The only friends they (the south "editor") had
politically were the Democrats at the North, and these
friends had never deserted them from the time the war closed.
Confederate Military History 1899
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; their opponents called them Copperheads
some wore copper pennies as identifying badges.
A majority of Peace Democrats supported war to save the Union, but a
strong and active minority asserted that the Republicans had provoked the
South into secession; that the Republicans were waging the war in order to
establish their own domination, suppress civil and states rights, and
impose "racial equality"; and that military means had failed and would
never restore the Union.
As was true of the Democratic party as a whole, the influence of Peace
Democrats varied with the fortunes of war. When things were going badly
for the Union on the battlefield, larger numbers of people were willing to
entertain the notion of making peace with the Confederacy. When things
were going well, Peace Democrats could more easily be dismissed as
But no matter how the war progressed, Peace Democrats
constantly had to defend themselves against charges of disloyalty.
Revelations that a few had ties with secret organizations
such as the Knights of the Golden Circle helped smear the rest.
The most prominent Copperhead leader was Clement L. Valladigham of Ohio,
who headed the secret antiwar organization known as the Sons of Liberty.
At the Democratic convention of 1864, where the influence of Peace
Democrats reached its high point, Vallandigham persuaded the party to
adopt a platform branding the war a failure, and some extreme Copperheads
plotted armed uprisings. However, the Democratic presidential candidate,
George B. McClellan, repudiated the Vallandigham platform, victories by
Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman and Phillip H. Sheridan
assured Lincoln's reelection, and the plots came to nothing.
With the conclusion of the war in 1865 the Peace Democrats were thoroughly
discredited. Most Northerners believed, not without reason, that Peace
Democrats had prolonged war by encouraging the South to continue fighting
in the hope that the North would abandon the struggle.
Source: "Historical Times Encyclopedia of the Civil War" Edited by
Patricia L. Faust
The Republicans and the Civil War
In keeping with the prevailing tendency toward political realignment, and
as a direct result of the Kansas-Nebraska act, a new political party now
came into being. Wilmot-proviso sentiment caused various diverse elements
here and there to fuse into organizations which sometimes bore the awkward
designation of "anti-Nebraska" parties, but which soon came to be known as
the "Republican" party. There has been some dispute as to the exact time
and place where the party was "born." Coalition movements of a similar
sort were afoot in many parts of the country at about the same time, and
such a dispute is of little importance. The name Republican was adopted at
a mass meeting on July 6, 1854, at Jackson, Michigan; prior to this,
however, while the repeal of the Missouri compromise was pending in
Congress, a similar mass meeting at Ripon, Wisconsin, had resolved that in
the event of such repeal old party organizations would be discarded and a
new party would be built "on the sole issue of the non-extension of
slavery." Elsewhere in the country local conventions followed suit; and by
late summer of 1854 the new party movement was well under way. Made up of
old-line Whigs, many of whom, such as Bates of Missouri and Browning of
Illinois, preserved the Southern conservative tradition, together with
radical anti-slavery men such as Sumner and Julian, Know-Nothings, and
Free-Soil Democrats such as Trumbull and Chase, the new party combined
many diverse ingredients; the force that cemented them (at the outset) was
common opposition to the further extension of slavery in the territories.
The outcome of Douglas's policy had been the opposite of his intentions.
So far from allaying sectional conflict and uniting his party, he had
reopened the strife which he himself had designated the "fearful struggle
of 1850"; he had split the historic Democratic party; he had supplied the
occasion for the entrance of a wholly sectional party onto the scene; and
he had driven many Northern Democrats into the ranks of this sectional
Source: "The Civil War and Reconstruction" by J.G. Randall and David
From 1854, when the Republican Party was founded, Democrats labeled it
adherents "black" Republicans to identify them as proponents of black
equality. During the 1860 elections Southern Democrats used the term
derisively to press their belief that Abraham Lincoln's victory would
incite slave rebellions in the South and lead to widespread miscegenation.
The image the term conveyed became more hated in the South during
Reconstruction as Radical Republicans forced legislation repugnant to
Southerners and installed Northern Republicans or Unionists in the
governments of the former Confederate states.
Source: "Historical Times Encyclopedia of the Civil War"
The Republican party in 1861 was a coalition of disparate elements. Formed
only 7 years earlier, it contained men who had been Whigs, Anti-Slavery
Democrats, Free-Soilers, Know-Nothings, and Abolitionists. By the outbreak
of the war, these fragments had coalesced into 3 basic factions:
conservatives, moderates, and radicals. President Abraham Lincoln's task
was to mold these factions into a government that could win the war
without destroying the
South politically and economically.
The most aggressive and, eventually, most influential of the three was the
Radical Republican faction. All Republicans were against slavery, but this
group was the most "radical", in its opposition to the "peculiar
institution." While conservatives favored gradual emancipation combined
with colonization of Freedmen, and while moderates favored emancipation
but with reservations, Radicals favored immediate eradication of an
institution they viewed as iniquitous, and saw the war as a crusade for
Never a majority within the party, the Radicals dominated the other
factions because of their commitment to their cause and the talent of
their members, some of whom chaired key committees in Congress. In the
House, their ranks included the Speaker, Galusha A. Grow, the chairman of
the Ways and Means Committee, Thaddeus Stevens, and influential members
like Owen Lovejoy, Joshua Giddings, and George W. Julian. In the Senate,
Charles Sumner, Henry Wilson, John P. Hale, Zachariah Chandler and
Benjamin F. Wade chaired committees. Within Lincoln's cabinet, the
secretaries of Treasury and War, Salmon P. Chase and Edwin M. Stanton,
respectively, were Radicals. The center of Radical strength in the North
was New England.
Men of little patience and less tolerance, the Radicals advocated an
implacable, uncompromising prosecution of the war against the Southern
rebellion, and were in the forefront of such issues and legislation as the
Confiscation Acts, emancipation, the enlistment of blacks, the 13th
Amendment, and Reconstruction policies. Though Lincoln, a moderate,
eventually sided with the Radicals on a number of key issues, such as
emancipation, many Radicals opposed his renomination in 1864 primarily
because of their differences regarding Reconstruction. Certain generals
also faced Radical opposition, not because of the officers military
abilities but because of their political views. Radicals dominated the
Committee on the Conduct of the War, which investigated military matters.
Gen. George B. McClellan, in particular, was an anathema to Radicals.
The Union victory and the destruction of slavery did not conclude the
Radicals program. With Lincoln's assassination and Andrew Johnson's
succession, the Radicals domination of the party and Congress increased.
These committed politicians would shape the reconstruction of the nation.
Source: "Historical Times Encyclopedia of the Civil War"
The following material is
meant to illustrate the varied views that relate to the Copperhead movement. The
italicized description of this first letter, from the 7th Wisconsin archive,
gives a succinct breakdown of the divisions within the Democratic Party of the
time. We intend to include letters and material from Democratic papers and many
more are within the letters From the Front, the most blatant in the 7th
Wisconsin from S.J.M..
We believe the material helps to appreciate some
period politics and editorial attitudes that can and have been picked up
and presented as mainstream by modern chroniclers. They are reprinted
exactly as presented at the time and some are, advisedly, especially to a
modern eye, offensive. The first letter is printed here to emphasize that
they were also offensive in period.