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American History Series: As the Civil War Grows, So Does Opposition

By 1863, two years into the fighting, many northerners did not support the war policies of President Abraham Lincoln. Transcript of radio broadcast:

Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English.

By eighteen sixty-three, America's northern states and southern states had been fighting a bitter civil war for two years. Both sides felt the pressure of the costly struggle.

The South was beginning to suffer from a lack of supplies and men for its armies. The North was beginning to suffer from a lack of fighting spirit.

This week in our series, Larry West and Tony Riggs describe an anti-war movement that was growing.


Many Americans in northern states did not support the war policies of Union President Abraham Lincoln. Some said openly that they did not care who won the war. They just wanted to be left alone.

Coal miners in Pennsylvania protested against a law drafting men into the Union army. They rioted and attacked officials who tried to take them. Soldiers were sent to Pennsylvania to put down the riots.

Farmers in Ohio also protested. They refused to be drafted. They attacked soldiers who were sent to arrest them. The worst anti-war riots, however, took place in New York City.


On July thirteenth, eighteen sixty-three, a crowd formed outside a New York draft office. Inside, army officials were choosing the names of men who would be taken into the army.

Each name was written on a separate piece of paper. The papers were mixed together in a big box. The officials then began to remove the papers one at a time. They made a list of the names. These were the men of New York who must go off to fight.

On that day, however, the list was never completed. The crowd outside the draft office became louder. There were shouts of protest against the draft and against the Civil War.


Suddenly, a stone crashed through the office window. Then another. And another. The army officials escaped. But a policeman inside could not get away. The rioters beat him badly. Then they set fire to the draft office and several buildings nearby. The riot spread across the city.

The riot began as a political protest against the draft. Poor men opposed the draft, because it permitted rich men to escape military service.

The law said a man who was drafted could stay out of the army by doing one of two things. He could pay the government three hundred dollars. Or he could pay another man to serve in his place. If a drafted man could not do either thing, then he must join the army or be shot as a deserter.



In the wartime economy of the North, prices were rising much faster than wages. Even a man with a good job had a difficult time feeding his family. It was impossible for him to pay the government three hundred dollars or pay someone else to serve for him in the army.

Poor men protested against the law. They said it was unfair. "It's a rich man's war," they cried, "but a poor man's fight. The rich man's money against the poor man's blood."


There was something else that deeply troubled working men in the North. Anti-war activists told them that the war was not being fought to save the Union, but to free Negro slaves.

The activists said the freed Negroes would move north and take jobs away from whites. Many men believed this. They said they would not fight.


Then, on July thirteenth, the angers and fears of working men in New York exploded. Their attack on the draft office that day was just the beginning. The violence lasted three days.

The rioters beat many policemen to death. They beat, burned, and hanged every Negro they could find. They also killed many whites who tried to protect the Negroes. By the time soldiers stopped the rioting, one thousand persons had been killed.


The leaders of the anti-war movement in the north were members of the opposition Democratic Party. They wore on their coats a copper penny showing the head of a Native American Indian. This gave them the name "Copperheads." One important Copperhead was a former congressman from Ohio, Clement Vallandigham.

Vallandigham made a speech criticizing the Union government. He was charged with violating a military law that banned such criticism. He was arrested.


The former congressman was taken before a military court. He objected. He said if he had broken a law, he should be tried by a civilian court. He demanded this as his constitutional right.

The military judges rejected his argument. They found him guilty. And they sentenced him to remain in a Union military prison until the end of the war.

People throughout the north were angry. Many did not support Clement Vallandigham's ideas. But they supported his right to speak freely.

President Lincoln could approve or reject Vallandigham's sentence. His decision would show which issue was more important: the citizens' right to free speech, or national security.


Lincoln was a good politician and a smart lawyer. He found an unexpected way to deal with the problem. He neither approved nor rejected the sentence. He changed it.

Lincoln ordered Vallandigham to be turned over to the Confederate army. Then he explained that Vallandigham had not been arrested for criticizing the government.

"His arrest was made," Lincoln said, "because he was trying -- with some success -- to prevent men from entering the army. He was urging soldiers already in the army to leave it. Mister Vallandigham was not arrested because he was damaging the political chances of the administration, or the interests of the commanding general, but because he was damaging the army, upon which the life of the nation depends."

The Confederates welcomed the anti-war leader. They helped him get to Canada. Vallandigham continued his anti-war campaign from there.



President Lincoln was troubled by the anti-war movement and violent opposition to the draft laws. He felt he had to make citizens understand why such laws were necessary. He prepared a speech which explained his thoughts.

"There can be no army without men," Lincoln wrote. "Men can be had only with their permission or without it. We can no longer get enough men willingly, so there is a draft. If you dispute this, and declare that men are still willing to serve in the army, then prove it by volunteering yourselves in large numbers. Then I will give up the draft."


Lincoln never gave this speech. He felt it was too direct. Instead, he gave a different kind of speech to the people of the Union.

"You want peace," Lincoln said, "and you blame me that we do not have it. But how can we get it. There are but three ways possible."

"First, to put down the southern rebellion by force of arms. This I am trying to do. Are you for it? If you are, then we are so far agreed. If you are not for it, a second way is to give up the Union. I am against this. Are you for the Union? If you are, you should say so clearly. If you are not for force, and not for dissolving the Union, there only remains some kind of compromise. I do not believe any such compromise is possible."


Politicians urged President Lincoln to investigate the anti-war protests in New York to learn who had led them. He refused.

Lincoln believed that starting an investigation would be like lighting a barrel of gunpowder. He already was fighting a bitter struggle against rebels in the South. He did not want to fight the people of the North, too.

Southern leaders were pleased with the Copperheads' anti-war movement. Confederate General Robert E. Lee saw it as a sign of weakness in the northern war effort. He also saw it as an opening for a military victory.

That will be our story next week.



Our program was written by Frank Beardsley. The narrators were Larry West and Tony Riggs. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs are online, along with historical images, at Join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION - an American history series in VOA Special English.


This is program #108 of THE MAKING OF A NATION