A rare and unlisted Civil War “Copperhead” propaganda
In the 1860s, the Copperheads, also known as Peace Democrats, were a faction of Democrats in the Union who opposed the American Civil War and wanted an immediate peace settlement with the Confederates.
Republicans started calling anti-war Democrats “Copperheads”, after the eastern copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix), a species of venomous snake. Those Democrats accepted the label, reinterpreting the copper “head” as the likeness of Liberty, which they cut from Liberty Head large cent coins and proudly wore as badges. By contrast, Democratic supporters of the war were called War Democrats. Notable Copperheads included two Democratic Congressmen from Ohio: Clement L. Vallandigham and Alexander Long. Republican prosecutors accused some prominent Copperheads of treason in a series of trials in 1864.
Copperheadism was a highly contentious grassroots movement. It had its strongest base in the area just north of the Ohio River as well as in some urban ethnic wards. Historians such as Wood Gray, Jennifer Weber and Kenneth M. Stampp have argued that it represented a traditionalistic element alarmed at the rapid modernization of society sponsored by the Republican Party and that it looked back to Jacksonian democracy for inspiration. Weber argues that the Copperheads damaged the Union war effort by opposing conscription, encouraging desertion, and forming conspiracies, but other historians say that the draft was already in disrepute and that the Republicans greatly exaggerated the conspiracies for partisan reasons.
Historians such as Gray and Weber argue that the Copperheads were inflexibly rooted in the past and were naive about the refusal of the Confederates to return to the Union. Convinced that the Republicans were ruining the traditional world they loved, they were obstructionistic partisans. In turn, the Copperheads became a major target of the National Union Party in the 1864 presidential election, where they were used to discredit the main Democratic candidates.
Copperhead support increased when Union armies did poorly and decreased when they won great victories. After the fall of Atlanta in September 1864, Union military success seemed assured and Copperheadism collapsed.