Democrats opposed to the war and critical of President Lincoln were labeled “Copperheads” by the Republicans. They posed a serious threat to Lincoln’s re-election bid in 1863, as more and more Northerners called for an end to the war. The Copperheads tried to play on ethnic fears, suggesting to immigrant laborers that they would be replaced if the slaves were freed. Ultimately, however, their strongly-worded rhetoric turned voters against them.
The Copperheads, of course, are not pleased either with my preaching or with the election results. But they know I do it heartily, good-naturedly, & have no personal spite against them….
Cornwall did well [in the election], considering the copperheads worked so & hauled in the Irish
& German set almost entirely.
I am not sorry that Bill was defeated. He is about the right spirit to be Copperhead: Poorly informed, Selfish, & willful & easily prejudiced – the opposite of what is good, …deserting the house of God – of course he will slide easily into deserting his country. With little true moral principle or any principle but selfish, he is the material out of which copperheads are made.
~ Rev. Stephen Fenn to his brother, Cornwall, April 13, 1863 (Courtesy of The Connecticut Historical Society)
During the presidential election of 1864, former General McClellan was the Democrat candidate, representing voters who sought to end the war through a negotiated peace. The war was going badly for the Union, and McClellan was expected to win the election until September 6, 1864, when General Sherman took Atlanta, renewing hope for a Union victory. Lincoln won 55% of the popular vote and 212 of 233 electoral college votes.