Fire in the Rear: An Assessment of Copperhead Influence and the Forfeiture of Civil Liberties




Monsour, John Tucker

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The Civil War's unique circumstances granted President Abraham Lincoln unprecedented powers when it came to persecuting the war; however, these increased powers for the president came at the expense of Americans’ civil liberties. During the war, those who criticized the government could be tried for treason, and those accused of this crime were not tried in civilian courts, but in military tribunals.

This paper will focus on how these unchecked powers led to a situation where minority factions like the Copperheads could be tried not out of military necessity, but for political expedience. In looking at the cases brought against notable Copperheads Clement Vallandigham and Lambdin Milligan, it becomes apparent these men and their actions posed little threat to the war’s prosecution. This unfortunate forfeiture of civil liberties sets a poor precedent for maintaining these rights when the nation is at war.



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