Congressman Vallandigham Speaks for War-weary Northerners Known as Copperheads. Just “Stop Fighting.”
On January 14, 1863, exactly a hundred years before Alabama Governor George Wallace pledged to support “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” Ohio Congressman Clement Laird Vallandigham, a Democrat and leading peace advocate, argued on the floor of the
House of Representatives that the war should simply be stopped. Historian Bruce Catton writes that Vallandigham emphasized that he was not “a disunionist. On the contrary he devoutly wanted the Union restored, and his big objection to the war (one of his big objections, at least) was that the way it was being fought made reunion impossible. He believed that the sections would return to fraternal embrace once the shooting stopped, and he wanted the war ended so that this could happen.”
“. . . [Vallandigham] was smooth, persuasive, an uncommonly able orator, . . . he held, the Northern war effort had been a failure. The rebellion was still going on, the Union was not yet restored, and the Constitution was dishonored. The South not only was unconquered; it never could be conquered. War for the Union had been abandoned, and it had been replaced by ‘war for the Negro,’ which was proving a bloody failure. Vallandigham had a solution:
” ‘Stop fighting. Make an armistice — no formal treaty. Withdraw your army from the seceded states. Reduce both armies to a fair and sufficient peace establishment. Declare absolute free trade between North and South. Buy and sell. . . . Break up your blockade. . . . Exchange newspapers. Migrate. Intermarry. Let slavery alone. . . . Let us choose a new President in sixty-four. . . .’
“Three things, said Vallandigham, he hated with equal fervor — abolition, forced reunion, and the idea of Southern independence. . . .
“. . . Vallandigham in short was speaking for those numerous war-weary Northerners who were already becoming known as Copperheads. His speech did not have to be logical; it was an attempt to stir the emotions rather than the reason. It came from. . . a poignant longing for the good old days when life was simpler . . . the people who looked to him for leadership desired no victory for the South and no defeat for the North; they simply wanted something that had been shattered put back together again. . . .”
– Submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, Vermont Humanities Council Executive Director
Bruce Catton, Never Call Retreat, 103-5.