Peace Democrats

It is amazing how little substitution would be needed to make this relevant to events of the last few weeks.


Republican Abraham Lincoln was able to win the 1860 presidential election largely because the Democratic party had torn itself into several factions and could offer no united opposition. In the North the Democrats divided into two factions- the War Democrats and the Peace Democrats. Neither group agreed with the way the Republican administration conducted the war, but the War Democrats at least supported the fight for the Union.

The Peace Democrats were opposed to the war and would have accepted a negotiated peace resulting in an independent Confederacy. Most Peace Democrats were from the midwestern states of Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana, but political dissent was widespread throughout the North. Midwesterners had close economic and sentimental ties with the South, and many of them bitterly opposed the Union’s war against what one of them called “the injured, incensed, downtrodden people of the South.”

In 1861, Republicans started calling antiwar Democrats “copperheads”, likening them to the poisonous snake. By 1863, the Peace Democrats had accepted the label, but for them the copper “head” was the likeness of Liberty on the copper penny, and they proudly wore pennies as badges.

The Copperheads mounted a forceful and sustained protest against the Lincoln administration’s policies and conduct. The most popular of the Copperheads was Democratic Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham, who in 1862 introduced a bill in Congress to imprison the President. Instead, Vallandigham and a host of other Democrats, including judges, newspaper editors, politicians, and antiwar activists, were arrested and imprisoned without trial on the orders of Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton, who had decided to take off their gloves in dealing with persons “guilty of any disloyal practice”.

Fascinating Fact: 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.

Sadly, Joe Leiberman appears to be a solitary War Democrat in present circumstances and George Bush has not suspended Habeas Corpus in order to bring Howard Dean to trial.