Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Real "Man without a Country"

Most people know him as "The Copperhead," the leader of the Democratic "peace" party during the Civil War. As a fiery, handsome Democratic congressman from Ohio, Clement Laird Vallandigham, was fairly untouchable. Republican President Lincoln was not likely to arrest a U.S. Congressman in 1863. But when Clement lost a close election and was an ordinary citizen, Lincoln's bully boy, General Burnside, had him arrested as a civilian and tried by a military tribunal. He was found guilty, and then the tribunal convened.

The appropriate penalty for a Northerner opposing the Civil War was, of course, death. But Clement was far too popular to kill, so he was shipped out of the U.S. to Confederate lines. The Confederates knew Clement wasn't one of theirs, so they told him, in effect, to get out of the way. Clement took his case to the Supreme Court where the justices weaseled out with circular reasoning that would only work well in a spring factory. But they did not set this conviction aside. (Many of our problems with Islamic prisoners today stem from this and similar cases during the Civil War).

Working his way into Canada, Clement decided to run for governor of Ohio. He did and was winning when Lincoln's group hatched a plan to de-rail his campaign right before the election. A minister named Hale was to write a story about a man who damned his country and was exiled for it. He and the chief editor of Atlantic Monthly, a man named Fields were to produce the story in an issue that was to come out just before the election. It was designed to embarrass Clement. The story was the famous "The Man Without a Country."

It appears that Hale did not get the story to Fields in time so it failed to appear until December, well after the election. It also appears that soldiers in Ohio from other states suddenly decided to vote in the Ohio election, perhaps on orders from above. Many more votes were cast in the election than there were voters that year, and Clement lost.

In fairness, readers should know that Clement was my first cousin, several times removed. But I did not make up the story. It has been often documented by others and is often carted out as a weird footnote on history. And President Lincoln did not focus solely on Clement; historians report that over thirteen thousand civilian men (mostly in Northern states) were tried by the same military tribunals and put in prison.


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Anonymous said...

Very interesting post and blog. I was thinking about Hale's story with the news of the Korean war deserter.