Copperhead: Words That Got a U.S. Congressman Deported

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Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham (D-Ohio) was the original American “whistleblower.” Serving as a member of Congress from Dayton, Ohio during the War to Prevent Southern Independence, his criticisms of the Lincoln regime earned him the reputation as the leader of the Democratic opposition. The Republican Party smeared him (and all other opponents as a “copperhead” (a.k.a. snake in the grass). On May 5, 1863, sixty-seven heavily-armed soldiers broke into his home in the middle of the night and dragged him off to a military prison. This was done without any due process, as Lincoln had long ago illegally suspended the writ of Habeas Corpus. He was said to be guilty of “discouraging enlistments” in the army with his criticisms of the Lincoln regime. A military order issued in the state of Ohio declared all such speech to be illegal, and military officers were to have dictatorial powers in deciding what kind of speech would be permitted there. All of this was of course done at the direction of Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln apparently wanted Northerners to believe that all such critics were spies and traitors, so Congressman Vallandigham was deported to the state of Tennessee and placed in the hands of a Confederate Army commander. The Confederates considered him to be an “enemy alien” and imprisoned him in Wilmington, North Carolina for a short time. Vallandigham was released and made his way via blockade runner to Canada, where he spent the rest of the war.

The words that got Congressman Vallandigham deported are found in Speeches, Arguments, Addresses and Letters of Clement L. Vallandigham, first published in 1864 and reprinted and for sale today at Amazon.com. Vallandigham’s first salvo against the Lincoln administration was a July 10, 1861 speech delivered on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives entitled “Executive Usurpation.” In the speech he condemned Lincoln for “the wicked and hazardous experiment of calling thirty millions of people into arms among themselves, without the counsel and authority of Congress.”

As for Lincoln’s newly-invented theory that the American union was never voluntary, and that the founding fathers supposedly understood that if any state seceded the government would have a “right” to invade that state, murder its citizens by the tens of thousands, and bomb and burn its cities and towns to a smoldering ruin (as was the policy of the Lincoln administration), Vallandigham gave the Congress a history lesson. “He [Lincoln] omits to tell us that secession and disunion had a New England origin, and began in Massachusetts, in 1804, at the time of the Louisiana Purchase; were revived by the Hartford [Secession] Convention in 1814; and culminated during the [War of 1812] in [New Englanders] sending Commissioners to Washington, to settle the terms for a peaceable separation of New England from the other States of the Union.”

Congressman Vallandigham described Lincoln’s first inaugural address as having been spoken “with the forked tongue and crooked counsel of the New York politician [New York politician Thurlow Weed having been Lincoln’s campaign manager], leaving thirty millions of people in doubt whether it meant peace or war.” He condemned the Republican Party for opposing “all conciliation and compromise” with the Southern states, and surmised that the reason for it was “the necessities of a party in the pangs of dissolution.” They wanted a war to rally the people around their disintegrating party.

But a “more compelling” cause of the war, said the Ohio congressman, was “the passage of an obscure, ill-considered, ill-digested, and unstatesmanlike high protectionist tariff act, commonly known as the ‘Morrill Tariff.’” At about the same time, he noted, the Confederate government had outlawed protectionist tariffs altogether in its new Constitution. “The result was as inevitable as the laws of trade are inexorable. Trade and commerce . . . began to look South . . . . Threatened thus with the loss of bot political power and wealth, or the repeal of the tariff, and, at last, of both, New England –and Pennsylvania . . . demanded, now coercion and civil war, with all its horrors . . .”

Republican Party newspapers from all throughout the North had been calling for the bombardment of Southern ports before any state seceded, and Lincoln literally threatened war and “invasion” of any state that declined to pay the newly-doubled (two days earlier) federal tariff tax in his first inaugural address. “Honest” Abe threatened war over tax collection, and kept his word.

Another hidden purpose of the war was to “overthrow the present form of Federal-republican government, and to establish a strong centralized government in its stead. Thus, Vallandigham charged that this was not just the effect of the war, but its primary objective all along. All of this was being done, he said, to “revive and restore the falling fortunes of the Republican Party.”

The congressman harshly condemned Lincoln’s unconstitutional, illegal, and dictatorial actions, especially the suspension of Habeas Corpus, waging war without the consent of Congress, the mass imprisonment of Northern political dissenters, censorship of the telegraph, and the shutting down of hundreds of opposition newspapers in the North. Such behavior, he said, “would have cost any English sovereign his head at any time within the last two hundred years.”

Congressman Vallandigham mocked Lincoln’s contention that “he is only preserving and protecting the Constitution” by destroying it. This, he said, is “the tyrant’s plea.” “The Constitution cannot be preserved by violating it.” It was “an offense to the intelligence” of Congress for Lincoln to argue that “gross and multiplied infractions of the Constitution and usurpations of power were done by the president . . . out of pure love and devotion to the Constitution.” [This of course is still part of the mantra of the neocons at the Claremont Institute, National Review, and elsewhere).

Vallandigham also understood that the Republican Party was using the war as an excuse to ram through Congress the old Hamiltonian mercantilist system of massive economic interventionism and corporate welfare. He described it as “national banks, bankrupt laws, a vast and permanent public debt, high tariffs, heavy direct taxation, enormous expenditure, gigantic and stupendous peculation . . . No more state lines, no more state governments, but a consolidated monarchy or vast centralized military despotism.” In today’s language all of this would be called “national greatness conservatism.”

Congressman Vallandigham would continue his public criticisms of the Lincoln administration for the next two years, before finally being deported. On December 23, 1861, he informed his congressional colleagues that, just as he had predicted, a high protectionist tariff could reduce tariff revenues by diminishing trade from abroad too severely. “I predicted that the result of increasing the duties would be a great . . . diminution of the importations, and by consequence of the revenue from customs.” But that of course is always the intent of protectionist tariffs – to cut off trade and competition from abroad, not to raise prodigious amounts of revenue.

On May 8, 1862 Vallandigham returned to the floor of the House of Representatives to draw sharp distinctions between the Democratic and Republican parties, which had become virtual opposites in their announced platforms. The Democrats differed from the Republicans in that they were in favor of: “The support of liberty as against power; of the people as against their agents and servants; and of State rights as against consolidation and centralized despotism a simple government; no public debt; low taxes; no high protectionist tariff; no general system of internal improvements [i.e. corporate welfare] by the Federal authority; no National Bank; hard money for the Federal public dues; no assumption of state debts; expansion of territory; self government for the Territories . . . ” Nothing could be further from the “national greatness conservatism” policies of the Lincoln administration. It is little wonder that Vallandigham was deported.

The congressman destroyed Lincoln’s argument that the American union was being “saved” by war by stating on August 2, 1862 that: “The president professes to think that the Union can be restored by arms. I do not. A Union founded on consent can never be cemented by force. This is the testimony of the Fathers.” On February 23, 1863, Vallandigham threw another rhetorical bomb at the administration by pointing out in another speech that the administration’s conscription law “is a confession that the people of the country are against this war. It is a solemn admission . . . that they will not voluntarily consent to wage it any longer.” Two weeks later, in a speech in New York City, Vallandigham was met with loud cheers when he declared that “instead of crushing out the rebellion,” the “effort has been to crush out the spirit of liberty” in the Northern states.

Six weeks before his imprisonment and deportation Vallandigham made some remarks at a March 21, 1863 meeting in Hamilton, Ohio, that must have been he last straw for the Lincoln dictatorship. The dictatorship had issued yet another military “general order” (General Order Number 15) – this time one that condemned the private ownership of firearms as “unnecessary, impolitic, and dangerous” and “a violation of civil law” as defined by the military authorites then occupying Ohio. “Are we a conquered province governed by a military proconsul?”, Vallandigham asked, “And has it come to this, that the Constitution is now suspended by a military General Order? “Yes” would have been the appropriate and obvious answer.

Congresman Clement L. Vallandiham was deported by the Lincoln dictatorship because every word of his eloquent critiques of their tyranny and his defenses of constitutional liberty was true. Every word and every speech disproved the false propaganda lines invented by the Republican Party to “justify” its power – that the Constitution must be first destroyed in order to save it; that the voluntary union of the founders could be “saved” by mass murdering hundreds of thousands of citizens who no longer consented to being governed by Washington, D.C.; that high tariffs, high taxes, out-of-control government spending, and stupendous public debt would cause prosperity; that corporate welfare was good for taxpayers; that a national bank run by politicians was in the public interest, etc., etc. All of these lies are still repeated ad nauseam today under the rubric of “Lincoln scholarship.” It is no mere coincidence that so many of those who still repeat these hoary government propaganda tales are also busy defending the spying and prying police state.

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