THE COPPERHEADS were a vocal group of Democrats in the northern and midwestern United States who opposed the American Civil War, wanting an immediate peace settlement with the Confederates. The name Copperheads was given to them by their opponents, the Republicans, because the venomous, although not usually deadly, copperhead snake can strike without warning (unlike a rattlesnake), and because some wore copper pennies as identifying badges. Although the Democratic party had broken apart in 1860, during the secession crisis Democrats in the North were generally more conciliatory toward the South than were Republicans. They called themselves Peace Democrats.
The most flamboyant spokesman for these "Peace Democrats" was Ohio's Clement L. Vallandigham.. Although the 13th Edition of The American Pageant makes a distinction between those termed Copperheads and those who agitated at the extreme end of the coalition called "Butternuts" (for the color of the Confederate uniforms).
During the American Civil War (1861-1865), the Copperheads nominally favored the Union and strongly opposed the war, for which they blamed abolitionists, and they demanded immediate peace and resisted draft laws. They wanted Lincoln and the Republicans ousted from power, seeing the president as a tyrant who was destroying American republican values with his despotic and arbitrary actions.
Even in an era of extremely partisan journalism, Copperhead newspapers were remarkable for their angry rhetoric. Wisconsin newspaper editor Marcus M. Pomeroy called Lincoln "fungus from the corrupt womb of bigotry and fanaticism" and a "worse tyrant and more inhuman butcher than has existed since the days of Nero... The man who votes for Lincoln now is a traitor and murderer... And if he is elected to misgovern for another four years, we trust some bold hand will pierce his heart with dagger point for the public good."
Some Copperheads tried to persuade Union soldiers to desert. They talked of helping Confederate prisoners of war seize their camps and escape. They sometimes met with Confederate agents and offered money. The Confederacy encouraged their activities whenever possible. Most Democratic party leaders, however, remained national patriots and resisted Confederate advances.
I don't know about you, but this description of the Copperhead Democrats strikes me remarkably close to a description of today's peace activists and their political strategies. Again, it's the Republicans who find these "copperheads" most repugnant at a time that such deliberate undermining compromises our nation's troops and puts our national security in peril against an avowed enemy. The fact is that we can't even properly name our enemy in this war as a result of becoming unequally yoked (think Saudi Arabia, Pakistan) with major forces within that enemy camp even as America endures and sacrifices to address the abject oppression, slavery, and other well-documented atrocities occurring under the Big Umbrella of Islam, by fighting it.
Perhaps it is time is to withdraw from the world stage long enough to restore our nation physically and psychologically in preparation for this war that has followed us right into our own universities and neighborhoods. Because it will take everything we've got.
Most Copperheads actively participated in politics. On May 1, 1863, former Congressman Vallandigham declared that the war was being fought not to save the Union but to free the blacks and enslave Southern whites. The Army then arrested him for declaring sympathy for the enemy. He was court-martialed and sentenced to imprisonment, but Lincoln commuted the sentence to banishment behind Confederate lines. The Democrats nevertheless nominated him for governor of Ohio in 1863; he campaigned from Canada but was defeated after an intense battle. He operated behind-the-scenes at the 1864 Democratic convention in Chicago; this convention adopted a largely Copperhead platform, but chose a pro-war presidential candidate, George B. McClellan. The contradiction severely weakened the chances to defeat Lincoln's reelection.
One thing should be evident. Today's vociferous political tenor is not new to this country. But we must ask ourselves to consider the enormous stakes today. In this clash of civilizations made impossibly vulgar by an unbridled, multicultural, politically correct feeding frenzy wading knee-deep into the nuclear age, we may not survive many more ill-intentioned mistakes by those who side with the enemy.
For those of you who don't think history repeats itself, here's something to chew. At the 1864 Democratic convention, Vallandigham persuaded the party to adopt a platform that declared the war a failure and called for negotiations with the Confederacy.
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