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Speech on the Copperhead Threat,
at the County Union Convention,
September 7, 1864, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania

 

     I come again to thank you for this renewed evidence of your continued confidence.  The times are troublesome; the situation of a member of Congress is beset with difficulties, as well as with labor. He must guard the particular interests of his own district; still he must legislate as to promote the welfare of the whole Nation. The particular and general interests may sometimes seem to be in conflict; but when rightly understood and properly adjusted, they are in perfect harmony. Whatever conduces to the advantage of a whole Nation, is useful to every part of it. Whatever is useful to a part invigorates and strengthens the whole.

     Wise and wholesome legislation looks not only to the transient benefit of the present generation, but looks down through the ages to come to bestow the blessings of good government upon distant posterity. Whoever refuses to build upon a firm foundation, universal liberty to the whole human race, and for all time, is a faithless statesman.

    The time long predicted by the prophets of evil, and desired by the enemies of republican governments, when dissensions should arise in our midst which would test the stability of our form of government, has come. The result of the contest will prove the capacity of man for self-government, and his power to maintain freedom for all. If the rebels succeed – if the loyal States succumb and allow this Union to be dissolved, when the sublime ideas of our fathers, embodied in the Declaration of Independence, instead of being the offspring of profound wisdom and patriotism, will prove to be the “baseless fabric of a vision.” Shall this terrible catastrophe happen and bring darkness and despotism upon the human soul? There are those among us, even on this side of the rebel line, who propose to allow them to consummate this great crime. Some would allow it because it would give to a particular faction power, office, and patronage. For the temporary gratification of the love of power, and the enjoyment of plunder, they would plunge a nation into darkness, and a race into perpetual despotism. Others, with the hearts of tyrants within them, wish them success, lest all men should enjoy the rights of humanity, and become equal before the law. These men would make excellent satraps in Asia, or nobles in the dark kingdom of Dahomey, but can never make good citizens in a free republic.

    The friends of the rebels hope to delude the people by pretending to advocate peace. I know of no party in the North which is not in favor of peace, if it can be had on honorable terms. Peace, with the preservation of the Union, and the extinction of human bondage, is the wish of every republican. But peace with dishonor we scorn. He who would consent to peace with the dissolution of the Union and the re-establishment of Slavery, is a traitor to his country and a disgrace to his species.

    There are two classes of men who busy themselves in clamoring for peace, who greatly err, but in very unequal degrees. The one class urge the President to seek negotiations with the traitors, on the basis of the integrity of the Union. These are well meaning but foolish counsellors. The Confederate Congress have repeatedly declared that they will receive no propositions for peace which are not preceded by an acknowledgement of their independence and the dissolution of the Union. Their President continues to repeat it. Their Secretary of State, in a circular issued within the last ten days, emphatically proclaims it.

    To propose to negotiate, without adopting their basis, is insulting to them, and shows an anxious trembling cowardice which is disgraceful to its authors. It does great mischief. It discourages our loyal men, who are led to believe that there is an urgent necessity for so humiliating a course. It is to be hoped that such men will cast aside their disgraceful tremblings, seek moral courage for themselves and inspire courage into others.

    There is another class, commonly known as Copperheads, whose representatives, lately assembled at Chicago, whose clamor for peace is a moral crime and political treason.

    Knowing that the only terms upon which peace can be offered is the dissolution of the Union and the re-establishment of Slavery, they propose to disband our armies, and allow the rebels to build a government whose cornerstone shall be Slavery; to dash in pieces our glorious Union and dispose of its fragments as to them may seem best. Such men are traitors in heart, and would be traitors in action if they had the courage. These men ask you to elect a peaceable warrior. He is to bring peace about by allowing the rebels to have their own way. They shout peace! for the timid and rebel sympathizers, and cry Antietam! in hopes of touching whatever of the manliness and bravery there is still left in their party. They point to the battle which our brave soldiers won, notwithstanding blunders of their chiefs, that the blood of the unyielding may be stirred; and they conciliate Vallandigham and Wood by showing how gently their General allowed the beaten enemy to escape, lest he should destroy the power of “our Southern brethren.”

    Elect McClellan, and the Republic has ceased to exist. On its ruins will spring up numerous petty empires, whose future condition will be one of perpetual wars and of grinding Slavery. Re-elect the calm statesman who now presides over the nation, and he will lead you to an honorable peace and to permanent liberty. If this goal is to be reached through suffering and blood, remember that before the Lord permitted his chosen people to enter the Promised Land, he compelled them, for their sins, to pass through the Red Sea, and wander for forty years in the wilderness. When we shall have expiated our Great National sin, and purified the public heart, we also shall enter into the land, which, politically and materially, flows with milk and honey.

    When that day will arrive it is not for me to predict. It is in the keeping of an All-wise Power. I remember that when the Egyptian tyrant refused to emancipate his slaves, the Lord sent upon his kingdom plague after plague, and never discontinued them until he liberated his bondsmen. I know too that this people, though greatly chastised, have refused to break the bonds of oppression. At the last session of Congress a proposition to amend the Constitution so as to abolish Slavery was acted on. It failed because the majority required by the Constitution could not be had. I know this was but the action of a minority, but it was the action of our Government, for which the whole nation is responsible. As I believe that a just God punishes national as well as individual sins, I cannot see how we can expect that the Destroying Angel will stay his hand until we obey the high behest “to let the oppressed go free.” Every Republican voted in favor of that measure; every vote against it came from the peace McClellan Copperheads. They are responsible for the continued, misery and bloodshed which this nation shall endure. Every dollar of debt which must be laid upon the people; every life which shall be lost in battle; must rest heavy on the souls of that cruel minority that prevented the breaking of the chains of Slavery. I regret that Mr. Pendleton was one of that number. They are guilty of the crime, but all must share the punishment.

    Those who advise negotiation for peace on the simple basis of the integrity of the Union, thereby advise the re-enslavement of a people and offend all good beings among men and angels.

 

 

 

 

    

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