Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln's Opponents in the North

Jennifer L. Weber offers the first full-length portrait of this powerful faction to appear in almost half a century. Weber reveals how the Copperheads came perilously close to defeating Lincoln and ending the war in the South's favor. Indeed, by the summer of 1864, they had grown so strong that Lincoln himself thought his defeat was "exceedingly likely." Passionate defenders of civil liberties and states' rights--and often virulent racists--the Copperheads deplored Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus, his liberal interpretation of the Constitution, and, most vehemently, his moves toward emancipation. Weber reveals how the battle over these issues grew so heated, particularly in the Midwest, that Northerners feared their neighbors would destroy their livestock, burn their homes, even kill them. Indeed, some Copperheads went so far as to conspire with Confederate forces and plan armed insurrections, including an attempt to launch an uprising during the Democratic convention in Chicago. Finally, Weber illuminates the role of Union soldiers, who, furious at Copperhead attacks on the war effort, moved firmly behind Lincoln. The soldiers' support for the embattled president kept him alive politically in his darkest times, and their victories on the battlefield secured his re-election.

Disgraced after the war, the Copperheads melted into the shadows of history. Here, Jennifer L. Weber illuminates their dramatic story. Packed with sharp observation and fresh interpretations, Copperheads is a gripping account of the fierce dissent that Lincoln called "the fire in the rear."

A well reviewed book.


  1. I noticed that in the reviews of Dred Scott's Revenge, Judge Napolitano was citing many of the Copperhead arguments against Lincoln, which kind of makes one wonder where the Republicans stand today on racial issues, since the Copperheads were notoriously racist, railing against the Emancipation Proclamation and a Constitutional Amendment banning slavery.

    But, Napolitano is not the first to hold up Copperhead arguments against Lincoln. Irving Stone went so far as to comment Horatio Seymour as "one of America's greatest statesmen," and considering the NY governor as the "most logical figure in the country to bind the wounds of the war and wipe out the bitterness..."



  2. One of the more interesting very brief asides Vowell tells is about the appointment of RB Hayes, in exchange for ending reconstruction.

    She sees the compromise of 1877 as one of the origins of the modern Republican party, as the party began to compromise over race after Lincoln.

    She also says of Hayes in an aside: "Hard to believe that the candidate who lost the popular vote could actually become the president of the United States. Luckily, that kind of travesty never happened again."

  3. The amazing thing is how quickly it took to restore pretty much everything back to its pre-Civil War order, although it wasn't called "slavery" anymore. In 12 short years, Reconstruction was buried, thanks to the 1876 election, and the Redeemers began what took about 25 additional years to virtually rub out any vestigial remains of Reconstructionin the South. Of course, Andrew Johnson and US Grant didn't do the Radical Republicans any favors either, fighting against (Johnson) and rolling back (Grant) much of the legislation the Radical Republicans pushed through Congress.

    It really is sad, because this lack of commitment allowed the South, as well as the rest of the country to re-entrench itself, passing a number of state laws that essentially nullified the new constitutional amendments. It would take 100 years to finally get rid of poll taxes, which states used effectively to freeze out black voters.

  4. Another broken record post -- sorry -- but that's why I'm always questioning the national and republican party commitment to emancipation and freedom generally when it comes to the war.