10. Clement L. Vallandigham, the Ohio Democracy, and Loyalty during the Civil War
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10 LEMENT L. Vallandigham, a leader of Ohio’s Democratic Party from the 1840s through the Civil War, remains as controversial a figure today as he was then. His contemporaries and historians ever since have debated his contribution to Ohio and U.S. history. They either praise or vilify him; few are neutral. Was he a patriot who fought unceasingly to protect the Constitution and preserve the Union, or was he a traitor to his region who, either naively or with intent, gave aid and comfort to the Union’s enemies—the southern rebels? Born July 29, 1820, in New Lisbon, Ohio, Vallandigham was the fifth of seven children born to Clement and Rebecca Vallandigham. The senior Vallandigham, a Presbyterian minister and school teacher, descended from Huguenots who had immigrated to Virginia in 1690. His mother’s Scotch-Irish family arrived in Pennsylvania in 1766, establishing themselves as farmers and merchants. Married in 1807, Vallandigham’s parents moved to Ohio to establish their new life. After being taught at home, Clement, at age seventeen, went off to Jefferson College in Pennsylvania—his father’s alma mater—to complete his education. While at college, Vallandigham distinguished himself as the school’s leading debater. But in January 1841, after a disagreement with the college’s president over Vallandigham’s staunch states’ rights interpretation of the Constitution, the young student demanded and received “an honorable dismission.” Leaving without graduating, he returned home, studied law with his oldest brother, and gained admittance to the Ohio bar in 1842. He then launched his career as an attorney and an ambitious politician who would become known for his spellbinding oratorical skills. 121 Clement L. Vallandigham, the Ohio Democracy, and Loyalty during the Civil War C ROBERTA SUE ALEXANDER  vantne_3rd_chap10.qxd 11/10/2003 3:29 PM Page 121 122 BUILDERS OF OHIO As a Jacksonian Democrat, Vallandigham believed that the Constitution created a permanent and more perfect Union, but a Union in which the central government’s powers were limited. He adhered to the philosophy that Thomas Jefferson and James Madison had spelled out in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions—states had an obligation to protect the Union from any encroachments by a central government that exceeded its delegated powers. Vallandigham’s other political inspiration came from Edmund Burke, whom he saw as advocating law and order, stability, and social peace. Vallandigham’s conservative, states’ rights philosophy combined with his “western” outlook to produce a hatred of New Englanders and their abolitionist views. Vallandigham explained: “I am a WESTERN MAN . . . ; and although still a United States man with United States principles, yet within and subordinate to the Constitution, am wholly devoted to Western interests.” He believed that New Englanders claimed a “religious and cultural superiority” that held westerners to be “outside barbarian[s].” Their dogmatic abolitionism, spurred by emotionalism, could, he feared, needlessly split the Union. AbolitionFIG . 6 Clement L. Vallandigham. From James L. Vallandigham, A Life of Clement L. Vallandigham (Baltimore, Md.: Turnbull Brothers, 1872). vantne_3rd_chap10.qxd 11/10/2003 3:29 PM Page 122 123 CLEMENT L. VALLANDIGHAM ists ignored the constitutional commands of localism; slavery was a local, domestic institution protected by the Constitution. But Vallandigham’s anti-abolitionism was not merely based on his belief that antislavery agitation might break up the Union. Vallandigham , like many if not most Ohio Democrats, was a negrophobe . Like their hero Andrew Jackson, many Ohio Democrats spoke of equal rights for all; special privileges for none. But for them, equal rights were for common white folks. Vallandigham argued that African Americans, as descendants “of a servile and degraded race” cursed by God as the children of Ham, could not be made equal. Although he claimed he opposed the institution of slavery in principle , he opposed the naturalization for African American immigrants, attacked Negro suffrage, and denounced any attempt “to elevate such a race to social and political equality.” Vallandigham experienced early political success. At twenty-two, his district elected him to the state legislature as the youngest member ever. During his two terms in the Ohio House of Representatives, he opposed banking and industrial interests, capital punishment, and African American migration to Ohio. He also supported the Mexican War (which he declared to be just and constitutional) and other policies that he saw as helping the common man, such as public education. In 1846, the twenty-six-year-old Vallandigham married Louisa A. McMahon, with whom he would eventually have five children. Friends then urged him...


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