It is a fallacy to believe that the entire Northern part of the United States supported the Civil War and President Abraham Lincoln. Copperheads, or Northerners who did not support the war, were a voice of dissidence for much of the war, and no Copperhead was as vocal or dissident as Clement Laird Vallandigham, an Ohio newspaperman and politician.

Born in New Lisbon, Ohio, Vallandigham became a successful attorney who used his success to win election to the Ohio House of Representatives in 1845 and 1846. After moving to Dayton in 1847, he purchased a half-interest in the Dayton Empire. Although he was defeated as a Democrat in congressional elections in 1852 and 1854, he was returned to the House of Representatives after a contested election in 1858. Vallandigham made no bones about his support for state rights, and backed Stephen Douglas in 1860.

Vallandigham opposed the Civil War, which he blamed on Abraham Lincoln and the Radical Republicans. With the support of Ohio citizens who also opposed the war, Vallandigham consistently voted against war measures including the Enrollment Act. As result, he lost the support of the more moderate Democrats, and his congressional district.

Setting his sights on the Ohio governorship, Vallandigham began to campaign for office, but lost the Democrat nomination due to his anti-war stance and the mistaken belief that he actively supported the Confederacy.

Ever the opportunist, Vallandigham seized an imminent opportunity. Only days after Major General Ambrose Burnside issued orders forbidding expression of sympathy for the Confederacy, Vallandigham took up the stump in Columbus, making derogatory statements about President Lincoln and condemning the war effort, all in hopes of being arrested under General Order Number 38. He didn’t have long to wait; within a matter of days, Vallandigham was arrested.

Vallandigham was arrested on May 5; by May 7, he’d been tried by a military court, denied habeas corpus, and sentenced to two years in a military prison. Lincoln, however, took it upon himself to commute Vallandigham’s sentence in a novel way – he banished him to the Confederacy. Vallandigham was promptly taken to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and dropped behind enemy lines.

Ohio did not take well to Vallandigham’s ordeal. On June 11, the Ohio Democrats who’d previously denied him candidacy voted 411-11 to nominate him for governor, and thus began one of the most outrageous and entertaining escapades of the entire war.

No doubt aided by the Confederates who’d unwittingly got him in this mess, Vallandigham was escorted to Wilmington, North Carolina, one of the few remaining open ports in the Confederacy. From there he sailed to Bermuda. From Bermuda, on to Canada, where he arrived at Niagara Falls, Ontario on the fifth of July. He campaigned mightily for the Ohio governor’s position from Ontairo, while candidate for lieutenant governor George Pugh did the legwork in Ohio. President Lincoln himself became involved in the campaign, supporting Republican candidate John Brough while dismissing the sketchy legality of Vallandigham’s military arrest and trial, putting the icing on the cake by stating that to vote for Vallandigham was in essence “a discredit to the country.”

Apparently, Vallandigham’s ordeal won him more sympathy than votes – he was defeated by Brough by a margin of over 100,000 votes.

Once Brough was in office, Lincoln and the military turned the other cheek, allowing Vallandigham to return to the U.S. in disguise in 1864. Vallandigham returned the favor by supporting George B. McClellan as the Democratic candidate for president.

In the meantime, Vallandigham had become something of a celebrity, prompting news stories about his travels and travails, including one that took it’s name from a comment that Vallandigham had made stating that he did not care to live in a country where Lincoln was president – Edward Everett Hale’s “The Man Without a Country.”

Despite – or because of – his infamy, Vallandigham was shunned by the Democrats after the war, and lost subsequent bids for political office. He practiced law until 1871, when he accidentally shot himself while trying to demonstrate how a defendant’s alleged victim may have shot himself.

This entry was posted on Saturday, November 8th, 2008 at 2:00 pm and is filed under Civil War Articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed at this time.