The term “Copperhead” is commonly used to describe a pro-South Northerner during the War Between the States, though it is more accurately defined as Northern critics of Lincoln who opposed his unwarranted seizure of power and war against Americans in the South. In early May, 1863, Ohio politician Clement Vallandigham was arrested for referring to the president as “King Lincoln” and criticizing his policies. As he was deported to the South by Lincoln, Vallandigham declared himself loyal to the United States and encouraged Southern authorities to return to Union with the Northern States. In his “Limits of Dissent, Clement Vallandigham and the Civil War,” historian Frank L. Klement wrote then of “nationalist historians” who resist criticism of Lincoln and avoid critical analysis of Lincoln’s administration.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
“A Republican Smear Campaign”
“Klement saw it as no laughing matter the way Vallandigham and other outspoken northern critics of the Lincoln administration were treated by the Northern government during the conflict, and by historians afterward.
To the very end of his career, Klement remained firmly entrenched in his belief that the alleged Copperhead threat in the North during the Civil War was little more than a Republican smear campaign, a smoke screen that the Northern government used to discredit harmless civilians who strongly opposed the Lincoln administration’s seemingly blatant disregard for civil liberties.
He took aim at those historians who for years had spat venom at any critic of the Lincoln administration . . . [and stated that] the academic world clung too tightly to the work of scholars who chose to further inflate the Lincoln legend. In 1952 Klement told the historical community that “nationalism as a force and apotheosis as a process have tempted writers to laud Abraham Lincoln and to denounce his enemies.”
In a reflective mood forty-two years later, his message remained unchanged . . . “Nationalist historians really praise that which has happened and glorify that which has happened. When you deal with Lincoln’s critics and the Copperheads and Democratic politicians, you’re going down a road that is not appreciated by nationalist historians.”
Rather than that of a Northerner who sympathized with the South during the Civil War, the definition of a Copperhead should, he believed, be changed to simply “a Democratic critic of the Lincoln administration,” which supported his contention that Copperheads were sectionalists by nature, not necessarily pro-Southern.
Mark E. Neely, Jr . . . recently prophesied that the reigning interpretations of the Civil War years are on the verge of breaking down “or at least of very considerable revision . . .” The new wave of revisionism . . . also extends into the areas relating to Lincoln’s Democratic critics. Klement anticipated this trend in 1984 when he alluded to himself in the third person by writing that “revisionists have challenged the contentions of earlier historians who believed the Civil War to be ordained, inevitable, and irrepressible.”
(The Limits of Dissent, Clement L. Vallandigham & the Civil War, Frank L. Klement, Fordham University Press, 1998, excerpt from preface)