Ohio History Journal

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Soldier Votes and Clement L.

Vallandigham in the 1863 Ohio

Gubernatorial Election





The Ohio gubernatorial election of 1863 was a hotly contested election with over-

tones extending to the national level. The nation was engaged in a bitter civil war

which showed no signs of terminating, and many citizens of the Buckeye State were

rapidly tiring of the conflict. A large number of Ohio Democrats were dissatisfied

with the Lincoln administration's handling of the war, and after the President issued

the Emancipation Proclamation they began to fear that the Federal Government

was more interested in freeing the slaves than in restoring the old Union. Further-

more, the peace Democrats, who were derisively nicknamed Copperheads,1 believed

that continuation of the fighting would cost Ohio millions of dollars, would cause the

deaths of even more Ohio soldiers, and would promote the immigration of Negroes

who would compete with whites for jobs. The most radical of the peace men called

for an armistice and proposed that a convention of all the states devise a political

solution to the war. Others, agreeing that further fighting was useless, protested

against the suppression of anti-war newspapers and denial of the writ of habeas

corpus to men imprisoned for criticizing the government.2

The most eloquent spokesman of the peace Democracy was Clement Laird Val-

landigham of Dayton. A fiery orator and a skilled lawyer, he was the Third District's



1. Shortly after the start of the Civil War the Springfield (Ohio) Republic published a letter

from a man who noted that the rattlesnake was the emblem of the Palmetto State. He declared

that evil as this snake was, he thought it better than the copperhead snake which struck without

giving any warning. Eventually "Copperhead" became a term used to designate northerners

opposed to the continuation of the war. Peace Democrats, nevertheless, did not consider the

epithet to be degrading, and some made copperhead badges out of copper pennies which then

featured the likeness of the Goddess of Liberty. Cincinnati Gazette, n.d. quoted in Philadelphia

Evening Bulletin, February 28, 1863; Wood Gray, The Hidden Civil War: The Story of the

Copperheads (New York, 1942), 140-141.

2. Frank L. Klement, The Copperheads in the Middle West (Chicago, 1960), 17-19, 29,

115-118; George Porter, Ohio Politics During the Civil War Period (New York, 1911), 103,

107-108, 145-146; Eugene H. Roseboom, The Civil War Era, 1850-1873 (Carl Wittke, ed., The

History of the State of Ohio, IV, Columbus, 1944), 409-410.


Mr. Shankman is a National Endowment for the Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard