Copperheads (politics)

From Academic Kids

The Copperheads were a group of Northern Democrats who opposed the American Civil War, wanting an immediate peace settlement with the Confederates. They were also called Peace Democrats. The most famous Copperhead was Clement L. Vallandigham, who was a serious thorn in President Lincoln's side.


The Copperhead agenda

The Copperheads opposed emancipation of American slaves, formed groups to persuade Union soldiers to desert, and helped Confederate prisoners of war escape. The name Copperheads was given to them by Republicans and may have derived from the venomous snake (the Copperhead) that strikes without warning or may have been a reference to the copper liberty-head coins which many wore as badges.

Copperheads opposed turning the Civil War into a total war to destroy the South and restore the Union. They sometimes met with Confederates, aiming at restoring peace. Greatly benefited by the Copperheads, the Confederacy encouraged their activities whenever possible.

Treatment in the Union

As war opponents, they were suspected of disloyalty, and Lincoln often had them arrested. In summer 1864, Ulysses S. Grant was bogged down in the Siege of Petersburg and William Tecumseh Sherman was making little progress in Georgia. At this moment, during midterm election in Lincoln's home state of Kentucky, Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. The Democrats still swept the July 1864 election in Kentucky.

Strengths and decline

The Copperheads were strongest in Irish Catholic groups in the eastern Pennsylvania coal country and German Catholic areas of Wisconsin. Poor Catholics were often anti-war, expecting to lose jobs to newly-freed slaves. The group was also strong in border areas. They sometimes carried signs with such slogans as "The Constitution As It Is, The Union As It Was" or, more offensively, "We won't fight to free the nigger."

Every Union defeat such as the Battle of Chancellorsville led to louder calls from the Copperheads. Given the widely perceived ineptness of the Union leadership through much of the war, they had ample ammunition. After the spectacular victory at the Battle of Atlanta in the fall of 1864, however, and with the end of Grant's dug-in siege of Petersburg in sight, the Copperheads declined in influence.

See also

The Confederates had their own discontents who opposed the war and supported re-union with the North. These movements were particularly strong in mountainous areas of the South (where there were few slaves) and some border areas; one such organization was the Red Strings.



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