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The Limits of Dissent

The Limits of Dissent: Clement L. Vallandigham and the Civil War

Frank L. Klement
Copyright Date: 1970
Pages: 376
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130jkj2
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    The Limits of Dissent
    Book Description:

    Every American war has brought conflict over the extent to which national security will permit protesters to exercise their constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression. The most famous case was that of Clement L. Vallandigham, the passionate critic of Lincoln's Civil War policies and one of the most controversial figure in the nation's history. In the great crisis of his time, he insisted that no circumstance, even war, could deprive a citizen of his right to oppose government policy freely and openly.

    The consequence was a furor which shook the nation's legislative halls and filled the press with vituperation. The ultimate fate for Vallandigham was arrest, imprisonment, and exile. The burning issues raised by his case remain largely unresolved today. Mr. Klement follows the tragic irony of Vallandigham's career and reassesses the man and history's judgment of him. After his death, "Valiant Val'' became a symbol of the dissenter in wartime whose case continues to have relevance in American democracy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6374-1
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-2)

    No figure of the Civil War era was more controversial than Clement L. Vallandigham. Republican party editors and orators denounced and detested him as a minion of Jeff Davis and a traitor. Self-styled “War Democrats” believed him devoid of patriotism and devoted to self-interest, playing a partisan fiddle while Rome burned. Most Midwestern Democrats, on the other hand, considered him their spokesman, able to put their thoughts, hopes, and fears into words. These Midwesterners, whether yeomen farmers of the backwoods area or workingmen of the cities, viewed him as their champion and endorsed his arguments against emancipation, his defense of...

  5. 1 VALLANDIGHAM AND JOHN BROWN: A STUDY IN CONTRASTS
    (pp. 3-17)

    Brilliant sunshine greeted the west-bound Baltimore & Ohio train as it reached the red brick depot in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, at high noon on October 19, 1859. Many of the passengers alighted, some to stretch their legs in a stroll around the station, others to wait for a connecting train. Clement Laird Vallandigham, a second-term congressman from Dayton, Ohio, on his way home from Washington, was one of those who stepped down to the platform at the railroad junction. Natural beauty surrounded him. The town, located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, overlooked a picturesque gorge through which...

  6. 2 VALLANDIGHAM AND DOUGLAS: AN EVOLVING ALLIANCE
    (pp. 18-37)

    Although Clement L. Vallandigham and Stephen A. Douglas held similar views on most issues, they were slow to become allies. Both had supported Lewis Cass, the Democratic candidate for president in the election of 1848, and both seemed disposed to accept the “Cass doctrine”—that residents in a territory have the right to choose their own “domestic institutions”—as a means to lessen debate over slavery in Congress. Both opposed the Wilmot Proviso and both favored the Compromise of 1850—Douglas had been chief architect of the latter while Vallandigham tried to rally grass-roots support for the controversial measure. For...

  7. 3 CAMPAIGNING FOR DOUGLAS
    (pp. 38-46)

    Clement L. Vallandigham fretted in his Washington office in late June 1860 as he tried to transform the National Democratic Campaign Committee from a nonentity into an effective agency. As chairman of that committee, he had most of the responsibility for its activities. He was troubled because his committee lacked the money it needed, because Douglas’s chances of gaining the presidency were slim, and because he was anxious to get home to Dayton.

    Friends in Dayton had delayed the date of the Douglas ratification meeting until “Valiant Val” could get home from Washington to speak at the affair, scheduled for...

  8. 4 EFFORTS AT COMPROMISE
    (pp. 47-60)

    Republicans seemed to have real reason to celebrate the results of the November 1860 elections. Many had feared that no candidate would receive a majority of the electoral vote. Lincoln’s chance of being selected by the House of Representatives would have been practically nil, for only a minority in that body bore the Republican party label. Even the most optimistic prophets in the party did not predict such an overwhelming number of electoral votes, especially since their candidate polled only 39.9 percent of the popular vote. Ironically, Douglas, who received the second largest popular vote, came in fourth in the...

  9. 5 AT THE CROSSROADS
    (pp. 61-71)

    A wary sun peeked over the horizon on April 12, 1861, its rays barely able to penetrate the smoke hanging over the Confederate batteries firing on Fort Sumter. Later that morning Major Robert Anderson, commanding the unfinished island fortress, hauled down the United States flag and ordered the white flag of surrender to take its place.

    The news of Fort Sumter’s surrender flashed over the telegraph wires, and a tidal wave of patriotism engulfed the North. Republican editors and politicians demanded revenge for the insult to the American flag, and many leading Democrats added their voices to the call for...

  10. 6 “WORSE THAN A JUDAS”
    (pp. 72-86)

    The Fourth of July 1861 dawned bright and clear in Washington. A gentle breeze teased the flags which bedecked buildings and flagpoles, and the pleasant weather brought many of the city’s residents and visitors into the streets.

    Most of the congressmen, waiting for the opening of the Thirty-seventh Congress at noon, took to the streets to watch the parade and to attend the morning program. They saw President Lincoln and other notables sitting on a canopied platform erected between the White House and the street. They watched a dozen bands play martial music and twenty-six regiments of infantry march up...

  11. 7 GADFLY
    (pp. 87-101)

    Lincoln’s friends and foes alike found his message to Congress of December 1, 1861, disappointing. Abolitionists especially felt frustrated because the president failed to endorse emancipation. His suggestion that the United States recognize “the Negro republic” of Haiti was but “a tub thrown to the Abolition whale.”¹ His failure to say anything about theTrentaffair upset Americans afflicted with Anglophobia, especially the Irish-Americans. In fact, most of the important issues of the day were not even mentined.²

    Democrats, without even trying, found much to criticize in Lincoln’s message. Many, including Vallandigham, did not intend to vote for any measure...

  12. 8 DEFEATING THE DISSENTER
    (pp. 102-115)

    Heartened by the resurgence of the Democratic party, as revealed at the state convention, C.L.V. was eager to begin his campaign for reelection. Yet he knew that the odds were against him because earlier that year a Republican-dominated state legislature had redrawn district lines, dropping Preble County from the Third District and adding Warren, with the express purpose of defeating him.¹ Preble County held about an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, whereas Warren was strong Republican country. Most of its voters (at least three-fourths) had been Whigs and the antislavery movement had prospered there. Since Vallandigham had gained reelection...

  13. 9 APOSTLE FOR PEACE
    (pp. 116-137)

    The final session of the Thirty-seventh Congress convened at noon on Monday, December 1, 1862. Vallandigham sat at his desk, smiling at friends and foes. “Old Thad” Stevens, the fiery radical whip who bore his seventy winters well, hobbled down the aisle. The smiling face of Schuyler Colfax beamed at his friends, nodded to his enemies. The sturdy form of Elihu B. Washburne, reputed to be in the confidence of President Lincoln, cast a long shadow, even at noontime. John P. Hickman, the Pennsylvanian whom Vallandigham had twice bested in House encounters, fumed at his desk, awaiting a chance for...

  14. 10 SEEKING OFFICE AND MARTYRDOM
    (pp. 138-155)

    Clement L. Vallandigham was never one to sit in a corner and daydream while others played games or directed affairs. He was essentially a man of action, one who enjoyed argumentation, controversy, and challenge. He had endless confidence in his own ability, and he raised his sights as time passed. He liked attention and he liked the spotlight. He gained great satisfaction in developing rapport with an audience and applause was essential to his ego. Politics enamored him, making him prisoner and patron. He looked forward to the excitement of an election campaign. He was Sir Galahad, entering the lists...

  15. 11 ARREST AND TRIAL
    (pp. 156-172)

    Rumors that Vallandigham would be arrested had made the rounds of Dayton for more than a year. As early as October 1861, some Dayton Republicans had suggested it to silence his “dastardly influence.”¹ Several Republicans revived the idea after his gala homecoming of March 13, 1863. The rumors became rather routine in the days that followed, prompting friends to offer to stand watch and foil attempts to seize him. Vallandigham waived the kind offers, for he needed notoriety to bolster his sagging political fortunes.

    On the evening of May 4 Vallandigham retired early. He had returned to Dayton from another...

  16. 12 LINCOLN VS. VALLANDIGHAM: CONTENTION FOR PUBLIC OPINION
    (pp. 173-189)

    Abraham Lincoln and Clement L. Vallandigham had several things in common. Both were successful lawyers possessing the typical barrister’s high regard for property rights and law and order. Both served their political apprenticeships in the arena of state politics; Lincoln served four terms in the state legislature, Vallandigharn but two. Both served in Congress, Lincoln one term and Vallandigham three. Both cultivated their political ambitions; neither could resist the siren song of “Dame Politics.” Political campaigns exhilarated both, for they found matching wits with clever and capable antagonists a stimulating challenge. Both possessed the ability to develop rapport with an...

  17. 13 A PRISONER BECOMES AN EXILE
    (pp. 190-201)

    General Burnside disapproved of President Lincoln’s change of sentence for Vallandigham from imprisonment to exile. But when his protests came to naught, he reluctantly took steps to convey his famous prisoner to Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans, commanding the Army of the Cumberland. Burnside asked Captain Alexander M. Pennock of the Mississippi Squadron to lend him one of the gunboats tied to the Cincinnati docks. Since Rosecrans had asked Burnside to effect the transfer with “the greatest secrecy,” lest the prisoner be shot by some “lawless person,”¹ Captain Pennock was given no reason for the loan of a gunboat. It...

  18. 14 UNWELCOME GUEST: VALLANDIGHAM IN DIXIE
    (pp. 202-212)

    The presence of Clement L. Vallandigham in Dixie proved embarrassing to both General Bragg and Jefferson Davis. Since Southerners were fighting for their independence, they could not welcome with open arms a man who wanted compromise and reunion. He was truly an unwelcome guest, yet Southern newspapers tried to squeeze propaganda value out of his presence.

    Bragg accepted Vallandigham’s presence as afait accompli,and dutifully took responsibility for not turning back the Union detail affecting the transfer. He also felt obligated to be a gracious host in the Southern tradition. When Vallandigham visited Bragg’s headquarters on the morning of...

  19. 15 ASYLUM IN CANADA
    (pp. 213-228)

    Clement L. Vallandigham’s plans were now clear, even if seemingly insurmountable barriers stood in the way. He intended to go to Canada, secure housing near Niagara Falls, and renew his campaign for the governorship of Ohio.

    He had to wait several days before a Halifax-bound steamer came into St. George’s harbor, Bermuda. Time hung heavy on the exile’s hands, for he was most anxious to get on with his campaign. Every day that passed was a day lost. Finally, on July 2, Vallandigham boarded theHarriet Pinckney, bound for Halifax with 600 bales of cotton.

    While theHarriet Pinckneyplowed...

  20. ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. None)
  21. 16 THE GUBERNATORIAL CAMPAIGN OF 1863
    (pp. 229-256)

    The Ohio gubernatorial campaign of 1863 was clothed in irony and contrasts. A popular reaction had put Vallandigham at the head of the Democratic ticket despite the opposition of most party leaders, whereas the nomination of John Brough was carefully contrived by Republican wire-pullers, who bowed to expediency and ignored the grass-roots sentiment in their party. It pitted a candidate in exile, unable to contribute much to the contest, against an able stump-speaker and a hearty campaigner. It matched a well-read if intransigent theorist against a very practical man capable of changing his mind or trimming his sails. In a...

  22. 17 POLITICAL MANEUVERING AND VALLANDIGHAM’S RETURN
    (pp. 257-278)

    The closing months of 1863 were lonely ones for Vallandigham. His defeat in the October 13 elections had wounded his pride and tested his belief that time would vindicate him. The election returns also slammed the door on his hopes to return to Ohio triumphant and vindicated. The Canadian press lost interest in him, for he was no longer an important émigré. When the disheartened Ohioan looked out of the window of his hotel suite, he could see theU.S.S. Michigan,still serving as a grim reminder that military and naval authority could be used to keep him in exile....

  23. 18 THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION AND THE ELECTION OF 1864
    (pp. 279-296)

    Democrats had every reason to be optimistic during the dog days of August 1864. Union battle losses from January to August stunned the North, nurtured both the peace crusade and defeatism, and gave Democrats new rays of hope. Secretary of State Seward candidly told Lincoln that he could not be reelected, and others close to the president expressed the same fear. Greeley, whose views changed with his moods, headed an abortive Republican movement to shove Lincoln aside and put a prominent general in his stead on the presidential ticket. Caught up in the gloom surrounding him, Lincoln wrote that famous...

  24. 19 STORMY PETREL OF THE POSTWAR YEARS
    (pp. 297-313)

    Lee’s surrender and Lincoln’s assassination did not bring an end to the Civil War era. The fruits of the war appeared on the mangled tree of reconstruction as the country tried to solve problems arising from the fratricidal conflict. Clement L. Vallandigham was as controversial a figure during the reconstruction era as he had been during the war years. His efforts to attain vindication and a seat in the United States Senate were adversely affected by his wartime record and the Republican practice of “waving the bloody shirt.” Personal animosities which had developed during the war years plagued him during...

  25. 20 IN RETROSPECT
    (pp. 314-324)

    Clement L. Vallandigham, like most controversial persons, was a complex individual who could fit no single mold. Although he was a conservative in thought and action most of the time, he occasionally spoke like a radical or a reactionary.

    Certainly his contemporaries regarded his defiance of General Burnside as a radical act. He used radical means (arrest and martyrdom) to bolster his sagging political fortunes in 1863. As a gadfly in the Thirty-seventh Congress, he made some radical statements and even introduced a resolution calling for the arrest of President Lincoln if the rights of citizens continued to be violated....

  26. Bibliographical Essay
    (pp. 325-334)
  27. INDEX
    (pp. 335-351)