"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Clement Vallandigham

This portrait of Clement L. Vallandigham, from a wartime photograph, appeared in the New York Sun, April  6 1913, in a article entitled “Only Public Man Banished by Lincoln.”  A sub-title describes him as the “Most Troublesome of Copperheads in Civil War Times.”

Vallandigham's entry in Harper's Encyclopedia of United States History gives us a picture of this controversial figure:

Vallandigham, Clement Laird, legislator; born in New Lisbon, 0., July 29, 1820; was of Huguenot descent; studied at Jefferson College, Ohio; was principal of an academy at Snow Hill, Md.; and was admitted to the bar in 1842. In 1845-46 he was a member of the State legislature, and for ten years afterwards edited the Dayton Empire. An earnest Democratic politician, he was sent to Congress in 1857, in which body he was active until 1863, opposing all war measures of the government, and openly showing sympathy with the Confederates. His utterances proclaiming him to be an enemy of his country, he was arrested at his own house, near Dayton, May 4, 1863, under a military order, on a charge of " treasonable conduct." He was tried by a court-martial at Cincinnati, convicted, and sentenced to close confinement in a fortress for the remainder of the war. This sentence was modified by President Lincoln, who directed him to be sent within the Confederate lines, and, in the event of his returning without leave, to suffer the penalty prescribed by the court. On his release he went to Canada, and while there was the Democratic candidate for governor of Ohio in 1863, but was defeated by John Brough by 100,000 majority. He was permitted to return to his home, and was a member of the national Democratic conventions in Chicago in 1864 and in New York in 1868. While engaged in a suit in court in Lebanon, O., he was mortally wounded by a pistol which he was handling in explaining an alleged fact to the jury, and died there, June 17, 1871. -- Harper's Encyclopedia of United States History by Lossing and Wilson 1905, Volume 10 Page 2.

Like Edwin Stanton, Vallandigham was a Democrat at the outset of the Civil War. Vallendigham and Stanton were friends. Stanton lent Vallendigham $500 to take a law course. But when the war came, they parted ways over the issues of slavery and the legality of the war itself.  Vallandigham, a Peace Democrat, was pro-southern and pro-slavery, he opposed the war and the Lincoln administration. Stanton would become Lincoln's Secretary of War. 

Stanton and the Lincoln administration clamped down harshly on dissent during the Civil War. In 1863, General Burnside issued General Order #38 which said in part:
The habit of declaring sympathies for the enemy will no longer be tolerated in the department. Persons committing such offences will be at once arrested, with a view to being tried as above stated, or sent beyond our lines into the lines of their friends.

Vallandigham was arrested under this order and convicted by a military tribunal, led by James Madison Cutts

Arrest of C. L. Vallandigham, at Dayton, Ohio, May 5, 1863.

Wikipedia outlines the charges against him.

Declaring the present war "a wicked, cruel, and unnecessary war"; "a war not being waged for the preservation of the Union"; "a war for the purpose of crushing out liberty and erecting a despotism"; "a war for the freedom of the blacks and the enslavement of the whites"; stating "that if the Administration had so wished, the war could have been honorably terminated months ago"; that "peace might have been honorably obtained by listening to the proposed intermediation of France"; that "propositions by which the Northern States could be won back, and the South guaranteed their rights under the Constitution, had been rejected the day before the late battle of Fredericksburg, by Lincoln and his minions", meaning thereby the President of the United States, and those under him in authority; charging "that the Government of the United States was about to appoint military marshals in every district, to restrain the people of their liberties, to deprive them of their rights and privileges"; characterizing General Orders No. 38, from Headquarters Department of the Ohio, as "a base usurpation of arbitrary authority", inviting his hearers to resist the same, by saying, "the sooner the people inform the minions of usurped power that they will not submit to such restrictions upon their liberties, the better"; declaring "that he was at all times, and upon all occasions, resolved to do what he could to defeat the attempts now being made to build up a monarchy upon the ruins of our free government"; asserting "that he firmly believed, as he said six months ago, that the men in power are attempting to establish a despotism in this country, more cruel and more oppressive than ever existed before."
Vallandigham was sentenced to prison for the duration of the war. The Supreme Court ruled in Ex Parte Vallandigham that it had no power to interfere with a military commission.

Taking heat for this high-handed arrest, Lincoln commuted Vallandigham's sentence and had him expelled from the United States and delivered to Confederate lines. 

Mr. Vallandigham Delivered at The Lines to the Officer of the Rebel Picket-Guard
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, June 13, 1863, p. 189. -- Dickinson College.

 Harper's Weekly told the story of  the notorious Clement L. Vallandigham on June 6, 1863.

The confederates had no more use for Vallandigham than the union did and he eventually settled in Canada. He ran for governor of Ohio from Winsor Ontario but lost.  Here Vallandigham is shown growing like a weed among the Canada Thistles:

A song to the tune of "Maryland, My Maryland" entitled "The Name I Hear." appeared in 1863. And a parody of the parody entitled "Vallandigham Left  Out in the Cold" appeared in 1866. 

Vallandigham sneaked back into the U.S. on June 14th of 1864 and gave a speech at the Democratic Convention in Hamilton Ohio. The Lincoln administration made no further attempt to arrest Vallandigham.

After the war, Vallandigham pursued a successful law practice. His zealous advocacy led to his nearly comic death. His client, Thomas McGehean, was charged with murder during a bar-room brawl. Vallandigham set out to argue that the victim, Tom Myers, might have accidentally shot himself during the fight. One night in his hotel room, Vallandigham demonstrated his theory to fellow lawyers. Mistakenly using a loaded pistol, he accidentally, fatally, shot himself in the abdomen. The jury who were staying at the same hotel rushed into the room when they heard the shot. Vallandigham's case was proven; McGehean was found innocent.

Vallandigham appears to be more  famous, at present, for his manner of death than for his political views. Here's Legal Eagle on Vallandigham:


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