Copperhead Grand Carnival, 1863

Satirical broadside from Ohio Memory, 1863.
Satirical broadside from Ohio Memory, 1863.

Happy Fourth of July to all of our Ohio Memory visitors out there! Today we are highlighting a bit of history connected with this date from over a century and a half ago–namely a flyer advertising a satirical “Grand Butternut DEMON-stration” being fictitiously thrown in Marietta, Ohio, by the Peace Democrats or Copperheads, as they were more frequently known during this time period.

Full flyer for the fictitious Copperheads "Grand Carnival," via Ohio Memory.
Full flyer for the fictitious Copperheads “Grand Carnival,” via Ohio Memory.

This subset of Northern Democrats supported the right of the Confederacy to secede, staunchly criticized President Lincoln, and was opposed to the fight to end slavery. Many saw the poor performance of Union troops against the Confederacy early in the war as a compelling reason to negotiate with the South, thereby rendering the sacrifices of Union soldiers in vain. Contention between the war’s supporters and the Copperheads was fierce, and the group was widely seen as reprehensible traitors. The term “Copperhead” comes from the imagery of the Peace Democrats as venomous snakes who poisoned the Northern cause and threatened the Union, and the flyer additionally characterizes the group as drunks, “jackasses,” demons, and “brethren and colaborers in iniquity.” Talk about partisanship!

This broadside, which was apparently printed and distributed by supporters of the Union cause, advertises a variety of attractions at the imaginary celebration, including those political figures who will “positively be present, if sober.” Also mentioned is Clement Vallandigham, who was “invited, but owing to untoward circumstances, will positively not be present.”

Vallandigham (1820-1871) was born in Lisbon, Ohio, and built his reputation as an attorney, newspaperman, and politician. He was a leader of the Copperhead movement, and made a famous political speech on Mt. Vernon’s public square on May 1, 1863, for which he was later arrested and tried for treason by a military court. The case led to his banishment to the South, although Vallandigham re-entered the United States through Canada in 1864 and was not arrested. Presumably these are the “untoward circumstances” alluded to on the flyer.

We hope you’ll take a look at this historic document to learn a bit more about this interesting time in America’s past, and reflect this Independence Day on how our history has made us the country we are today. Have a Glorious Fourth, from all of us here at Ohio Memory!

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