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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Part I. History Of Abolitionist Clement Vallandigham
Part II. Controversial Politician Faces Trial, Exile And Eventual Death.

Dallas Bogan on 4 September 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Part I. History Of Abolitionist Clement Vallandigham

The Miami Valley is so rich in history that one can almost sense the degree of importance within its confines. The capsule of time has been so well preserved that, with a little digging, subject matters of all kinds seem to appear as if by magic. One of these grand subjects is that of Daytonian Clement L. Vallandigham, famed for his Copperhead and abolitionist role during the Civil War period of 1861-1865.
The Vallandigham family can be traced back to the Huguenots, on the paternal side, and to the Scotch-Irish on the maternal side. The ancestors of Clement L. Vallandigham arrived in Stafford Co., Va., in 1690; spelling of the family name was at this time "Van Lendeghem." A son, who had become a landholder in Fairfax County, changed the family name to the present.
Clement's father, Clement, Sr., was born in Allegheny Co., Pa., and was an old school Presbyterian clergyman. He emigrated in 1807 to Ohio, making New Lisbon, Columbiana Co., his home.
The elder Clement became pastor of a struggling church of his faith, preaching until a permanent house of worship could be provided. His salary lacked monetarily to support his family, a wife and four sons, and so he established a classical school in his own home.
Of his four sons, only Clement Jr. gained national fame. He was a mere infant when his father settled in New Lisbon. Here he grew to school age, and then as a young man he attended Jefferson College at Canonsburg, Pa., where he graduated.

A Young Lawyer

He was admitted to the bar and embarked upon the vocation of law at New Lisbon. In those days law and politics went hand-in- hand, and in just a short time Vallandigham ran for and was elected to a seat in the Ohio Legislature from Columbiana County.
He was the youngest member of the House and quickly became the leader of the Democratic Party. His singular vote cast against the repeal of the "Black Laws" tended to submit this question to popular vote.
This act was his first stand against the slavery controversy. His rebellious attitude was indeed out of place and it brought forth a public outcry unheard of in early Ohio.

Residence in Dayton

Vallandigham escaped the violent controversy and moved to Dayton, Ohio in 1847, and for years resided in a house on the west side of Ludlow St., near Monument Ave.
He purchased a portion of the old newspaper the "Western Empire," assumed the editorship and, at the same time, continued the law profession. In his address to the public concerning his newspaper enterprise he said: "We will support the constitution of the United States in its whole integrity, protect and defend the union, maintain the doctrine of strict construction and stand fast to the doctrine of state rights."
He failed in his editorship of the newspaper. His own views of slavery stood out like a sore thumb, and, in a location that was noticeably unfavorable to abolition, his perspective became timeworn. His love of politics took precedence over the newspaper business.

Love of Politics

He sought the Democratic nomination for Ohio Lieutenant Governor in 1852, but was soundly defeated by William Medill.
He was nominated four years later from this district of Congress. His competitor was Col. Lewis D. Campbell, known as "The Butler County Pony."
Campbell was proclaimed the winner, but Vallandigham contested the outcome and was declared the victor. He continued in this capacity until March 1863, having been defeated for reelection the previous year by Gen. Robert C. Schenck, of Franklin.
Vallandigham's service in Congress was seen as most qualified, however, notice was circulated that he was a bitter opponent of the War of the Rebellion.

Abolitionist Views

He returned to Dayton and continued his speechmaking, his rhetoric consisting of strict abolitionist views.
He instantly became a blustery, flighty sort of person, with the eyes of the nation focused upon him. The Union leaders were at a loss as how to end the war, let alone win it, and Vallandigham certainly didn't help the cause.
He was stirring up President Lincoln with his stand on suspension of the war at any expense, and was considered a thorn in the side of the President.
President Lincoln appointed General Ambrose Burnside commander of the military department of Ohio. The General had heard of Vallandigham and his anti-war tactics, and on April 13, 1864, he issued General Order No. 38, which read:
"All persons within our lines who commit acts for the benefit of the enemies of our country will be tried as spies or traitors, and if convicted will suffer death. The habit of declaring sympathy for the enemy will not be allowed in this department. Persons committing such offenses will be at once arrested, with a view to being tried as above stated or sent beyond our lines into the lines of their friends. It must be distinctly stated that treason expressed or implied will not be tolerated in this department."
Vallandigham was highly provoked and publicly denounced the order. He felt he had the constitutional right to discuss the policy of the administration in the treatment of the war.
In retaliation, he announced that he would speak at Mt. Vernon on Friday, May 10. His delivery was opened with an illusion to the American flag flying above his head. He declared that "that was the flag of the constitution; it has been rendered sacred by Democratic presidents."
In his speech he stated that the Union could have been saved if his proposals had been adopted. His claim was that he was "a freeman" and did not ask Governor Tod, Abraham Lincoln or Ambrose E. Burnside for his right to speak. His statement was: "My right to speak and my authority for so doing is higher than General Order No. 38 - my authority is General Order No. 1 - the Constitution."

Vallandigham Arrested

On the following Monday morning Gen. Burnside got wind of the Mt. Vernon calamity and immediately dispatched a company of the 115th Ohio, under the command of Captain Hutton, by special train to Dayton. Orders were issued to arrest Vallandigham and take him to Cincinnati, the mandate being carried out that night.
News traveled quickly and Dayton was turned upside down. Threats and counter-threats, street brawls, and other acts of violence, all determined to charge the atmosphere with tenseness as no other occasion had ever done in the quiet town.
On Main Street small groups gathered, each expressing their opinion. Hatred reigned among neighbors, especially from Vallandigham's followers.
Darkness fell and the cries of Fire! Fire! Fire! Rang out. Both friend and foe quickly scurried down town to see "The Journal," a Republican newspaper, in flames. This paper had fostered the cause of abolition and it had made a statement in Vallandigham's favor.
Questions arose as to how or who had set the fire. State guards stepped in and promptly scattered the unruly mob in front of the burning newspaper plant. (To be continued.)

Part II. Controversial Politician Faces Trial, Exile And Eventual Death.

Vallandigham's Trial and Removal

Vallandigham was arraigned before a court presided over by Gen. R.B. Potter. He was found guilty and was sentenced to close confinement during the remainder of the war, place of imprisonment, Fort Warren in Boston Harbor.
President Lincoln intervened and altered the plans. His decision was to transfer the prisoner through the Union lines into Confederate territory. Vallandigham was not to return to the northern states or the original sentence of imprisonment was to be imposed.
About 10 o'clock, on Sunday night of May 24, a special train transporting a detachment of the 13th Regular Infantry slipped into Murfreesboro, Tennessee, delivering a prisoner from the North.
Col. McKibben was placed in charge of the prisoner and quickly detailed a special guard to surround the transportation vehicle, a light spring wagon. The prisoner was placed beside the General and all started for the Confederate lines. Reaching the outposts, McKibben displayed a flag of truce. Within an hour the flag was returned, with Col. Webb of the 51st Alabama expressing his desire to receive the prisoner. Here Vallandigham was kept overnight, and later was conducted across the line and into the Confederate camp.
Gen. Rosecrans was the only one who knew of the prisoner's release to the Confederacy. Secrecy was maintained to a level that the thousands of Union soldiers knew nothing of the plot, and, if so, vengeance would have been theirs.
Vallandigham was to report to Gen. Bragg, whose army was stationed at Shelbyville, Tennessee. Our subject spent a week in seclusion, and was afterward directed to report on parole to Gen. Whiting at Wilmington, N.C. It seemed that the Confederate brass wanted no part of the Ohioan.

Passage to Canada and Run for Governor

From this post, on June 17th, Vallandigham took a blockade-runner for Nassau. He was now under the British flag and lost no time in boarding a steamer for Canada.
In the same month the Ohio Democratic convention met in Columbus and nominated Vallandigham for Governor. His banishment from his home country was strongly condemned, and an appeal was forwarded to President Lincoln asking that his release from exile be given.
The President refused this request. And so, Vallandigham remained in exile in Canada, which resulted in the most unusual race for Governor in the history of Ohio.
The Democratic Party was not exactly endorsing the abolitionist candidate; nevertheless, a date was set for the convention.
Immense processions, including men and women on horseback and in wagons, crowded the streets. Many walked to the proceedings. Bands were playing and flags were flying. Democratic delegations arrived in Dayton from every portion of the State. Transportation and housing facilities were especially scarce at the time.
Introductions went swiftly and the Radicals soon turned the meeting into a quandary. Hugh Jewett, from Muskingum, was placed in nomination before that of Vallandigham. But a delegate from that county rose and declared that his friends from that county were for the Daytonian.
Jewett controlled only a hand full of delegates, and so within a few moments, Vallandigham, "The Man in Exile," or "The Man Without a Country," had been unanimously acclaimed the Democratic Party's candidate for governor.
Through all these happenings Vallandigham still resided in Canada. An agreement was reached with his political accomplices, not the U.S. Government, that he would enter the country and make a speech at Lima.
However, with much discussion from the party, the Democratic candidate was disallowed access because of possible repercussions. Such a move would predictably bring riots and bloodshed throughout the State.
(Vallandigham had previously disguised himself and illegally crossed the border to Detroit in 1864, where he boarded a sleeping car, traveled to Hamilton, Oh., and appeared at a Democratic convention. Here he was chosen as a delegate to the national convention in Chicago.)
Vallandigham's opponent for governor was John Brough. And so, the hottest and most unusual political race in Ohio up to that time had begun.
The torchlight processions, the glee clubs, and many other organizations, all marched up and down the State saluting "The Man in Exile." As they marched they sang: "We'll rally 'round the flag, boys," shouting "Vallandigham and Freedom."
Most particularly in northwestern Ohio, the Democratic meetings were stimulating. It is estimated that 1000 men and women on horseback were all using their visibility to increase sentiment for their candidate. Excitement ran so high in many small towns that most businesses and social relations ceased between Democrats and Republicans. Fights and knockdowns were a continuous event.
During the heated governor's debate, the long, hard fought war between the North and South was coming to an end. The surviving soldiers from both sides were worn and weary, and nothing interested them more than traveling to their homes.
The states would become united again. The political Radicals saw these happenings and the Conservatives embraced their advantage.
Union soldier's absentee votes poured into the State of Ohio by the thousands. John Brough was elected governor, and the following year the war came to an end.

Vallandigham's Reign Ends

Vallandigham returned to Dayton and resumed the practice of law. He never fully recovered his old strength and drive in his work following his days of exile. He adjusted somewhat and went about his law business as though nothing had ever happened.
A man named McGehan to defend him in a murder trial at Lebanon engaged him, in 1871. McGehan, a well-to-do man, was accused of having slain a man named Myers.
The trial began at Lebanon June 6, 1871, Judge Leroy Pope presiding. Never before was seen in the Lebanon courthouse so great an array of legal talent.
The case had been in progress for several days. Following an afternoon court session, Vallandigham was in conversation with Gov. McBurney in the Governor's room at the old Lebanon House, now the Golden Lamb.
Vallandigham was demonstrating with a pistol how it might have been possible for Myers to have shot himself. As he proceeded to perform the theory that he proposed to use in his defense of McGehan, Vallandigham, not knowing the gun was loaded, placed the pistol against his side. Instantly there was a loud report. The onetime abolitionist instantly sank to the floor at Gov. McBurney's feet. The ball had entered the right side of the abdomen, passing between the ribs and lodging in a critical spot.
The wounded man retained his cheerfulness and seemed determined not to die. After three o'clock in the afternoon he suffered much, but not a groan or complaint escaped him. At 9:45 the next morning he was dead, at age 53. Three days later he was buried, and never before had so vast a multitude assembled at a funeral in Dayton. On the coffin plate was the inscription:

Clement Laird Vallandigham
Born July 29th, 1820
Died June 17, 1871.
[24 Apr 2007: year of death corrected from 1874]

And so passed the life of Ohio's most controversial resident and spectacular politician.

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