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 479

The Springfield National Union Rally

September 3, 1863 – At least 50,000 people attended a rally in President Abraham Lincoln’s hometown of Springfield, Illinois, in support of Lincoln and his war policies.

In June, Illinois Democrats had staged an enormous protest demonstration in Springfield. Many anti-war Copperheads attended the event, and passionate orators stirred the crowd into a near frenzy as they called for an immediate cease-fire and peace negotiations with the Confederacy. Participants approved resolutions calling for “the restoration of the Union as it was” and opposed “further offensive prosecution of the war.”

“Unconditional Union Men” countered that rally with one of their own “in favor of law and order and constitutional government.” Leaders formed an organizing committee for the event, which called itself the “National Union” party and included not only Republicans, but pro-war Democrats as well. Hoping to build momentum for the upcoming elections and draw more people than the Copperheads in June, the committee invited Lincoln to attend in person.

Committee chairman James C. Conkling wrote the president assuring him “that not only would the thousands who will be here be prepared to receive you with the warmest enthusiasm but the whole country would be eager to extend to you its congratulations on the way.” Knowing that Lincoln was fully aware of his dwindling popularity in his home state, Conkling warned, “The Presidential campaign for your successor (if any) has already commenced in Illinois.”

16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: histmag.org

Lincoln declined to attend, citing war demands. However, he sent a letter to Conkling and asked that it be read to the audience and published in the newspapers. Lincoln instructed, “Read it very slowly.” The letter was intended to appeal to the pro-war and pro-administration people expected to attend the event.

Lincoln thanked those “whom no partizan malice, or partizan hope, can make false to the nation’s life.” He then responded to the Copperhead calls for an immediate end to the war by stating that, in his mind, there were just “three conceivable ways” to restore peace:

  • Destroying the Confederacy
  • Acknowledging Confederate independence
  • Negotiating some kind of compromise

Regarding the first option, Lincoln wrote, “This I am trying to do. Are you for it? If you are, so far we are agreed.” For the second, he wrote, “I am against this. Are you for it? If you are, you should say so plainly.” And for the third, he wrote, “I do not believe any compromise, embracing the maintenance of the Union, is now possible. All I learn leads to a directly opposite belief.”

Copperhead charges that Lincoln opposed “peace through compromise” were “deceptive and groundless.” Ignoring the Confederates’ unofficial attempt to discuss peace in July, Lincoln stated that he had received “no word or intimation . . . in relation to any peace compromise.”

Lincoln then wrote about emancipation, a highly sensitive issue in Illinois. He justified his Emancipation Proclamation by arguing, “I think the constitution invests its commander-in-chief, with the law of war, in time of war.” Addressing Illinoisans who refused to fight for slave liberation, Lincoln stated:

“You say you will not fight to free negroes. Some of them seem willing to fight for you; but no matter. Fight you, then, exclusive to save the Union. I issued the Proclamation on purpose to aid you in saving the Union… But negroes, like other people, act upon motives. Why should they do anything for us if we will do nothing for them? If they stake their lives for us, they must be prompted by the strongest motive–even the promise of freedom. And the promise, being made, must be kept.”

Lincoln warned that when the war ended, “there will be some black men who can remember that, with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady eye, and well-poised bayonet, they have helped mankind on to this great consummation; while, I fear, there will be some white ones, unable to forget that, with malignant heart, and deceitful speech, they have strove to hinder it.”

The president optimistically concluded, “Peace does not appear so distant as it did,” as the “signs look better” for a Federal victory. Noting that the Federals now controlled the Mississippi River, “The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea. Thanks to the great North-West for it… Thanks to all, for the great republic–for the principle it lives by, and keeps alive—for man’s vast future, –thanks to all.”

This letter was positively received by the audience at Springfield, as well as most other northerners who supported the war effort. For the first time, Lincoln equated emancipation with preserving the Union, thus implying that those who opposed freeing slaves must therefore oppose the war. This did much to gain support for Republicans in the upcoming state elections.

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References

Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9671-9705; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), p. 639-40; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 344; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 401; 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. 686-87; 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), Q363

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