Lincoln’s Method of Cleaning House


Arrest of Clement Vallandigham

Clement Vallandigham apparently never did anything unless he would be remembered for it. His memorable death while defending a client in a courtroom has already been chronicled on these pages. (You can read all about it here.) Years before this dubious claim to fame, he had already made a name for himself by getting on President Abraham Lincoln’s bad side.

Vallandigham served as a congressman from the state of Ohio from 1858 to 1863. He made a name for himself as an agitator, and made speeches from the floor of the House of Representatives denouncing Lincoln’s policies. He referred to the President as “King Lincoln,” declared that the Civil War was a “wicked, cruel, and unnecessary war,” and said that the primary purpose of the war was to sacrifice the liberty of all Americans.

Narrowly losing reelection in 1862, he continued to give voice to the anti-war movement, making the same kinds of remarks at every opportunity.  On May 1, 1863 Vallandigham spoke at Mount Vernon, Ohio, denouncing the President’s war policies. Four days later he was arrested and charged with violating General Order Number 38, issued by General Ambrose Burnside, which stated:

The habit of declaring sympathy for the enemy will not be allowed…. Persons committing such offenses will be at once arrested with a view of being tried… or sent beyond our lines into the lines of their friends. It must be understood that treason, expressed or implied, will not be tolerated….

Vallandigham was promptly tried and found guilty. President Lincoln was reluctant to keep a “wily agitator” around — even if he was in custody, so he had him delivered to the Confederate States of America, along with a message that said, in effect, “We don’t want him — so here you go.”

As it turns out, the South wasn’t overly enamored with having Vallandigham around either. Confederate President Jefferson Davis sent him to Wilmington, North Carolina, where he was held for a time as an “alien enemy.”

Finally allowed to leave the South, but under orders not to return to the North, Vallandigham made his way to Canada, where he declared himself a candidate for the governorship of Ohio. The Ohio Democrats nominated him at their convention by a vote of 411 to 11, and Vallandigham set to work campaigning for the job — from a hotel room in Windsor, Canada. He lost the election by a margin of 288,374 to 187,492.

Eventually he was allowed to return to the United States. He tried to return to politics, but was unsuccessful, thus necessitating his return to the practice of law, and ultimately his untimely death, as documented here.

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