An Anti-Copperhead Broadside Denouncing Former President Franklin Pierce as a Traitor
New Hampshire may have given Lincoln 57% of its vote in 1860 but now, three years later, the president’s support was hardly rock solid. Indeed, a large chunk of the Granite State’s Democratic political establishment, Copperhead in its sympathies, was busily waging war on the War. It shouldn’t have been waged, they said, in the first place and, tallying the carnage, defeats, and assault on civil liberties, it should be ended without delay. Against emancipation, the draft, the suspension of habeas corpus, the imposition of martial law, the first federal income tax, the introduction of paper currency, they were against anything, in fact, done by Lincoln. By 1863, the rage of New Hampshire’s Democrats was volcanic. Not surprisingly, it erupted on July 4th, at a party rally, when the keynote speaker, ex-President Franklin Pierce, took the podium to decry the War.
No friend of Lincoln, and in 1860, a Breckinridge supporter, Pierce had, nonetheless, with Lincoln’s victory, bowed to the necessity of a war in defense of the Union. When, however, the war turned, as he perceived it, aggressive and not defensive; when the writ of habeas corpus was suspended; when he himself was falsely (if briefly) accused by Secretary of State Seward, on the flimsiest evidence, of treason on Christmas Eve 1861 – he decided to speak out. Twenty-five thousand people came to hear him denounce Lincoln, and to call for an end to “this fearful, fruitless, fatal civil war” which, he insisted, could not be decided by force of arms. All of this was bad enough, of course, to get himself all but branded a traitor in the Northern press - but worse was still to come.
One month later, Union soldiers raiding Jefferson Davis’ Mississippi plantation uncovered a letter Pierce had written Davis in January, 1860. “If, through the madness of Northern abolitionists, that dire calamity [the disruption of the Union] must come,” he predicted, ‘the fighting will not be along Mason and Dixon’s line merely. It will be within our own borders, in our own streets.” To Pierce’s many detractors, this looked liked nothing so much as his promise of armed Southern support in the North. Inflammatory pamphlets and broadsides labeled him a secret patron of disloyalty and, unhappily, an object of personal abuse.
This famous broadside, “Copperheads in Council”, declares Pierce the “Chief Sachem” in the anti-war organization known as the “Knights of the Golden Circle”, and would seem to date from the state elections in March, though no doubt it also saw service in the upcoming national campaign. It calls upon the “Men of New Hampshire” to “read and ponder” the words of “the Traitors who are now attempting to gain ascendancy in New Hampshire for the encouragement of the Rebels in their attempt to subvert our noble and beneficent Government!” Listed first, then, are two statements of the man who, as New Hampshire’s favorite son, served from 1853 to 1857 as the nation’s President:
"I do not believe oppression by arms is a suitable or possibly remedy for existing evils." Franklin Pierce, Chief Sachem, of the "Knights of the Golden Circle" in New Hampshire, in a Speech from balcony of Eagle Hotel, Concord, April 19. 1861
"What are to be the ultimate fruits of having first wronged and then conquered and humiliated a spirited and gallant people, whose fathers were the loved friends and co-laborers with our fathers in the Revolution, and who have nobly stood with us, as companions and fellow-soldiers, in every war with foreign foes since that period, remains to be seen." - Pierce. Published in the N.H. Patriot after the capture of Fort Donelson.
This broadside, and its ilk, apparently worked: the Republicans won in the State elections and, in 1864, Lincoln took New Hampshire with 53 per cent of the vote. Pierce’s reputation was likewise routed, and never recovered from his opposition to the War. Indeed, when Lincoln was assassinated, the 14th President had to defend his house against an angry mob.
[FRANKLIN PIERCE] Broadside, headed “Copperheads in Council”, 1 printed page, large folio, no place [New Hampshire], no date [circa 1863-64]. Rare.