An Act of Tyranny

Constitutional Violation: Amendment One. Freedom of Speech DeniedVallandigham Imprisoned in Ohio.

“From the beginning to the end of these proceedings law and justice were set at naught;…the President should have rescinded the sentence and released Vallandigham:…a large portion of the Republican press of the east condemned Vallandigham’s arrest and the tribunal before which he was arraigned.”[1] James Ford Rhodes, historian and industrialist from Ohio

Clement L. Vallandigham was born July 29, 1820, in New Lisbon, Ohio. He was Scots-Irish on his mother’s side (Laird) and Flemish Huguenot on his father’s side (Van Landegham). Vallandigham was educated at New Lisbon Academy and Jefferson College in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. He built a respected law practice and became a popular political speaker. His qualifications helped open the door for his election in 1845 as the Ohio State legislature’s youngest member. Vallandigham admired Southern character and honor; there was a personal aspect as well because the South (Stafford, Virginia) was part of his family lineage. He opposed a strong central government and slavery, but felt the Federal government should not interfere where it existed.

Vallandigham was a Jeffersonian States’ Rights Democrat who believed in interpreting the Constitution as it was written. He publicly denounced the Radical Republicans and opposed the 1857 Tariff. In a February 24, 1859, address to the House of Representatives he stated his belief that the legislation “was peculiarly a manufacturer’s tariff and a highly protective tariff too…He then referred to the manner in which the interests of his constituents and the farmers, especially the wool-growers of Ohio, had been disregarded in the Act of 1857.”[2] Somewhat ironically, the 1857 agreement gave some degree of relief to the South and ruffled the feathers of Northern industrialists who almost immediately lobbied for an increase in tariff rates.[3]

Lincoln As He Really Was Charles T. Pace Check Amazon for Pricing. Comments by Vallandigham during the early stages of the war likely put him on the wrong side of the Lincoln Administration. In a February 3, 1862, speech delivered on the floor of the House of Representatives, Vallandigham criticized the Lincoln Administration’s Legal Tender Act. From an economic and historical standpoint, he saw the creation of a fiat money system, i.e., greenbacks backed by nothing, as a risky maneuver relative to helping finance the war on the South. Vallandigham accurately predicted this Act would result in ”… high prices, extravagant speculation, enormous sudden fortunes, immense fictitious wealth, general insanity. These belong to all inordinate and excessive paper issues.”[4]

During the war, Vallandigham served as U.S. Representative from Ohio, which was part of a military district that included Indiana and Illinois. The district was under the command of Ambrose Burnside, a Union general with a record of mediocrity as a field commander. Vallandigham was labeled as a Peace Democrat and a Copperhead as he espoused the importance of individual liberty, constitutional government, and the dangers of increased centralization. His vocal criticism of the war against the South made many enemies.

Vallandigham was troubled by the Lincoln Administration’s claim of changing the goal of the war from preservation of the Union to suddenly being a quest to end slavery. He voiced his concerns to Congress on January 14, 1863:

The war for the Union is in our hands, a most bloody and costly failure. The President confessed it on the September 22…War for the Union was abandoned; war for the Negro openly began…I trust I am not “discouraging enlistments.” If I am, then arrest Lincoln and Stanton and Halleck… But can you draft again? …Ask Massachusetts… Ask not Ohio, nor the Northwest. She thought you were in earnest and gave you all, all-more than you demanded… But ought this war to continue? I answer, No, not a day, not an hour. What then? Shall we separate? Again I answer no, No, no, no! What then? …Stop fighting. Make an armistice. Accept at once the friendly foreign mediation and begin the work of reunion, we shall yet escape.[5]

Vallandigham recognized military failure as a catalyst for this diversionary political tactic, arising on the heels of several Northern military defeats and increasing apprehension that a foreign power (beyond the Vatican’s vague affirmation) might officially recognize the Confederacy. According to Illinois politician and U.S. soldier John A. Logan (aka Black Jack Logan), there was a gathering at Springfield, Illinois, (Lincoln’s home) of almost 100,000 Vallandigham, Anti-War, Peace Democrats voicing their opposition to the invasion of the South and calling for an end to the war.

On April 13, 1863, Burnside issued General Order Number 38, which stated that free speech would not be tolerated if that speech were in defense of the South. Burnside felt Lincoln’s September 24, 1862, suspension of habeas corpus gave him the authority to issue his order. The Real Lincoln: A Ne... Dilorenzo, Thomas J. Best Price: $4.25 Buy New $7.48 (as of 07:05 EST - Details)

During a May 1, 1863, speech, Vallandigham described the Union war as “wicked, cruel, and unnecessary.”[6] He went on to say this “was a ‘war for the purpose of crushing out liberty and erecting a despotism’”[7] and he called for Lincoln’s removal from office. Unknown to Vallandigham, Burnside had sent two captains, dressed in civilian clothing, to Mount Vernon, Ohio, to listen to this speech where he ridiculed the unconstitutional activities of “King Lincoln”[8] and publicly denounced Burnside’s order. In retaliation for his comments, officers surrounded, and then broke into Vallandigham’s house at 2:00 A.M. on May 5th. He was arrested and sent to face trial before a military commission. Vallandigham was charged with violation of Burnside’s General Order Number 38, by expressing disloyal opinions that weakened government efforts to suppress a rebellion. He was also accused of illegally discouraging military enlistments. Though military commissions are not designed to handle civilians and the regular civilian courts were in operation at the time, Vallandigham was placed before a military tribunal (based on Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus). Trying a civilian in a military court typically indicates the verdict has been predetermined or as Daniel Webster, an opponent of such activities, stated, “military courts are organized to convict.”[9] Lincoln favored the use of military courts for civilians in such circumstances.

In response to the arrest, on May 6, 1863, a crowd of 500-600 gathered at the newspaper office of the pro-Republican Dayton Journal; Vallandigham had lived in Dayton since 1847. They took over the building and burned it to the ground. The fire spread “and all the property from the south end of the Phillips House to the middle of the square was destroyed. All the telegraph lines in the city were cut down and destroyed.”[10] It was also reported that the Xenia Road Bridge had been destroyed.

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