Copperhead (politics)

The Copperheads were a vocal faction of Democrats located in the Northern United States of the Union who opposed the American Civil War, wanting an immediate peace settlement with the Confederates. Republicans started calling antiwar Democrats "Copperheads", likening them to the venomous snake. The Peace Democrats accepted the label, reinterpreting the copper "head" as the likeness of Liberty, which they cut from copper pennies and proudly wore as badges.

They comprised the more extreme wing of the "Peace Democrats" and were often informally called "Butternuts" (for the color of the Confederate uniforms). Two of the more famous Copperheads were Democratic congressmen from Ohio: Clement L. Vallandigham and Alexander Long. Republican prosecutors accused some leaders of treason in a series of trials in 1864.

Copperheadism was a highly contentious, grassroots movement, strongest in the area just north of the Ohio River, as well as some urban ethnic wards. Some historians have argued it represented a traditionalistic element alarmed at the rapid modernization of society sponsored by the Republican Party, and looked back to Jacksonian Democracy for inspiration. Weber (2006) argues that the Copperheads damaged the Union war effort by fighting the draft, encouraging desertion, and forming conspiracies, but other historians say the draft was in disrepute and that the Republicans greatly exaggerated the conspiracies for partisan reasons. Historians agree that the Copperheads' goal of restoring the Union with slavery was naive and impractical, for the Confederates refused to consider giving up their independence. The Copperheads became a major target of the Union (Republican) party in the 1864 presidential election. Copperhead support increased when Union armies were doing poorly, and decreased when they won great victories. After the fall of Atlanta in September 1864, military success seemed assured, and Copperheadism collapsed.

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American History

Political History

The Civil War and Reconstruction (1860-1877)

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