Essay: DIVIDED WE STAND: The Unpopularity of U.S. Wars

  • Share
  • Read Later

(3 of 6)

In Congress, Abe Lincoln proposed the famous "Spot Resolution," demanding that the Administration specify the exact spot on which Mexico had, in the words of Folk's war message, "shed American blood upon the American soil." Lincoln, like many other Americans, suspected that U.S. troops had provoked the incident inside Mexico. The war was particularly unpopular among U.S. intellectuals. Henry Thoreau spent a night in the Concord jail for refusing to pay his state poll tax. Next day, he returned to Walden Pond to write his famous essay on Civil Disobedience. Ralph Waldo Emerson warned that "the U.S. will conquer Mexico, but it will be as the man swallows the arsenic, which brings him down in turn. Mexico will poison us."

Civil War

In 1861, Abraham Lincoln—so recently a peace partisan himself—ironically was plagued by peace movements that all but destroyed the militancy of his cause. Northern foes of the war, contemptuously labeled "Copperheads" after the snake that strikes without warning, held a mass meeting in the President's own hometown of Springfield, Ill. They resolved that "a further offensive prosecution of this war tends to subvert the Constitution and the Government." Secret societies were formed on both sides. Southerners who called themselves "Heroes of America" gave clandestine support to the Union; Northerners organized as "Knights of the Golden Circle" recruited troops for the Confederacy and distributed arms to Lincoln's foes. The Northern press was widely critical. The Laconia, N.H. Democrat went so far as to urge that Lincoln and the Constitution be discarded, and that the Democratic Northern states combine with the Southern "rather than have the country divided and ruined to carry out the self-righteous nigger abstractions of a set of ignorant and hypocritical fanatics."

In Ohio, Illinois and Indiana, Copperheads were so active that in 1863 one military commander in the area, General Ambrose E. Burnside, issued a general order: "The habit of declaring sympathy for the enemy will no longer be tolerated. It must be distinctly understood that treason, expressed or implied, will not be tolerated in this department." Ohio's Congressman Clement Vallandigham remained defiant. In a speech addressed to "King Lincoln," he cried: "Defeat, debt, taxation, sepulchers: these are your trophies! In vain the people gave you treasure and the soldier yielded up his life. The war for the Union is a most bloody and costly failure. What has been our success? Let the dead at Fredericksburg and Vicksburg answer." Vallandigham was arrested, tried and convicted of disloyalty. The authorities were ready to imprison him when Lincoln intervened and softened the sentence to deportation to the South. With habeas corpus suspended, thousands of other dissenters were arrested.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6