ROBERT J. ZALIMAS, JR.
"Contest MY seat sir!": Lewis D.
Campbell, Clement L. Vallandigham, and
the Election of 1856
After the October 1856 elections, a heated political controversy arose in
Ohio's Third Congressional District which mirrored the regional and factional
turmoil dividing the nation. The District lay in the southwestern part of the
state and included three politically diverse counties: Butler, Montgomery, and
Preble. In the election, Democrat candidate Clement L. Vallandigham lost to
incumbent Republican representative Lewis D. Campbell for the third time,
this time by only nineteen votes. Although Vallandigham could not produce
any hard evidence, he attributed Campbell's victory to illegal votes cast by
African Americans. Encouraged by his supporters, he sought to overturn the
election results by contesting the official vote count.
Five months after the election, while gathering evidence to challenge the
qualifications of some voters, Vallandigham's lawyer stumbled upon a politi-
cal gold mine. Thomas Millikin, an election judge for Hamilton's second
ward, identified four voters as "persons of color" and stated that the men could
vote since each admitted to having "more white blood than black blood." A
month after Millikin's testimony, Alfred J. Anderson, a voter named by the
election judge, confessed that his mother had "one-fourth part of African blood
in her veins." More important to Democrats, he also admitted to having
voted for Campbell.1
Controversies over suffrage were not new to Ohioans, for Republicans and
Democrats disagreed over whether or not Ohio law granted blacks the right to
vote. The state constitution of 1803 explicitly stated that only "white male
Robert J. Zalimas, Jr., is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The Ohio State University. He is es-
pecially grateful to Professor Joan E. Cashin for her forthright criticisms and encouragement
throughout the research, writing, and revising stages of this article.
1. Testimony of Thomas Millikin and Alfred J. Anderson, Congress, House, Committee of
Elections, Ohio Contested Election: Memorial and Depositions in the case of Clement L.
Vallandigham, contesting the seat of Lewis D. Campbell, as a member from the third congres-
sional district of the state of Ohio, 35th Cong., 1st sess., 1857, Misc. Doc. no. 4, 105, 121. Ohio
Historical Society, PA Box 693-19. (Hereafter cited as Depositions.) Cf. David M. Fahey's
article in which he discusses a controversey over Anderson's participation in the presidential
elections of 1856. David M. Fahey, "'Slavery is a Sin Against God and a Crime Against Man':
Alfred J. Anderson and Oxford's Black Convention of January 7, 1853," Old Northwest,
5(Spring-Summer, 1990), 7.
6 OHIO HISTORY
inhabitants" were allowed to vote. During the 1830s and 1840s, however, the
state Supreme Court handed down several rulings which identified mulattos
nearer white than black" as citizens of Ohio. Republicans then argued that
mulattos with a visible preponderance of white blood were legal voters, while
Democrats claimed that the revised state constitution of 1851 superseded these
Court rulings. (This new constitution recognized only white male citizens of
the United States as qualified voters.) The Republicans responded that the new
constitution did not alter the Supreme Court precedents, and they continued to
defend the legality of mulatto suffrage. In actual elections, election judges
identified mulattos as black or white based upon their own personal view-
point.2 In fact, Thomas Millikin confirmed this practice by admitting that
Anderson voted in state and national elections before 1856.3 Due to this con-
troversy, the Ohio state legislature passed a "visible admixture" law in 1857,
which gave election judges the power to challenge any person with a distinct
mixture of black blood; the judge could reject the voter if the voter appeared
to be of African descent. Two years later, the Ohio Supreme Court struck
down the law as unconstitutional in Alfred J. Anderson v. Thomas Millikin
After all ballots were counted in October 1856, victory seemed tantalizingly
close for the Democrats. A mere nineteen votes separated them from a ninth
seat in a state that shut them out in the election of 1854, and the close vote
encouraged them to look for any appearance of impropriety to challenge the
results. They turned to the controversial issue of black suffrage in a desperate
attempt to reduce Campbell's total and subsequently encouraged Vallandigham
to request a congressional inquiry. Congress investigated the election results
for two years and eventually granted the underdog Democrats a ninth seat in a
Midwestern state dominated by Republicans and nativists.
Ohio's Third district represented a typical midwestern settlement, inhabited
primarily by small farmers and laborers. For centuries, the area belonged to
the Miami Indian tribe, but after the Indian Wars ended in 1795, whites began
to settle the area. Several rivers flow through the countryside, making the
land fertile for the cultivation of corn, wheat, and tobacco. Two major canal
junctions grew up on the Miami River: Hamilton, in Butler County, and
Dayton, in Montgomery County. Both cities increased rapidly in population
and attracted small-scale industry. Although the population of the district
2. Congress, House, Committee of Elections, Ohio Contested Election - Vallandingham (sic)
v.s. Campbell, report prepared by Thomas L. Harris, 35th Cong., 1st sess., 1858, Report No.
380, 30-31. Ohio Historical Society, PA Box 385-45. (Hereafter cited as Ohio Contested
Election, Report No. 380.)
3. Depositions, 105.
4. Carl Wittke, ed., The History of the State of Ohio, vol. 4, The Civil War Era 1850-1873, by
Eugene Roseboom (Columbus, 1941-45), 342; Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Dred Scott Case; Its
Significance in American Law and Politics (New York, 1978), 434-35.
"Contest MY seat sir! " 7
continued to grow through the 1800s, with Montgomery and Butler Counties
increasing their size by ten percent from 1860-1870, the area remained essen-
tially rural for most of the antebellum period.5
The election here held national as well as local implications, foreshadowing
both the fall of Lewis D. Campbell and the subsequent rise of Clement L.
Vallandigham. At this time, the national Republican party counted on
Campbell to win. As a Midwestern leader of the Know-Nothings, the Ohio
congressman represented the nativist faction of the northern "fusion" party.
The Republicans wanted his allegiance to court other congressional Know-
Nothings and bolster their strength in Washington. On the local level, Ohio
Republicans hoped to merge with nativist leaders to gain a foothold in the
state while at the same time establishing a midwestern base of operations.6
The election was also vitally important for the Democrats. After being shut
out in Ohio during the 1854 congressional elections, the party sought a
comeback. In the Third District, the party counted on the impending disinte-
gration of the Know-Nothings and a large immigrant turnout to make the race
close. National party leaders monitored the race and sent campaign funds from
Washington and New York in order to support the cause of a loyal, states-
rights advocate while, at the same time, helping to expel a powerful
The Political Climate of the 1850s
The decade preceding the Civil War was an extremely turbulent period for
American politicians. Careers hinged on a candidate's ability to adjust to the
rapidly changing political climate. The nation began to divide over the issue
of extending slavery into the West, and many frustrated voters rejected a two-
party system wallowing in regional compromise. Party loyalties succumbed
to sectional allegiances, leading to the rise of single-issue parties. During
this period, the American people witnessed the demise of the Whigs, the rise
5. Wittke, The History of The State of Ohio, vol. 1, The Foundations of Ohio, by Beverley W.
Bond, Jr., 347-48; vol. 3, The Passing of the Frontier 1825-1850, by Francis P. Weisenburger,
59-65, 78-80; vol. 4, The Civil War Era 1850-1873, by Eugene H. Roseboom, 4-5.
6. Revealing confidence and respect for Campbell, national Republican leader
Representative Elihu Washburne of Illinois asked Campbell to meet with Abraham Lincoln in
Illinois after the 1856 election. Washburne to Campbell, October 13, 1856. Lewis I).
Campbell Papers, Ohio Historical Society.
7. House Democrats were especially eager to defeat Campbell, particularly for his leader-
ship role in opposing the extension of slavery in the West. In addition, they were unhappy with
his call for an investigation of the attack by Representative Preston Brooks upon Senator
Charles Sumner. Under bitter protest and threats from southern representatives, Campbell
eventually led House Republicans in censuring Brooks for his conduct. See Congressional
Globe, 34th Cong., 1st sess., May 23, 1856, 1289-93; Senator Henry Wilson to Campbell, May
24, 1856, Campbell Papers.
8 OHIO HISTORY
and fall of nativism, and the convergence of northern factions into the
Republican party. The initial spark came from the debates over the
Compromise of 1850. Most northern and midwestern voters were outraged
over the bipartisan agreement, which permitted the possibility of slavery's
expansion into some of the western territories acquired in the Mexican War
and gave the South a tougher Fugitive Slave Law. In return, the North ob-
tained California as a free state and a ban on the slave trade in the District of
Columbia, but that did not mollify antislavery proponents.8
Four years later, another hotly-contested debate over slavery divided the na-
tion and destroyed the Whig party. In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-
Nebraska Act which repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the ban
on slavery north of the 36° 30' line, except for Missouri. The Kansas-
Nebraska territory lay west of Missouri and encompassed a large portion of
the Louisiana Purchase. The legislation had the potential to upset the balance
of power in Congress between slave and free states, since the residents them-
selves could request Congress to admit their territory into the Union as a
slave or free state. Northerners viewed this as a direct assault by the "Slave
Power" to suppress their political voice in Congress, and both Whigs and
Democrats split their votes along sectional lines.9
During the fall elections of 1854, the nativist movement suddenly, and
quite unexpectantly, burst into prominence. Some northern Protestants
viewed Catholicism as a more dangerous threat to the republic than slavery,
as a large German and Irish Catholic population poured into the country. The
movement opposed European immigration and organized a secret fraternal or-
der of native-born Protestants called the "Know Nothings," or American
Party. (Members took an oath of allegiance to the order, denying the exis-
tence of the sect by stating "'I know nothing' about it" when questioned by
strangers.) The party attracted a number of disaffected Whigs and other voters,
and it seemed to pose a serious challenge to the Democrats. By 1856, how-
ever, the new party quickly fell from grace. Voters became disillusioned with
the failure of Know-Nothing politicians to restrict immigration, and many
began to fear the party's secrecy and its use of physical force to stop immi-
grant voting. The door now opened for antislavery Republicans to unite with
nativists, Protestant immigrants, and northern abolitionists into one party
strong enough to oppose the Democrats.10
Many northern voters found the Republican party appealing in 1856, while
the Democrats rebounded with support from both Catholic and Protestant im-
8. James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York, 1988), 70-
75, Michael F. Holt, Political Parties and American Political Development (Baton Rouge,
9. McPherson, 121-26.
10. Holt, The Political Crisis of the 1850s (New York, 1978), 156-59, 173-74, 178.
"Contest MY seat sir! " 9
migrants. Although immigrant Protestants opposed Catholics, the antifor-
eign philosophy of Know-Nothings nonetheless compelled them to vote
against the Republicans. This immigrant backlash toward nativist factions
hurt Republican efforts since Republicans openly courted the nativist vote.
During the elections of 1856, the Democrats regained lost ground in northern
congressional districts and managed to hold the executive branch for another
tumultuous four years.11
In Ohio, the political scene resembled the wavering mood of the nation as
political power in Ohio continually shifted from one faction to another. In
1840, Whigs outnumbered Democrats for congressional seats, twelve to
11. Ibid, 176-77. For additional sources on antebellum politics, see Eric Foner, Free Soil,
Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War (New York,
1970); William E. Gienapp, The Origins of the Republican Party 1852-1856 (New York, 1987);
Stephen E. Maizlish, The Triumph of Sectionalism: The Transformation of Ohio Politics 1844-
1856 (Kent, 1983); Jeffrey P. Brown and Andrew R.L. Cayton, eds., The Pursuit of Public
Power: Political Culture in Ohio, 1787-1861 (Kent, 1994); Kenneth J. Winkle, The Politics of
Community: Migration and Politics in Antebellum Ohio (Cambridge; New York, 1988); Victor
B. Howard, "The 1856 Election in Ohio: Moral Issues in Politics," Ohio History, 80(Winter,
1971), 24-44; John B. Weaver, "Nativism and the Birth of the Republican Party in Ohio, 1854-
1860" (Ph.D. diss., The Ohio State University, 1982).
10 OHIO HISTORY
seven, but in 1850, Democrats outnumbered their opponents, twelve to nine
(six Whigs, three Free-Soilers). Following the national trend, however, the
Democrats lost all their seats in the state to anti-Democratic candidates in
1854. Now, only two years later, the demise of the Know-Nothings, coupled
with the unpredictable voting pattern of Ohioans, gave Democrats hope that
they could regain lost ground in a state which they dominated only six years
The Republicans in 1856 coveted the nativist vote in order to strengthen
their numbers and capitalize on the anti-Democratic mood of northern politi-
cal factions. To do so, they courted prominent Know-Nothing politicians
throughout the country. One such politician was Representative Lewis D.
Campbell of Ohio. At this time, Campbell attained a strong reputation in
the House for his leadership role in a number of controversial issues, espe-
cially as the opposition leader to the Kansas-Nebraska act. During these de-
bates, Midwest newspapers encouraged him to run for president. Ambitious
and shrewd, Campbell jumped to the Republican bandwagon in late 1855,
leaving a dying political philosophy in order to run for the 1856 Republican
presidential nomination. Republicans quickly recognized his importance to
their cause during the Ohio gubernatorial race that fall. In that election,
Campbell ardently worked to swing the nativist vote toward the eventual
winner, Republican Salmon P. Chase. To do so, he abandoned the Know-
Nothing party and alienated American party candidate, Allen Trimble. After
the election, Campbell hoped to use his newfound support from the
Republicans to obtain the House Speakership and then run for president.13
Known to his enemies as the "Butler Pony," Campbell was born on
August 9, 1811, in Franklin, Ohio. The son of Samuel and Mary (Small)
Campbell, he attended public schools, and then apprenticed in a print shop
where he used this experience to publish a Whig newspaper, the Hamilton
Intelligencer, from 1831-1835. Around this time, he married Jane H. Reily,
the daughter of John Reily an influential Ohio pioneer. After Campbell left
the newspaper, he practiced law and eventually became a wealthy railroad pres-
ident. A highly successful and prominent Whig in Butler County, he ran for
Congress three times before finally winning in 1848.14
12. Weisenburger, 396; Joseph P. Smith, ed., History of the Republican Party in Ohio,
Volume I (Chicago, 1898), 27.
13. William E. Van Horne, "Lewis D. Campbell and the Know Nothing Party in Ohio." Ohio
History, 76(Autumn, 1967), 212-15. This article, written by an Ohio businessman, represents
the only extensive study of this prominent Ohio politician.
14. Ibid, 204.
"Contest MY seat sir! " 11
The election of 1856 marked a significant turning point in Campbell's
congressional career. His political reputation and support began to fade start-
ing in January 1856. Nominated for the prestigious position of Speaker of
the House in December 1855, he placed second on the first ballot.15 Once at
the top of the Speaker list, his name quickly fell among Republicans and
with it his presidential aspirations. As a consolation, eventual winner
Nathaniel Banks of Massachusetts named Campbell Chairman of the House
Ways and Means committee, an honor Campbell bitterly accepted.
Detrimental to his political ties, his volcanic temper began to spell impend-
ing doom for his career.16
Due to his quick temper, Campbell's reelection seemed to be in serious
jeopardy. Throughout the year, irrational rage and anger clouded his insight
and he began to alienate his political allies. Blaming his Republican and na-
tivist supporters for his failure to secure the House Speakership in January,
Campbell briefly distanced himself from the Republicans and returned to more
familiar grounds. Feeling deserted by his friends, he attacked blacks and abo-
litionists at a February rally for Millard Fillmore, the American Party presi-
dential candidate. In his speech, he addressed several comments to the south-
erners in the crowd, insisting that "the nigger [sic] business was an outside
issue" having "no business in the American party, and, for his part, he wished
to keep the gemmen ob [sic] color out." At previous Know-Nothing conven-
tions, Campbell persistently advocated a compromise position on slavery in
order to keep northern and southern Know-Nothings united. Nativists eventu-
ally split over the issue, northerners joining the Republicans while southern-
ers maintained the party for another two years. Thus, he probably made the
remarks out of frustration since he failed to keep the movement consolidated
and subsequently lost momentum and political support.17
Ohio newspapers immediately criticized Campbell for his conduct. As a
Republican, they reminded the former Know-Nothing of the abolitionist
plank of the party platform. One newspaper editor, referring to Campbell's
withdrawal from the contest for House Speaker, surmised that "his mind has
been haunted with visions of conspiracies against his growing greatness."18
Campbell quickly retracted the statement, insisting that the papers misquoted
Unfortunately, these remarks were typical of Campbell. Throughout his ca-
reer, he sulked whenever criticized and recklessly attacked any opposition to
his political objectives. After he withdrew his candidacy for House Speaker,
15. That year the contest for Speaker lasted two months. After his support dwindled with
each succeeding vote, Campbell withdrew and passed his votes to Nathaniel Banks of
Massachusetts, the eventual winner. Ibid.
16. Ibid, 202, 220; Gienapp, Origins of the Republican Party, 242-46.
17. Quoted in Van Horne, 218.
18. Ohio State Journal, March 8, 1856, printed in ibid, 217.
12 OHIO HISTORY
he continually obstructed Republican efforts to elect Nathaniel Banks. In
1833, as editor of the Hamilton Intelligencer, he offered to endorse Democrat
presidential candidate Martin Van Buren for a fee. When Van Buren declined
the offer, he publicly chastised the New Yorker and threw his support behind
Whig candidate, John McLean. At the Whig convention in 1848, after the
delegates rejected his nomination of General Winfield Scott for president and
his continuous call for a party platform, he secretly withdrew Thomas
Ewing's name from the Vice President list, which eventually secured the
nomination for Millard Fillmore. Now, in the most important election of his
life, Campbell's reckless style made him vulnerable to an inspired Democratic
party, a party eagerly awaiting the chance to take advantage of Campbell's
imprudence and the divisiveness among northern political factions.19
An unforeseen turn of events eventually pushed Campbell out of the politi-
cal spotlight. Clement L. Vallandigham, Campbell's familiar and persistent
Democratic nemesis, rode the wave of immigrant backlash and obtained
Campbell's seat. Vallandigham was born on July 29, 1820, in New Lisbon,
Ohio, the third son of Reverend Clement and Rebecca (Laird) Vallandigham.
He attended the New Lisbon Academy, a classical school run by his father,
and later matriculated at Jefferson College in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. He
left the college after disagreeing with a professor on a point of constitutional
law and then taught for two years at a private school in Maryland. He re-
turned to his hometown to study law and marry Louisa A. McMahon of
Cumberland, Maryland. Vallandigham promoted himself as a lawyer of the
people and counseled many minority clients, primarily poor Irish-Americans
and German-Americans. The people of New Lisbon elected him to the state
House of Representatives in 1845 and 1846. Later, he moved to Dayton in
1847 in order to edit the Dayton Western Empire (later the Daily Empire) for
two years. Like Campbell, Vallandigham possessed a hot temper and could
be reckless at times. Somewhat eccentric, he seemed to enjoy taunting his
political opponents with sarcasm, especially when challenging Campbell.
For the most part, Vallandigham reacted out of principle, whether he was con-
testing elections or contesting the Union invasion of the South. Throughout
his career, he remained loyal to southern principles and to his southern roots
which dated back to colonial Virginia.20
A Jacksonian Democrat who advocated states' rights and opposed abolition,
Vallandigham challenged Campbell's seat on two previous occasions. In
1852, he lost by 147 votes and, in 1854, he lost by 2,565 votes, primarily
due to the anti-Nebraska backlash against Democratic candidates. Instead of
demoralizing Vallandigham, however, the defeats moved him to further politi-
19. Weisenburger, 287, 475-76.
20. Frank L. Klement, The Limits of Dissent: Clement L. Vallandigham & The Civil War
(Lexington, Ky., 1970), 8-11.
"Contest MY seat sir!" 13
cal action for he viewed the political turmoil of the 1850s as a time of oppor-
tunity. By 1856, Vallandigham's political aspirations gained momentum and
he quickly rose through the Democrat ranks.21
During the interim between the election of 1854 and 1856, Vallandigham's
popularity remained strong among the district's Democrats, especially among
immigrants. As a colonel in the state militia, he organized several companies
of men, including two made up exclusively of Irish-Americans and German-
Americans. Before the 1856 election, the party named him as a delegate to the
1856 state Democrat convention and, later that summer, the state party
granted him membership to the Democrat National Committee. After help-
ing to shape the party platform, Vallandigham once again faced Campbell in
The election featured the political turmoil which characterized antebellum
politics. The collapse of the Know-Nothings allowed the Republicans to
move into the district as the Democrats' strongest opposition. In Ohio, local
issues complicated the Republican-Democrat showdown. Due to the large
immigrant population of the state, nativism remained strong among many
voters, and some nativist groups rejected a merger with Republicans since the
party focused primarily on the slave issue. To the chagrin of the Republicans,
nativists ran American party candidates in many Ohio districts, which pulled
votes from Republicans and helped Democratic candidates win tight races.
Furthermore, a long-standing controversy, "in-migrant" voters, reemerged
for the 1856 election. Since one of the state's main industries was canal
transportation, transient workers traveled up and down Ohio rivers to service
the various canal junctions, such as Dayton and Cincinnati. The work was
burdensome, and canal workers, many who came from Pennsylvania, were
always in big demand. To meet the need for migrant workers, the state passed
lenient suffrage laws to encourage their emigration into the state. These
workers thus became "in-migrant," moving throughout the state and working
on the various canal routes. The ability to vote in a county or township with
only a few days' or hours' residency played an important role in keeping these
men in Ohio.23
In some counties, the "in-migrants" accounted for forty percent or more of
the local population. These workers tended to vote Democrat. During the
1840s, the Whigs struck back with the passage of a Registry Law, which re-
quired voters to register in a county at least one month prior to an election.
To safeguard against fraud, the law allowed election judges at polling places
to challenge voter qualifications. The Whigs wanted to prevent fraudulent
21. Ibid, 9-11.
22. Ibid, 12-15.
23. Kenneth J. Winkle, "The Politics of Community: Migration and Politics in Antebellum
Ohio" (Ph.D. diss., The University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1984), 418.
14 OHIO HISTORY
voting and, of course, deflect Democrat votes. The Democrats viewed the law
as unconstitutional, and Democratic election judges simply ignored it. The
controversy simmered throughout the antebellum period since, in most Ohio
counties, the migrant worker population continued to increase prior to elec-
tions, and many voted.24
Although he weathered the early storms of this election year, Campbell
still faced the wrath of immigrants and migrant workers in his district.
Dayton, in Montgomery county, was a canal junction on the Miami Canal,
and the city possessed a large number of "in-migrant" workers who at anytime
could unite with immigrants and produce a Democratic majority for any elec-
tion. With the fall of nativism and the resurgence of the immigrant voter, the
Democrats rebounded in the district in 1855 and expected to win the October
The campaign began with gusto in September. Vallandigham returned
from his stint at the Democrat National Committee, and Campbell came all
the way from Washington.26 Although Campbell redeemed himself with
some Republicans for leading the House in its attempt to censure
Representative Preston Brooks (for his assault on Senator Charles Sumner),
Republicans in the Third District were cautious in throwing full support be-
hind his campaign.27 In contrast, the Democrats projected victory by a wide
margin based upon their success in the 1855 Ohio gubernatorial race when
Democrat William Medill took the district by beating both Republican
Salmon P. Chase and Know-Nothing Allen Trimble. After the victory, the
Democrat-owned Dayton Daily Empire predicted a Vallandigham victory over
Campbell by a margin of no less than five hundred votes. The Cincinnati
Enquirer echoed this sentiment, recognizing the harmful impact of
Campbell's racist comments which made him "unpopular in his district, even
among his Abolition friends."28
Nativist themes dominated the early phase of the campaign. Although both
candidates attempted to highlight the issue of slavery and abolition, they both
24. Ibid, 45-46, 418-21.
25. Dayton Daily Empire. September 4, 1856.
26. Historians ignore the significance of the election. William E. Van Horne gives the elec-
tion only slight attention; Van Horne, 220. Likewise, Vallandigham's biographers quickly pass
over the election to review other aspects of the Copperhead's life. See James L.
Vallandigham, A Life of Clement L. Vallandigham (Baltimore, 1872), 83-85, 100-02, and
Klement. The Limits of Dissent, 15-17. In her Master's thesis, Christena M. Wahl offers more
detail, but focuses primarily on the 1858 House debates over the election results. "The
Congressional Career of Clement Laird Vallandigham" (M.A. thesis, The Ohio State
University, 1938), 23-27.
27. The Republican anti slavery newspaper, the Dayton Daily Gazette, begrudgingly sup-
ported Campbell because of his previous stance opposing slavery extension. Dayton Daily
Gazette, September 13, 1856.
28. Dayton Daily Empire, September 4, 1856.
"Contest MY seat sir!" 15
pursued the immigrant vote and denounced nativism. Vallandigham attempted
to portray Campbell as an untrustworthy opportunist, while Campbell tried
to label Vallandigham as a Know-Nothing. Eventually, the campaign turned
into a personal vendetta between longtime foes rather than a contest over
Republican and Democratic party principles. Campbell struck first. While
downplaying his own nativist allegiance, he started a rumor that
Vallandigham held a Know-Nothing certificate in one pocket and an affidavit
disclaiming ties to nativist organizations in the other. To support this ru-
mor, Know-Nothings issued affidavits claiming they witnessed
Vallandigham's initiation as a member of the Dayton lodge. Moreover, they
asserted that in 1854 the Dayton lodge refused to back either candidate since
they believed that both men held Know-Nothing membership.29
Vallandigham, counting on immigrant voters to push him past Campbell,
could not afford any speculation that he was a Know-Nothing. He vehe-
mently denied the charge. After personally reviewing the depositions, he dis-
covered that the Dayton Daily Gazette did not print the full text of one affi-
davit and he used this testimony to question the credibility of Campbell's
29. Dayton Daily Journal, September 12, 25, October 2, 4, 1856; Dayton Daily Gazette,
September 12, 24, 25, October 4, 6, 13, 1856.
16 OHIO HISTORY
witnesses. Reprinted in the Democratic Daily Empire, the accuser admitted
that he heard from others that Vallandigham attended a Know-Nothing initia-
tion, but he himself could not identify Vallandigham or confirm his atten-
After this retraction, Vallandigham began his own personal attack on
Campbell's character. He questioned Campbell's loyalty to any political phi-
losophy and labeled the congressman a "clown" who "turned more summer-
sets and made more exhibitions upon the tight rope" than any good trapeze
artist. Keeping with the circus motif, he declared that Campbell revealed an
extraordinary ability to "swallow himself' in his transformation from Whig
to Know-Nothing to Republican. To demonstrate this point, the Daily
Empire printed speeches and articles from the past year in which Campbell
clung to his nativist roots and rejected the Republican platform by labeling
slavery "an outside issue."31
Following these tactics, both sides then raised the old issue of voter impor-
tation. Although the Democrats usually benefitted from "in-migrant" voting,
they now sought to disassociate themselves from these voters and accused the
Republicans of importing nonresident voters into the district. The Daily
Empire initiated the assault by quoting the Lebanon Citizen that "pipelayers"
left adjacent Warren county to take up residence in Butler and Montgomery
counties.32 Throughout the campaign, the Democratic paper continually
raised this issue, sarcastically attributing the recruitment of "in-migrant"
workers to the Abolition Emigrant Aid Society of Montgomery County. The
Daily Journal denied the allegations and warned the Democrats that if they
used "pipelayers" to help the "desperate fortunes of Vallandigham," they
would compound their defeat with a jail sentence following the election. To
counter the negative publicity from their opponents, the Republicans also ac-
cused the Democrats of securing campaign funds from nonresident supporters
in New York and Washington, D.C.33
On October 14, 1856, election day, the Republicans again printed affidavits
alleging that Vallandigham was a Know-Nothing, while the Democrats pub-
lished more denials and warned voters to beware of "new faces at the polls."34
The final results showed that Vallandigham gained 2,826 votes over his 1854
total as opposed to Campbell's smaller gain of 280 votes from his 1854
30. Dayton Daily Empire, September 16, October 8, 1856.
31. Ibid, September 16, October 2, 1856.
32. The term "pipelayer" probably referred to the transient canal workers.
33. Dayton Daily Empire, September 26, 1856: Dayton Daily Journal, October 1, 8, 1856.
Other antebellum politicians relied on ballots from questionable voting blocks, such as Stephen
A. Douglas' reliance on Mormon votes in Illinois. Robert W. Johannsen, Stephen A. Douglas
(New York, 1973), 122-23, 149-50. On corruption in modern-day state elections, see Robert
Dallek, Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times 1908-1960 (New York, 1991).
34. Dayton Daily Journal, Dayton Daily Gazette, October 13, 1856; Dayton Daily Empire,
October 14, 1856.
"Contest MY seat sir!" 17
count. In the end, Campbell retained his seat by only nineteen votes, 9,338
to 9,319-a margin large enough to allow Republicans to claim victory, but
small enough to compel the rejuvenated Democrats of the Third District to
contest the results. Their petition delayed the official announcement of a
winner by two years, instigating a bitter partisan fight which carried over to
the House floor.35
On election day, the Cincinnati Daily Gazette warned the Republicans of
the Third District to watch for "Buchaneers" who have "imported" voters into
Campbell's District from Warren County. A week later, their correspondent
estimated that over 1,200 men from the surrounding counties came in to vote
for Vallandigham.36 The Democrats' total did increase substantially from the
1854 election, especially in the canal county of Montgomery. In 1854,
Vallandigham's Montgomery vote total reached 2,772, compared to
Campbell's 4,181, but two years later, Vallandigham's numbers increased to
4,315 while Campbell's reached 4,323. Thus, Vallandigham lost the "in-mi-
grant" county by a mere eight votes. This large Democratic increase gave
Republicans reason to question whether the Democrats relied on "pipelaying"
tactics. Since the final vote count declared Campbell the winner, however,
they saw no reason or grounds to challenge the election results. Conversely,
the Democrats had everything to gain by challenging the final vote count.
Since black suffrage and racial equality remained a controversial issue among
Ohio voters, the Democrats shrewdly turned to it to arouse the suspicion of
Ohioans and eventually the suspicions of the nation.37
Two days following the election, the Daily Empire reported that election
judges allowed black men to vote for Campbell, and the paper encouraged
Vallandigham to contest the results. On the other side of Dayton, the Daily
Journal immediately refuted the claim, insisting that the Democrats wanted to
divert attention from their own "pipelaying" tactics, an election day practice
they claimed the Democrats employed for the last twenty years.38 The rumor,
however, did not go away. In promoting the claim, the Democrats attempted
to take advantage of the partisan division over Ohio suffrage laws and declared
that "only pure blood" whites were permitted to vote. The Republicans con-
tinued their support for mulatto voting and contended the Ohio Supreme
Court granted suffrage to mulattos who claimed to have more white blood
35. Smith, 27, 65-66. Ohio Democrats showed a strong improvement over their losses in
1854, regaining eight congressional seats. They won only one district by a majority, however,
winning the other seven with help from American party candidates who split the anti-
36. Cincinnati Daily Gazette, October 14, 21, 1856.
37. Smith, History of the Republican Party, 27, 65; Hamilton (Ohio) Telegraph, November
27, 1856. The Montgomery county 1856 numbers were derived by adding the Butler and
Preble county vote totals and subtracting them from the final total for the entire district.
38. Dayton Daily Empire, October 16, 1856; Dayton Daily Journal, October 18, 1856.
18 OHIO HISTORY
than black. At this time, the election moved away from the local nativist and
"in-migrant" voter controversies and embraced the nationally divisive issue of
racial equality and black citizenship.39
After a year of bad press, Campbell was furious. The last thing he needed
or wanted now was a challenge to his 1856 victory. So he acknowledged the
right of suffrage for mulattos and admitted meeting a black man who cast a
Republican ballot. To a receptive audience in Vallandigham's hometown of
Dayton, Campbell affirmed that his African American barber in Hamilton
voted for him. During the speech, he told his supporters that he "would
sooner have his [the barber] vote than that of certain 'white border ruffians'
who had tried to drive him from the polls." He followed by attacking the
Democrats and the rumored contest, revealing once again Campbell's leg-
endary hot temper. "I have received no notice of contest, but I dare them to
it," he acidly challenged. "I will expose the whole conspiracy from the
President down-all the frauds and rascalities, all the hundreds and thousands
of pipe layed votes." He further promised to take his seat in the House and
face "the men who repealed the Missouri Compromise," "look into their
snaky eyes," and "shake in their teeth my commission with the broad seal of
Ohio, as Representative from the Third District, endorsed [by a] NINETEEN
majority." Following this tirade, he sent a personal challenge to
Vallandigham: "Contest MY seat, sir! There are no men in Dayton, smart
enough to do that successfully."40
While Campbell ranted and raved in Dayton, Vallandigham sent a notice of
contest to Campbell's Hamilton residence the following morning, October
25, 1856. In a characteristically eccentric manner, he listed nineteen general
grounds upon which he planned to challenge the results. The allegations were
somewhat repetitive, most of them claiming that various election judges re-
jected legal votes for Vallandigham while counting illegal votes for
Campbell. He asserted that nonresidents, minors, idiots, the insane, and
"mulattos" had cast fraudulent votes. He identified ten of these "persons of
color" by name and claimed that an additional twenty-two "persons of color'
also voted for Campbell. After sending the notice, Vallandigham faced
As expected, Campbell hotly rejected the allegations and jumped at the
chance to admonish his opponent. He began his reply with a statement
which would haunt him throughout the two-year congressional investigation:
"I received your written communication, touching that 'nigger business'." He
then coolly informed Vallandigham that the notice was irrelevant until
Campbell received a certificate from the state governor validating his congres-
39. Ibid, October 18, 1856; ibid, October 21, 1856.
40. Dayton Daily Empire, October 25, 1856; Depositions, 2-3.
41. Vallandigham to Campbell, October 24, 1856, Depositions, 2-3.
"Contest MY seat sir!" 19
sional seat. Since he could not receive the certificate until December, he
questioned Vallandigham's haste suggesting that "prehaps [sic], your deep
anxiety on this subject has occasioned premature action." He then repeated
his challenge, boldly declaring that Vallandigham was "not only invited but
dared to contest my right to the seat."42
For the moment, Campbell felt confident that his career could be rejuve-
nated. He embraced a triumphant welcome in Dayton on October 24 and lav-
ishly gloated at another in Hamilton on Halloween night. He ignored
Vallandigham's challenge, believing that the contest was staged only for
"political effect" and would "never be carried into execution." Unfortunately
for Campbell, his assumptions were absolutely wrong.43
Vallandigham waited patiently for the governor to issue Campbell the state
certificate and, on Christmas Eve, served him with a second notice of contest.
Under House rules, Campbell had thirty days to answer the notice and on
January 19, 1857, he did, this time using carefully chosen words. He argued
that the seat was his because he possessed the governor's certificate granting
him the seat, and a majority of the "qualified electors" voted for him. He then
provided twenty-three grounds challenging fraudulent votes cast for
Vallandigham. The "specifications" repeated many of his opponent's accusa-
tions, including the charge that "persons half negro, or more" and "persons
not half white, and part negro" voted for the Democrat. Now the contest fi-
nally began in earnest.44
According to the House statute, both parties should begin taking testimony
after the sitting member replied to the contestant. Each man had sixty days to
interview witnesses and collect evidence, and then he could submit notarized
depositions to the Committee of Elections. Following a review of the evi-
dence, the nine-member bipartisan committee would present their recommen-
dations to the House through a majority and minority report. After a floor
debate, the entire House would vote on the committee's resolutions and either
declare a winner or resubmit the entire election back to the people.45
Vallandigham received Campbell's reply on January 27, 1857, which put
the sixty-day expiration date on March 28. He started immediately and noti-
fied Campbell that he planned to commence taking testimony on February 2,
1857, in Butler County. Both men were represented by counsel and neither
appeared at any of the interviews. It soon became apparent that Vallandigham
prepared well, lining up witnesses in both Butler and Montgomery Counties
who discredited votes cast for Campbell.
42. Campbell to Vallandigham, October 31, 1856, ibid, 4.
43. Cincinnati Daily Gazette, October 28, November 3, 1856.
44. Vallandigham to Campbell, December 24, 1856, Campbell to Vallandigham, January 19,
1857, Depositions, 4-8.
45. The Statutes at Large and Treaties of the United States of America From December 1,
1845 to March 3, 1851, vol. 9 (Boston, 1851), 568-70.
20 OHIO HISTORY
Through the testimony, Vallandigham's attorney questioned voters who
witnessed allegedly illegal activity. The evidence consisted primarily of
hearsay testimony, and witnesses could only attest that they saw individuals
at various polling places. This was particularly true regarding black voting.
The first allegation of black voters came from one Thomas Millikin, when he
positively identified four "persons of color" who voted at the election. In his
opinion, each man had "a visible admixture of African blood."46 At the time,
this appearance test was commonly used by southern Courts of Appeals to
distinguish whites from blacks, even though it was highly subjective and
rested upon the personal bias of election judges.47 Upon cross examination
by Campbell's attorney, Millikin admitted that, except for Alfred J.
Anderson, he was "doubtful whether the white or black blood predominate[d]."
After each man swore under oath that he was predominately white, Millikin
allowed the men to cast ballots.48
Although he allowed the mulattos to vote, Millikin could not confirm
whether the men voted for Campbell or Vallandigham since Ohio laws re-
quired the use of the secret ballot. That answer came a month later from
Anderson, who admitted voting for Campbell and claimed that two others,
John M. Mitchell and Reuben Redman, told him they also voted Republican
tickets. When asked whether the skin color of each had a "visible admixture
of African blood," Anderson identified only Redman stating, that, in his opin-
ion, Mitchell had "none."49
Interestingly, Anderson stated that Mitchell "always disclaimed having any"
African blood, and before the second notice of contest, Mitchell himself pub-
licly denied any black heritage. In a statement printed in the Dayton Daily
Gazette, he claimed that he was born in Louisiana of foreign parents and that
he did not have "one drop of African blood in my veins." To confirm his
statement, he asserted that he was never denied access to the ballot box, in-
cluding his residency in the states of Louisiana, Kentucky, and Missouri. As
further proof, the 1850 federal census (the first to distinguish mulattos from
blacks) listed Mitchell as "white."50
A few days later, two witnesses identified by name twelve mulattos who
voted in the city of Oxford. Like Anderson, both men provided only hearsay
evidence as to whether any of the twelve really voted and, if they did, for
which candidate. Again, the test of color was made by appearance in which a
"visible admixture of negro blood" pronounced the men as "persons of color."
46. Depositions, 105.
47. Kenneth M. Stampp, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South (New
York, 1956), 195.
48. Depositions, 105.
49. Ibid, 121.
50. Ibid: Dayton Daily Gazette, Dayton Daily Journal, November 1, 1856; Entry for John M.
Mitchell, Population Schedules of the Seventh Census of the Unites States, 367. M432, Roll 723.
"Contest MY seat sir!" 21
By declaring themselves "more than half white," the witnesses saw some of
the men pass the election judges and cast ballots. The 1850 federal consensus
identified only one of the twelve as a mulatto, Robert Goings, whom the cen-
sus taker judged to be "3/4 white."51
While Vallandigham gathered evidence, Campbell merely procrastinated.
Although he sent representatives to the depositions of Vallandigham's wit-
nesses in Montgomery and Butler Counties, he did not order his lawyers to
schedule interviews until March 17, leaving only eleven days until the sixty-
day expiration deadline. He seemed to follow precedents from other contested
elections in which sitting members extended the deadline and gathered evi-
dence after the congressional session ended. At the time, Campbell was
working hard on a new tariff bill and, in January 1857, it came up for a
House vote. Like many issues of the antebellum period, the House divided
regionally in which northern manufacturers and southern farmers clashed over
certain provisions. Debate lasted for almost two months and finally passed
both Houses on February 26.52 Afterwards, Campbell remained in
Washington until the third session of the Thirty-Fourth Congress closed on
March 3, and due to various delays, he returned to his home district on March
19. For ten days, his attorney collected evidence to counter Vallandigham's
depositions. He made one glaring omission, however, providing no confir-
mation that persons of mixed race cast ballots for Vallandigham.53
The deadline for collecting evidence closed on March 28, 1857. Since
Congress adjourned three weeks earlier, the presentation of the depositions
would have to wait until December when the Thirty-Fifth Congress opened
for its first session. After promising to fight tooth and nail for his seat,
Campbell continued to take the contest lightly. Although he was busy with
the Tariff of 1857, his conduct was nonetheless strange and inexplicable, es-
pecially in light of his reputation as a fierce competitor. Following the
March 28 deadline, Campbell panicked. Three days after the deadline, the
Dayton Daily Empire predicted that the Republican "must come down on his
knees before a Democratic Congress" and beg for an extension.54 But two
days later, Campbell turned to Vallandigham and publicly humiliated himself
by pleading with the Democrat for a deadline extension. He cited a provision
51. Ibid, 125-27; Population Schedules, 238. In 1850, census marshals decided who was
black and who was mulatto according to personal appearance. The government listed more
than 57,000 mulattos in the North and West, with more than half. 30,000, residing in
Pennsylvania and Ohio. Joel Williamson, New People: Miscegenation and Mulattoes in the
United Sates (New York, 1980), 24-25.
52. Stampp, America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink (New York, 1990), 21-22.
53. Campbell to Committee of Elections, January 22, 1858, Congress, House, Committee of
Elections, Ohio Contested Election, report prepared by T.L. Harris, 35th Cong., 1st sess., 1858.
Report No. 50, 4-6, Ohio Historical Society, PA Box 690-33. (Hereafter cited as Ohio
Contested Election, Report No. 50.); Depositions, 147-75.
54. Dayton Daily Empire, March 31, 1857.
22 OHIO HISTORY
in the House statute granting Congress the power to extend the sixty-day
deadline. Since Congress would not reopen until December, Campbell pro-
posed a forty-day extension. Even without Vallandigham's consent, Campbell
declared that he would continue to take depositions throughout the year.55
Vallandigham had Campbell backed into a corner, and he knew it. In his
reply, he reminded Campbell of his previous bravado in daring Vallandigham
to contest his seat. Although he admitted to interviewing only half of his
witnesses, he stated that further testimony would serve only to increase his
total and "secure me the seat in any event." He was willing to offer
Campbell a second chance, however, and proposed an alternative solution. He
recognized that Congress might return the election to the people of the Third
District, so to avoid the "annoyance and irritation" of a contest and "to relieve
Congress from an unpleasant duty," he suggested asking the governor to
schedule a rematch on the second Tuesday of October 1857.56 Campbell ig-
nored the letter, recognizing the unpredictable nature of another close election.
In addition, he realized that Vallandigham had nothing to lose since he could
always challenge the results if he lost again. For refusing Vallandigham's of-
fer, Campbell now faced the rancor of the Daily Empire. The paper had
waited for an opportunity to mock Campbell on his earlier statements and
seized the moment. "His over-weening vanity and blind egotism would not
permit him to believe that anybody would dare contest his seat in Congress,"
the paper retorted. Now, after "making a fool of himself as chairman of the
committee of ways and means," he finally acknowledged the contest out of
desperation, a contest he so eagerly and fearlessly invited.57 With no prospect
for an October election, both men awaited the start of the Thirty-Fifth
Congress and the deliberations of the Committee of Elections.
The Committee of Elections was appointed on December 14, 1857, and,
since the Democrats controlled the House, it had a Democratic majority: five
Democrats, two Republicans, and two Know-Nothings. Vallandigham for-
warded his evidence the next day, and the committee printed the depositions of
both men the following week. Four weeks later, Campbell asked for more
time. Although he promised Vallandigham that he would continue to gather
evidence after the deadline, Campbell secured only two depositions in late
April. He counted on earlier precedents and expected the committee to grant
his request with little or no debate. If they agreed to it, the contest might
drag on past the next congressional elections, voiding the 1856 results.58
Campbell requested an extension based on three technicalities. First, he
55. Campbell to Vallandigham, April 2, 1857, printed in ibid, April 11, 1857.
56. Vallandigham to Campbell, April 9, 1857, Ohio Contested Election, Report No. 50, 25-27.
57. Dayton Daily Empire, April 25, 1857.
58. Vallandigham to Committee of Elections, January 23, 1858, 17; Campbell to Same,
January 22, 1858, Ohio Contested Election, Report No. 50.
"Contest MY seat sir!" 23
contended that Vallandigham violated the sixty-day timetable by taking sev-
enty-three days to procure testimony. The House statute required a party to
notify the other before taking testimony in a particular county, and deposi-
tions could only be taken in one county at a time. If a party planned to open
a commission in another county, notification was again required plus a five-
day waiting period before the commission could resume gathering evidence.
Campbell was splitting hairs, counting two days of testimony taken simulta-
neously in Hamilton and Dayton as separate days and adding the two five-day
intervals required when changing venues to raise Vallandigham's total number
of days to seventy-three.59
Second, Campbell charged Vallandigham with attempting to deny him the
right to gather evidence. His lawyer in Montgomery County notified
Vallandigham that he planned to take testimony in late March, but
Vallandigham did not acknowledge the notice; and when the commission
opened, he refused to attend or cross-examine witnesses.
Third, he stated that various commitments prevented him from traveling to
the district until March 19. Even though the Thirty-Fourth Congress con-
cluded on March 4, Campbell claimed his duties as Chairman of the Ways and
Means Committee kept him in Washington. In addition, one of his children
became ill and he thus stalled plans to leave immediately. Finally,
Representative David T. Disney of Ohio died in Washington, and Campbell
was asked to accompany the body to Cincinnati and attend the funeral. These
delays, he explained, diverted his attention from the contest and prevented him
from appearing at the sessions in either Dayton or Hamilton.60
Vallandigham addressed Campbell's allegations the very next day, remind-
ing the committee that he, and he alone, strictly adhered to the statute. He
claimed that Campbell's accusations attempted to present him as "unfair and
disingenuous." He insisted that his commission in Butler county used only
twenty-eight days to take testimony. Moreover, he accused Campbell of at-
tempting to obstruct the contest by refusing to accept his notices in
Washington. Finally, he noted that the statute did not require personal ap-
pearance or the presence of counsel at the depositions of the other party. The
only stipulation that the statute did make was that one party could not main-
tain two commissions simultaneously. Thus, he asked the committee to
deny Campbell's request because the sitting member was attempting to secure
more time due to Campbell's own "gross negligence." Since Campbell gath-
ered only two depositions in eight months, Vallandigham made a strong
The committee split along partisan lines, and the five Democrats issued a
59. Campbell to Committee on Elections, January 22, 1858, 5, ibid.
60. Ibid, 6.
61. Vallandigham to Committee of Elections, January 23, 1858, 14, ibid.
24 OHIO HISTORY
majority report declining Campbell's request. They stated that House mem-
bership did not excuse a representative from compliance to the law, confirm-
ing Vallandigham's interpretation. They also argued that Vallandigham's no-
tices did not prevent Campbell's lawyers from opening commissions in
Dayton. They asserted that if a party in a contested election should desire
more time after Congress had closed for the year, that party had the right to
notify the other party and take the additional testimony. Once Congress re-
convened in December, the member could petition the committee to have the
new evidence presented to the House. The committee ruled, however, that
Campbell waited too long to make his request: fifteen months had already
passed and over half the term of service expired. Another forty days would not
only prolong the contest, but could extend it to the next Congress which
would effectively invalidate Vallandigham's challenge.62
The minority, consisting of two Republicans and two Know-Nothings,
voted for an extension. They claimed that Vallandigham broke the House
statute by taking testimony in two different places at the same time and
agreed with Campbell that Vallandigham actually used seventy-one days in-
stead of sixty. They asserted that because Vallandigham turned down
Campbell's first request for an extension, the sitting member had no other
choice but to wait for the next session of Congress to request more time.
They recommended that both men be given another forty days to take testi-
Campbell's request to extend the contest yet another forty days brought into
question once again whether he took the contest seriously. He had sent
Vallandigham a notice of extension in April and informed him that he planned
to continue to take testimony with or without his approval. During the
eight-month interval, however, he secured only two affidavits, both taken at
the end of April. Then, after the formation of the committee, he gathered six
additional depositions from January 8 to January 13, 1858, and casually at-
tached them to his official request.64
Campbell's behavior is strange for someone who at one time hoped to be
President or Speaker of the House. Unlike Vallandigham, his preparation was
nonexistent. He did not line up any witnesses or instruct his lawyers to
properly interpret the law. His argument that his lawyers could not start tak-
ing testimony until Vallandigham finished questioning his witnesses was
weak since they eventually did take testimony at the same time as
Sometime during this process, the fire must have gone out in Campbell.
For years, he was known for his combativeness in the political arena. He
62. Majority Report, 2, ibid.
63. Minority Report, 3-4, ibid.
64. Miscellaneous depositions, 8-13, ibid.
"Contest MY seat sir!" 25
challenged Vallandigham to contest his seat, insisting that the Democrat
lacked the intelligence or courage to do so. This was perhaps the crux of his
problem. At first, Campbell recognized the rumors of a contest as a political
ploy with no support from voters in the district. Once the contest began,
however, he lost his assertiveness and gave Vallandigham's challenge little at-
tention. Campbell may have recognized early that the Democrats held a ma-
jority in the House and thus he had no chance of winning if the contest went
to the House floor. By procrastinating, he might delay a floor vote since ex-
tensions were common and recognized as precedent. He gambled that his po-
sition in the House would give him enough support to get one, but then lost
the gamble. When the committee refused his request, Campbell essentially
gave up and quietly awaited his doomed fate.
Vallandigham remarked on Campbell's peculiar lack of zeal, stating that the
"lowest degree of diligence" should have moved Campbell to present the addi-
tional depositions and extension request in December. Thus, he declared the
entire application an "after-thought."65 The application did seem like an af-
terthought, but Campbell made canny use of it. By filing an application for
extension, the committee had to publish his depositions which cited fraudu-
lent votes cast for Vallandigham, including ballots cast by two black men.66
During the first week of February, the committee chair, Thomas L. Harris
of Illinois, presented the reports of the committee to the House. Before call-
ing for a vote, Harris decided to open the floor to debate. He believed that
Campbell's request would set a precedent for future contested elections. Thus,
he wanted arguments for or against Campbell aired and put on record.67
The nine members of the Committee of Elections dominated the ensuing
debates. Party politics divided the House, as Republicans and Know-
Nothings attacked the Democrats. They pointed to the contested election in
Nebraska as further proof. In that case, the sitting member claimed business
affairs and a pleasure trip with friends caused him to miss the sixty-day dead-
line, and a bipartisan majority granted him an extension. Now, when the
Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee petitioned for
the same extension, the Democrats denied the application. Labeling the ac-
tion a double-standard, the Republicans and Know-Nothings accused the
Democrats of disregarding the merits of Campbell's request in order to expel a
prominent Republican and increase their current House majority.68
When pushed for an answer on the Nebraska charge, the Democrats dodged
the issue, stating that a notice "given under very peculiar circumstances"
compelled them to vote for the extension. In their opinion, Campbell's peti-
65. Vallandigham to Committee of Elections, January 23, 1858, ibid, 17.
66. Miscellaneous depositions, 8-13, ibid.
67. Congressional Globe, 35th Cong., 1st sess., February 3, 1858, 558-59.
68. Ibid, 559-60.
26 OHIO HISTORY
tion was different. They insisted that he did not act with "due diligence' in
pursuing the contest, but rather seemed to be striving for continuous delay to
avoid the impending House vote. Pointing to Campbell's letter daring
Vallandigham to contest his seat, the Democrats questioned Campbell's re-
solve. The Republicans claimed the Democrats were playing a game based on
party loyalty in which Democratic incumbents were granted extensions but
not members of the Grand Old Party. To corroborate their claim, they raised
the contested elections of two Democratic Indiana senators who were granted
unlimited time to gather additional testimony. Once again, the Democrats
ignored this contradiction.69
Elections committee member John A. Gilmer, a Know-Nothing from
North Carolina, decided to raise another issue to weaken southern support for
Vallandigham. He warned his southern brethren to be wary of Vallandigham,
for he had proof that Vallandigham, as a state representative, voted in favor of
allowing free blacks to testify against whites. Vallandigham, sitting in on
the debates, quickly jumped up and denied the charge, demanding the con-
gressman reveal his sources. The Democrats raised a point of order and a par-
tisan debate ensued. Harris finally had enough and called the House to a
The House voted on two resolutions which allowed members to vote for or
against each candidate. The first called for a forty-day extension for both can-
didates. Following party lines, the House defeated it, 113 to 98. The second
resolution, which denied Campbell's request, passed by a vote of 114 to 101.
The House was now ready to address the election.71
Once again, the House postponed the vote due to the sudden emergence of a
larger issue: the Lecompton Constitution. In February 1858, the Kansas pro-
slavery legislature submitted their territorial constitution for congressional
approval. Northerners rejected the document as a fraud since "freesoilers,"
who outnumbered Kansas Democrats two to one, did not attend the ratifying
convention in September 1857. The House now faced another regional vote
in which northern Democrats planned to join Republicans to defeat the bill.
Speculation arose that the northern coalition sought to delay a vote on the
contested election in order to keep Campbell's antislavery support. Moreover,
a Washington correspondent for the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that the
coalition secured a half dozen southern Know-Nothing votes on the condition
that northern Democrats vote against Vallandigham. Finally, on April 1, the
House voted on Lecompton and, with the help of northern Democrat and
southern Know-Nothing votes, defeated the proslavery document 120 to 112.72
69. Ibid, 564, 589.
70. Ibid, 586, 592.
71. Ibid, 595.
72. McPherson, 162-69: Dayton Daily Empire, March 30, 1858.
"Contest MY seat sir!" 27
Ohio Democrats were now uncertain as to who was favored in the contested
election. The Committee of Elections held the key to success because a
"majority" report in favor of either candidate would almost guarantee victory
in the House. In early March, a Philadelphia reporter predicted a
Vallandigham victory in the committee room, but a month later, the Dayton
Daily Empire doubted his prognostication. The Empire named Harris, the
northern Democratic chairman, as the deciding vote. During the Lecompton
debates, he was the leader of the anti-Lecompton forces in the House. In
January, he aligned himself with the other four Democrats in opposition to
Campbell. After the Lecompton vote, however, rumors spread that he might
vote against Vallandigham.73
The delay continued into May when the committee finally printed its report
on May 13. The nine-member committee again divided along party lines, but
this time the group presented three minority reports, denying both Campbell
and Vallandigham the coveted majority recommendation! The committee then
washed its hands of the affair and forced the House members to decide the elec-
tion without relying on a majority report as leverage.74 The first report was
issued by four of the five Democrats-three southerners and one northerner-
who declared Vallandigham the winner, 9,307 to 9,284.75 The
Republican/Know-Nothing coalition filed the second report. Their new total
left Campbell as the winner by a twenty vote majority, 9,326 to 9,306.76
The final report came from Thomas L. Harris. Possibly adhering to the ru-
mors of the Dayton newspapers, Harris refused to throw his support behind
Vallandigham and filed his own minority report. The committee chair argued
that neither candidate had effectively proven his case, and he felt that the cir-
cumstantial evidence would allow "party zeal" to sway the "hesitating judge-
ments" of representatives to vote the party line. To eliminate this question-
able tactic, he advocated that the House vacate the seat and return the election
back to the people of the Third District.77
A week later, the House finally voted on this perplexing issue. Again, the
committee members dominated the floor and the bitter debates. Maintaining
his uncharacteristically passive demeanor, Campbell did not speak on his own
behalf, but Vallandigham seized the opportunity to present his case and cam-
paigned vigorously for the southern vote. He cited a number of English and
American precedents on the use of hearsay testimony, and then challenged
73. Ibid, March 10, April 13, 1858; Johannsen, 604-605.
74. Ohio Contested Election, Report No. 380.
75. Ibid, 10-11. This group calculated new totals for both men, adding three votes to
Vallandigham's total while deducting fifteen votes. For Campbell, they added one and de-
76. Ibid, 20. They also calculated new vote totals, deducting fifteen votes from both while
adding three to Campbell and two to Vallandigham.
77. Ibid, 30-31.
28 OHIO HISTORY
those who viewed mulattos as citizens, asking them if they were willing to
accept them on the House floor "as your peers." After his speech, the House
exploded into more heated discussion. The Dred Scott decision had recently
been handed down by the Supreme Court and the issue of black citizenship
was still on every congressmen's mind. With congressmen ready to reargue
the merits of the case, Harris quickly rose to offer his comments and return
the debates to the issue at hand. He wanted to explain his minority report and
condemned Vallandigham's reliance upon hearsay testimony. In his opinion,
the testimony, of "circumstantial character," clouded his judgement. Filled
with rage, he lashed out at House members for allowing partisanship to gov-
ern their decision. He denounced the contested election as a vehicle to settle
election disputes, claiming that House members used the ensuing vote as a
test of party loyalty.78
Following Harris's outburst, the House voted. The first resolution asked
whether Campbell should retain his seat, and lost 116 to 92. The second
queried whether Vallandigham was entitled to the seat. (If he lost, the House
would then take up Harris' proposal.) This time the vote was close: nine
Democrats from Indiana, Illinois, New York, Tennessee, and Virginia sided
with Campbell, along with eight southern Know-Nothings. Six of these
Democrats and all eight of the southern nativists voted against the Lecompton
Constitution. The crossover vote was not enough, and Vallandigham was de-
clared the winner, 109 to 103. Campbell immediately vacated his seat and
Vallandigham served out his term until the close of the session on June 14,
1858. It had been a long, hard fight, but in the end, a contest worth pursu-
ing. In Ohio, the Democrats now closed the gap on the Republicans twelve
to nine. While in the House, the Democrats added to their majority and, more
importantly, ousted a powerful Republican and Know-Nothing leader.79
Four months later, in October 1858, the warring parties faced each other
again in congressional elections. In a year when Ohio Republicans regained
three seats from their Democratic foes, Vallandigham retained his in another
close race, 9,903 to 9,715.80 This time, Campbell allowed the results to
stand and retreated briefly into private life. A month after the election, Harris,
the man who refused to give either contestant the committee's majority rec-
ommendation, died in Springfield, Illinois, at the age of 42.81
The results of the House vote and the October elections of 1858 drastically
changed the political careers of both Campbell and Vallandigham. His career
seemingly over, Campbell left the Republican party and returned to his na-
78. Congressional Globe, 35th Cong., 1st sess., May 22, 1858, 2320, 2335-36.
79. Ibid, May 25, 1858, 2387-88; April 1, 1858, 1437-38. Harris voted against both Campbell
80. Smith, 84-85.
81. Biographical Directory of the American Congress 1774-1971, rev. ed. (1971), s.v.
"Harris, Thomas Langrell."
"Contest MY seat sir! " 29
tivist roots. During this period, he became restless and refused to make any
long-term commitments. In 1860, he supported the Constitutional Union
ticket of John Bell and Edward Everett. During the Civil War, he served as a
colonel in Ohio's Sixty-ninth Volunteer Regiment and as Provost Marshall
for the military governor of Tennessee, Andrew Johnson. After the war,
Campbell's political career revived. President Andrew Johnson appointed him
as minister to Mexico, but Campbell resigned his post within a year and was
elected to the Ohio state senate in 1869. He returned to the U.S. House of
Representatives in 1871, but this time as a Democrat. He served one term,
retired, and died in Hamilton on November 26, 1882.82
His victory over Campbell made Clement Vallandigham famous, and he
quickly gained prominence in the conservative wing of the Democratic party.
He won reelection in 1860 and supported Stephen A. Douglas for president.
During the Civil War, he continued to back states-rights positions and blamed
the war on Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans. He rose to a leadership
role among the Peace Democrats, or Copperheads, a northern faction of the
Democratic party opposed to the war, but in 1862, his district was gerryman-
dered and he lost his seat.83
A year later, he entered Ohio's 1863 gubernatorial race. During the cam-
paign, he publicly violated a Department of Ohio general order which forbade
the expression of sympathy for the enemy. The Union commander summar-
ily arrested Vallandigham, denied him a writ of habeas corpus, and sentenced
him to two years in a military prison. Revealing his dry sense of humor,
Lincoln commuted his sentence and banished Vallandigham to the
Confederacy. The South rejected him for his criticism of Jefferson Davis'
handling of the war and sent him to Canada. From there, he continued his
candidacy for governor, but his opponent trounced him 288,000 to 187,000.84
Hoping to return to the United States, he attempted to secure a writ of
habeas corpus through the Supreme Court. In a landmark decision, Ex Parte
Vallandigham, the judges ruled that they could not issue the writ in a military
case, so Vallandigham remained in exile. In June 1864, he secretly returned
to the United States and attended the August Democratic convention in
Chicago. Lincoln wisely ignored his return, and Vallandigham went back to
Ohio. After the war, the Democrats abandoned him and he resumed his law
practice. As a lawyer, he continued his eccentric ways and, in 1871, acci-
dently shot himself to death while demonstrating to a jury how a man may
have killed himself. Thus, his reckless nature produced an ironic and bloody
82. Van Horne, 220: Biographical Directory, s.v. "Campbell, Lewis Davis."
83. Historical Times lllustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War of the Civil War, (1986), s.v.
"Vallandigham, Clement Laird."
30 OHIO HISTORY
ending to one of the most controversial figures in American and Ohio poli-
Although the Ohio Contested Election of 1856 followed the turbulent po-
litical realignments of the antebellum period, the final vote by the House
came as no surprise. The Democrats still held a numerical advantage in
Congress and always had the potential to unite against Republican resolu-
tions. Thomas L. Harris's desertion along with a few other northern
Democrats provided no real benefit for Campbell. As a political entity, the
Democrats were still united and thus used the floor vote as a show of party
strength. In addition, the question of black suffrage once again raised the
specter of the Dred Scott decision and compelled many to use the vote as a
reaffirmation of the Taney Court ruling. For Lewis D. Campbell, the defeat
forced him out of politics soon after his moment of glory in 1854, when he
and his fellow Know-Nothings crushed the Democrats at the polls.
Although he took the offensive early to defend his seat in the House,
Campbell passively acquiesced to Vallandigham's challenge once the contest
started. For unknown reasons, he practically handed his seat to the Democrat.
His arguments requesting an extension were weak and revealed a lack of moti-
vation. More than likely, he realized early that the final vote would follow
party lines and he thus took up a strategy of delay. This strategy, however,
proved futile as hungry Democrats aggressively challenged Campbell and re-
gained another congressional seat in their triumphant comeback of 1856. In
the end, the long and brutal contest reflected the tumultuous climate of the pe-
riod in which political careers hinged on the ability to adjust to rapidly chang-
ing political and social trends of the antebellum period. For, as Campbell
himself discovered, antebellum politicians never knew when a partisan major-
ity was patiently waiting to trump a winning margin of nineteen.
The contest also displayed the growing animosity toward racial equality
among southern politicians and the emerging regional split within the
Democrat party. To garner sympathy for his challenge, Vallandigham bla-
tantly raised the issue of black citizenship and continued to emphasize this
theme during the final House debates. By arguing in favor of mulatto suf-
frage, the Republicans tried to distance themselves from southern Democrats
and establish their party as a viable northern alternative to proslavery factions.
Although partisanship won the day in May 1858, the seeds of disunion
emerged when some northern Democrats sided with Campbell. Two short
years later, regional differences over slavery and race divided the nation and in-
cited a bloody civil war, pushing both sides to a final resolution of this divi-
sive and controversial issue.