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Peace Democrats - Now and Then

red states rule

Senior Member
May 30, 2006
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It seems the Democrats have not changed much since the Civil War. In fact, it would seem the same Dems in elected office during the Civil War and the same ones in offcie today

In both cases, the Democrats are on the wrong side of history

During the American Civil War, a majority of Ohioans supported the war effort and the Republican Party, although there was a sizable minority, known as the Peace Democrats or the Copperheads, who opposed the conflict. One of the initial reasons for why the Peace Democrats did not support the Northern war effort was that a sizable number of white Ohioans, especially those living along the Ohio River, had migrated to the state from slaveholding states. While these people could not legally own slaves in Ohio, many of these people did have family members residing further south who owned African American slaves. These people oftentimes sympathized with slaveholders, agreeing with many white Southerners that the federal government did not have the power to limit slavery's existence. Some Peace Democrats also feared that President Abraham Lincoln intended to free the slaves. White Ohioans who objected to slavery's end, usually on racist grounds, feared that African Americans would flood the North looking for jobs if they were given their freedom. These white Ohioans did not want to compete with African Americans for employment.

Peace Democrats preferred compromise to warfare as a way of settling differences between the North and the South. Several Ohioans participated in a peace convention during early 1861. The convention was held in Washington, DC, and the delegates hoped to convince President Lincoln to either acquiesce to the Confederacy's demands to get its citizens to rejoin the Union or to simply let the Southern states leave the United States. Lincoln ignored the peace convention's attempt to end the conflict peacefully. Politically, most people who participated in the peace convention affiliated themselves with the Peace Democrats. Their opponents nicknamed them Copperheads, describing the Peace Democrats as poisonous snakes waiting to strike blow in favor of the South. The first reference to Peace Democrats as Copperheads occurred in Ohio in 1861.

Clement Vallandigham was the most well-known Peace Democrat in Ohio. He helped organize a rally for the Democratic Party at Mount Vernon, Ohio, held on May 1, 1863. Peace Democrats Vallandigham, Samuel Cox, and George Pendleton all delivered speeches denouncing General Order No. 38. In April 1863, General Ambrose Burnside, commander of the Department of Ohio, issued General Order No. 38. Burnside situated his headquarters in Cincinnati. Located on the Ohio River, just north of the slave state of Kentucky, Cincinnati had a number of residents sympathetic to the Confederacy. Burnside hoped to intimidate Confederate sympathizers with General Order No. 38.

General Order No. 38 stated:

The habit of declaring sympathy for the enemy will not be allowed in this department. Persons committing such offenses will be at once arrested with a view of being tried. . .or sent beyond our lines into the lines of their friends. It must be understood that treason, expressed or implied, will not be tolerated in this department.
Burnside also declared that, in certain cases, violations of General Order No. 38 could result in death.

Vallandigham so opposed the order that he purportedly stated that he "despised it, spit upon it, trampled it under his feet." He also supposedly encouraged his fellow Peace Democrats to openly resist Burnside and his order. Vallandigham went on to chastise President Lincoln for not seeking a peaceable and immediate end to the Civil War and for allowing General Burnside to thwart citizen rights under a free government.

In attendance at the Mount Vernon rally were two army officers under Burnside's command. They reported to Burnside that Vallandigham had violated General Order No. 38. The general ordered the immediate arrest of the Copperhead. On May 5, 1863, a company of soldiers arrested Vallandigham at his home in Dayton and brought the man to Cincinnati to stand trial.

Burnside charged Vallandigham with the following crimes:

Publicly expressing, in violation of General Orders No. 38, from Head-quarters Department of 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.
A military tribunal heard the case, and Vallandigham offered no serious defense against the charges, contending that military courts had no jurisdiction over his case. The tribunal found Vallandigham guilty and sentenced him to remain in a United States prison for the remainder of the war.

Vallandigham's attorney, George Pugh, appealed the tribunal's decision to Humphrey Leavitt, a judge on the federal circuit court. Pugh, like his client, claimed that the military court did not have proper jurisdiction in this case and had violated Vallandigham's constitutional rights. Judge Leavitt rejected Vallandigham's argument, agreeing with General Burnside that military authority was necessary during a time of war to ensure that opponents to the United States Constitution, in this case supporters of the Confederacy, would not succeed in overthrowing the Constitution and the rights that it guaranteed United States citizens.

As a result of Leavitt's decision, authorities were to send Vallandigham to federal prison. President Lincoln feared that Peace Democrats across the North might rise up to prevent Vallandigham's detention. The president commuted Vallandigham's sentence to exile in the Confederacy. On May 25, Burnside sent Vallandigham into Confederate lines.

Some Peace Democrats resorted to more radical means, including subversion, to protest the Civil War. Some of these men formed a secret society known as the Order of American Knights or the Sons of Liberty. In February 1864, Vallandigham was elected supreme commander of the organization. Ohio government officials estimated that between eighty thousand and 110,000 Ohioans belonged to the Order of American Knights, but most historians discount these numbers as being dramatically higher than the group's actual numbers.

Rumors circulated throughout the North during 1864 that the Sons of Liberty intended to free Southern prisoners at several prisoner of war camps, including at Johnson's Island and Camp Chase, in Ohio. These freed prisoners would form the basis of a new Confederate army that would operate in the heart of the Union. Supposedly, General John Hunt Morgan, who had raided Ohio the previous year, would return to the state and assist this new army. The plot never materialized. William Rosecrans, assigned to oversee the Department of Missouri, discovered the planned uprising and warned Northern governors to remain cautious. John Brough, Ohio's governor, sent out spies to infiltrate the Sons of Liberty's ranks. These men succeeded and stopped the uprising before it could occur. Confederate supporters hoped to capture the Michigan, a gunboat operating on Lake Erie near Sandusky. They would then use the gunboat to free Confederate prisoners at Johnson Island. Union authorities arrested the plot's ringleader, Charles Cole, and squelched any of the other Sons of Liberty's plans.

Rosecrans' and Brough's decisive actions in 1864 helped subdue the Sons of Liberty. Northern battlefield victories in 1864 also convinced many Ohioans, including reluctant or half-hearted supporters of the Union war effort, that the war would end shortly in a Northern victory. As a result of these events, the Peace Democrats began to decline in power.


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