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1864 September 10: Vallandigham’s Copperhead Speech in Dayton and a Republican Reply

September 13, 2014

The following speech by nationally-known “Copperhead” Clement L. Vallandigham appeared in the September 10, 1864, issue of The Polk County Press.  It is not a full transcription of the speech, but was excerpted by the Press.

From the Chicago Tribune.

Mr. Valandigham’s [sic] Dayton Speech—Who Dissolved the Union.

A disunion peace meeting was held in Dayton O. [Dayton, Ohio], on Saturday the 6th ult.¹  The object of the meeting was to oppose the draft and to prevent the sending of reinforcements to Grant [Ulysses S. Grant] or Sherman [William T. Sherman], and to force upon the country the recognition of the independence of the rebels.  Vallandigham made a studied speech on the occasion, from which we take the following extracts :

Clement L. Vallandigham (cropped), from the Library of Congress

Clement L. Vallandigham, from the Library of Congress²

You do well to demand a redress of your grievances and insist on a cessation of hostilities.  It is vain, as the attempt to destroy one of those trees by tapping its branches, to think of continuing the war and avoid increased taxation and greatly multiplied calamities.

If you want more taxation, a larger public debt, vote for Lincoln.  If you want renewed drafts for men to carry on the war, vote for Lincoln [Abraham Lincoln].— If you want him to take your first, second and third-born sons to carry on the war, vote for Lincoln.  If you want to find your currency in a ruined condition, your greenbacks worth thirty cents on the dollar ; if you want the price of everything you buy to go up, and everything you sell to go down—for the day is not far distant when your merchants will be obliged to demand gold and silver for what you buy, and they will pay you for your produce in “legal tenders”—if this is what you want, vote for the Republican part.

I see men of the Republican proclivities here, and I would ask them what was the condition of things four years ago to-day?  How was it when you were shouting for Lincoln, when your “Wide-awakes” were tossing high their oil-cloth caps?  We had a nation of thirty-four States, all peaceful and happy ;  no public debt, except what might have been wiped out by the expenditures of two weeks now.

Great God !  We could have preserved the Union with ink and paper, without either guns or swords.  I saw the day when a single sheet of paper, written upon with fitting words words of wisdom and conciliation toward the South, would have averted this war, with all its wrongs and devastation.  But those words were not spoken.  The men put in power four years ago were resolved not to speak those words.  They were resolved to try the issue of war.  Everyman in the Democratic party, every man of sense in the old Whig party, every man in the American party, voted for compromise.  They insisted that instead of armies we should have Peace Conferences, instead of gunpowder we should use ink.  Animated by common patriotic impulses, they said—We will settle these questions peaceably.  You shall have your rights in the South, and we will have our rights, and we will set down and dwell together in peace and unity.

Is it not better for one and all to stop this war, and begin where we should never have left off?  Where is that, and how can it be done?  And try to get back the Union, if it is possible ;  with no more armies, no more drafts, no more bloody battles, no mourning in the land,  no more bringing back your sons maimed or sick from the camp or the hospital?  I tell you the Democratic party will, as far as possible, bring back the ancient prosperity.  It will first have to remove the great mass of wrong which has been tumbling down on your heads for three years past.  It took our fathers many long years to rear up our national temple, and how long it will take to restore its beautiful proportions the wisest of us cannot tell. But the work must be begun. This war must come to an end.—Whereas a little while ago clamor was all for war, the cry now is let us stop fighting and see what we can do to settle this question as reasonable men.  If we cannot do it in four years without spending and money, without calling for further drafts on the able bodied men of your households, then it will be time enough to try war again, and you can elect some other man to renew the conflict.  But for God’s sake, give us four years for a breathing spell.

To which the “Tribune” replies thus :—

Those extracts contain all the ideas in the speech.  The residue is merely a repetition of them dished up in a variety of shapes.  It will be observed that he holds out no where the promise that the rebels will come back into the Union on any terms.—Stop fighting, he says, and try to coax back the rebels.  That is the whole programme.  But suppose the rebels refuse to be coaxed back, what then?  Why, acknowledge their independence and dissolve the Union!  There is nothing else that remains to be done.  That is the end of the string, and that is Vallandighamism.  Val. says that “four years ago we could have preserved the Union with ink and paper, without either guns or swords.”  Very well, four years ago his party was in power, and had possession of all the departments of Government ; why was it not done?  Does Vallandigham remember that a “National Democratic” Convention was held in Charleston, in April 1860, and does he recollect what took place?  There were no “wide-awakes shouting for Lincoln” at Charleston.  At that “National Democratic” Convention the Southern brethren wanted a “compromise.”  They asked the Northern Democrats to abandon squatter sovereignty and throw overboard Stephen A. Douglas and nominate Breckenridge, and incorporate slavery protection into the platform.

The Southern “Democrats” served a solemn notice upon their Northern brethren that unless these little concessions were made they would bolt from the Convention, break up the party and secede from the Union. Will Vallandigham or any other peace-sneak answer the question why those small demands of the Southern “Democracy” were not complied with?  What right have Copperheads to ask Republicans to surrender the Union to the rebels, when they themselves refused to make any concessions to the fire-eaters at the Charleston Convention as the price of peace and Union?  Charleston was the place, and April 1860 the time, to have preserved the Union with “ink and paper.”  When that Convention adjourned the Union was broken, and the Democratic party was rent in twain by the refusal of the Northern Democrats to”compromise” with their Southern brethren.

The Southern “Democrats” immediately proceeded to prepare for secession.  With the connivance of a “Democratic” President, and by the aid of his “Democratic” cabinet, they proceeded to steal muskets, cannon and gunpowder from the arsenals of the United States, and to rob Federal mints.  And before Mr. Lincoln’s inauguration, and while every branch of the Government was yet in full “democratic” posession [sic], eight States had completed their articles of secession ;   the Montgomery constitution was adopted ;  Jeff Davis [Jefferson Davis] had been elected President of the Confederacy ;  the Federal ports had been seized, and the Federal troops in the South made prisoners of war.  When Mr. Lincoln came into office he found the Union broken and one half of its territory in the hands of the “democratic” insurgents, with three commissioners in Washington demanding from the Federal Government a recognition of Confederate independence !  For weeks Mr. Lincoln tried to coax back the seceders ;   but they laughed him to scorn.  The Peace Conference, presided over by John Tyler, passes the resolutions demanded by the Border States.  Congress adopted the Crittenden [John J. Crittenden] compromise resolutions, and passed the Corwin amendment to the Constitution by more than a two-thirds vote, guaranteeing non-interference with slavery forever.  How did the Southern “Democrats” receive those compromises and overtures of peace and re-union ?  With shouts of derision and by the bombardment of Fort Sumter.  They “sprinkled blood in the faces of the people,” “fired the Southern heart,” and rushed into war.  And yet in the face of these notorious facts of history, Vallandigham with treason in his heart and lies on his lips, makes the false declaration that the Republicans might have preserved the Union with ink and paper!

1.  This is a good place to remind our readers of the two Latin abbreviations that are used frequently in 19th century newspapers, ult. and inst.; ult. (ultimo mense) means “last month” and inst. (instante mense) means “this month.”  We see them both with and without periods in our newspapers and letters.
2.  “[Clement L. Vallandigham, Representative from Ohio, Thirty-fifth Congress, half-lenth portrait],” Julian Vannerson, photographer, an illustration from McClees’ Gallery of Photographic portraits of the Senators, Representatives & Delegates of the Thirty-fifth Congress … (Washington: McClees & Beck, [1859]):195. A digital copy is available from the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

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