Copperhead Democrats Then and Now

By Spring of 1864, the American Civil War seemed to be going no place to many of the American people. The Federal government had undergone a sting of tragic defeats and pyrrhic victories and to the average citizen, the war seemed no closer to ending than it had four years ago, when it started.

The Democratic party saw an opportunity for victory in the 1864 Presidential election by exploiting this war-weariness that had spread throughout the country. Their rhetoric against the Lincoln administration, and its handling of the war had become more and more heated as the war dragged on. Wisconsin newspaper editor Marcus M. Pomeroy called Lincoln “fungus from the corrupt womb of bigotry and fanaticism” and a “worse tyrant and more inhuman butcher than has existed since the days of Nero… The man who votes for Lincoln now is a traitor and murderer…. And if he is elected to misgovern for another four years, we trust some bold hand will pierce his heart with dagger point for the public good.” Others claimed that Lincoln “prefers to tear a half million more white men from their homes … to continue a war for the abolition of slavery rather than entertain a proposition for the return of the seceded states with their old rights.” Never mind that no such proposition existed; Democratic newspapers convinced thousands of Northern voters that the South would have accepted such a proposition if Lincoln had not made abolition a condition of peace. The New York Herald, an independent but Democratic-leaning paper with the country’s largest circulation, opined that Lincoln had signed his political death warrant by making abandonment of slavery “a ne plus ultra in the terms of peace. Edward G. Roddy, owner of the Uniontown, Pennsylvania, Genius of Liberty was an intensely partisan Democrat who saw blacks as an inferior race and Abraham Lincoln as a despot and dunce. Although he supported the war effort in 1861 he blamed abolitionists for prolonging the war and denounced the government as increasingly despotic

On August 31, the Democrats nominated McClellan for president and a Peace Democrat for vice-president on a platform that declared, “After four years of failure to restore the Union by the experiment of war … [we] demand that immediate efforts be made for a cessation of hostilities, with a view to an ultimate convention of the states, or other peaceable means, to the end that, at the earliest practicable moment, peace may be restored on the basis of the Federal Union.” This last phrase was little more than window dressing; almost everyone recognized that an appeal by the U.S. government for an armistice would be tantamount to confessing defeat. McClellan himself recognized this, and his letter accepting the nomination made peace negotiations contingent on prior agreement to reunion as a basis for such negotiations.

The Presidential election of 1864 was a marvel. There were some who suggested to President Lincoln that the election should be cancelled, considering the fact that the nation was in the middle of a fight for its survival, and no honest election could be held under those circumstances. Eleven of the 30 States would be, in fact, absent from the election due to their secession from the Union, and the legitimacy of the election itself was in question.

Nevertheless, the election went forward and, due to the heavy vote from the soldiers in the field, Lincoln was overwhelmingly reelected for his second term. Six months later, the war was over, with an overwhelming capitulation and surrender by the Confederacy. The Democratic predictions of doom, and their efforts to champion retreat and defeat were thwarted by the victory that Lincoln, Grant and Sherman understood all along to be inevitable, once the power of the United States were concentrated on an achievable goal.

The Democrats have not changed. They have opposed every war we have ever fought. They opposed our entry into WWI. They opposed our entry into WWII, an opposition which forced the President into subterfuge to aid our allies. They opposed our entrance into Korea. In at least one war, Vietnam, they managed to turn a certain victory into a drastic defeat.

In this war, Iraq, they have turned the level of rhetoric up to the point of hysteria. Charles Krautehammer has even coined a phrase to describe this phenomenon, Bush Derangement Syndrome (BDS), defined as “the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency — nay — the very existence of George W. Bush.: BDS is evidenced by those who suggest that the President was smart enough, and clever enough, to subvert the electoral process to be elected, and then re-elected, despite the will of the people, and also too stupid to not be controlled by a cabal lead by Vice President Dick Cheney, who has conspired to lead us into war in order to increase the profits of his co-conspirators in industry. The President has been accused of foreknowledge of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, of conspiring to ensure that minority citizens die during a major hurricane catastrophe in New Orleans, of tricking Congress into voting to support our current war in Iraq, of subverting the Constitution, of attempting to foist a fundamentalist Christian regime on the American People and aiding and abetting the destruction of the human race, by opposing panicky efforts to stop an imaginary threat to our environment.

Quite a record for a stupid man, one would think. It goes further, though. Apparently the President is also willing to send thousands of American troops into a futile effort to spread (GASP!) Democracy through the world. Only the Democrats understand that the rest of the world is too stupid to understand or accept Democracy. The effort in Iraq was doomed, from the start, and the only cure for the stupidity/devious brilliance of the President is to abandon our commitments and bring our troops home, presumably so the troops can march down Broadway in New York City to celebrate another defeat for American arms!

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