Clement Laird Vallandigham was born in New Lisbon, Ohio, in 1820. The son of a minister, Vallandigham studied at the New Lisbon Academy and Pennsylvania's Jefferson College before opening up a law practice in his hometown in 1842. In the mid-1840s he won election to the state house of representatives, where he became one of Ohio's best known politicians. In 1852 and 1854, however, Vallandigham's campaigns to win a seat in the U.S. Congress ended in defeat.
"Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wily agitator [Vallandigham] who induces him to desert?" Abraham Lincoln
(Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)
By the mid-1850s, Vallandigham was one of Ohio's leading Democrats. Married to the daughter of a wealthy Maryland planter (plantation owner) and slaveowner, he sided with the South in the growing national debate over slavery. For example, he strongly supported the principle known as "states' rights." This principle was popular among Southerners who feared federal efforts to limit or end slavery. It held that each state has the right to decide how to handle various issues for itself—including slavery—without interference from the national government.
In 1856, Vallandigham ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives once again. At first, it appeared that he had been defeated. He contested the election results, however, and in May 1858, authorities awarded him the seat. After winning reelection in November 1858, he became known across the country for his vocal support of states' rights and active opposition to abolitionism (the movement to end slavery). Vallandigham worried that Northern efforts to end slavery would cause a revolt in the South that might break the Union in two.
During the 1860 presidential campaign, Val-landigham threw his support behind Northern Democratic candidate Stephen A. Douglas (1813-1861), whom he viewed as more moderate on the slavery issue than Republican nominee Abraham Lincoln or Southern Democratic nominee John Breckinridge (1821-1875). Lincoln won the election, though, triggering a wave of secessionist proclamations across the American South. When Southern states declared their intention to secede from (leave) the United States and form their own country, Lincoln ordered the U.S. Army to prepare for war in order to keep them in the Union. By mid-1861 the American Civil War had begun.
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