York hosts “Copperhead Convention” in the fall of 1863
Photo of a page of resolutions passed in September 1863 condemning President Lincoln and his war policies. These were a result of a convention of leading peace Democrats and Copperheads in downtown York, Pennsylvania.
1863 was perhaps the most momentous year of York’s history, at least from a military perspective. More than 10,000 Confederate soldiers marched or rode through the county shortly before the Battle of Gettysburg, inflaming the passions of both the pro-Union and pro-Confederate (or Copperhead) elements of the county. York resident Cassandra Morris Small, part of a large prosperous family of merchants and millers, had a few observations on the local Copperheads in a letter she wrote in July.
“Our next neighbor has proved himself a Secessionist! We all liked him and his family so much before. We couldn’t believe it — but then he proved himself one. He entertained the officers all the time. His sister (Mary Campbell’s friend) waved her handkerchief to them, until our clergyman rushed to her and stopped her, saying, “If you have no respect for yourself, have some for the people you live among.” Now we have nothing to do with them; but only think that after his numerous entertainments, an officer deliberately walked through his office and through the yard to the stable and took his horse. Oh, we have many such persons, but nobody speaks to them… though real Southerners are more bearable than these traitors.”
Barely three months after the Confederate invasion of York Country, the Copperhead element of York hosted a convention in the town. Among the resolutions was a letter drafted by the attendees and delivered to President Abraham Lincoln. The secretary of the convention would officially ratify the resolutions in February of the following year.
York Pennsylvania Copperhead Convention, Resolutions, September 1863
Copy of Resolutions, unanimously adopted by the Copperhead County Convention, held at York Penna. September 1863.
” Resolved, That the Constitution of the United States, is the supreme law of the land and entitled, of right, to the obedience of all, from the highest to the lowest; that there is no rightful power in the Federal Government, to dispense with, set aside, or supercede, any of its provisions, and that the doctrine of a ” higher law,” is an atrocious and abominable political heresy, utterly subversive of all constitutional government, and destructive of the rights and liberties of the people.”
” Resolved: — That Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, has perverted this government, from the constitutional one heretofore established and administered, into a military despotism as absolute and oppressive as that of the Czar of Russia. He has, by military violence, overthrown the government of Sovereign States, of this union and established others in their stead, subservient to himself. He has in those states, unscrupulously arrested and imprisoned men without any charge of crime and without any authority of law, whenever they stood in the way of his designs. He has by similar violence dragged the Judges of State Courts, from the bench, degraded them from their official positions, and subjected them to brutal and barborous treatment, for no cause except, that of a firm and faithful discharge of their duties according to their consciences and oaths of office. He has overthrown the supremacy of the civil laws of the land, and established military power in their place; abolished the right of trial by Jury; instructed his officers and minions to refuse obedience to the civil process of the courts of law, and resisted the enforcement of such process by violence. He has caused, thousands of men, women and children, free citizens of these States, to be illegally seized and transported to public Bastiles, where he has kept them immersed in loathsome dungeons, far from their homes and families, and beyond the limits of their States, and afterwards, at his own caprice turned them out of prison, without accusation, trial or judgement, and without reparation for the injury. He has suppressed newspapers, letters and documents, and denied their transmission, through the government mails, has established an odious censorship, over the telegraph and press, has converted these great means for the circulation of public intelligence into instruments for the accomplishment of unjust and partizan purposes, and has denied to the free citizens of this country, the liberty of speech and of the press. He has ordered illegal searches and seizures of persons and papers, has condemned freemen unheard, & without trial according to law, and has inflicted on them cruel, unusual and illegal punishments. He has transformed the public armed forces of the nation from a means of public warfare, into a partisan police, for the execution of tyrannical and unconstitutional edicts, against those who disapproved his administration. He has destroyed the freedom of elections, by placing whole States under martial law, stationing armed men at the polls, and permitting none to vote except his own political partizans. He has perverted the war, which was originally waged for the purpose of restoring the Supremacy of the constitution over the Seceded States, into an unholy and unconstitutional crusade against Slavery, and for the freedom of the negro; and for this purpose, has armed the Slaves of the Southern people against their masters, incited them to insurrection, and to the perpetration of the most horrible atrocities, has plundered their property, burned their homes, and ravaged and laid waste their country”.
” Resolved: That throughout all these unparalleled outrages upon the people, Andrew G. Curtin, the present Executive of Pennsylvania, has been the pliant and dependant tool of the despotism at Washington, and has seen the Sovereign Rights of the States and the undoubted rights of the citizens trampled in the dust, without once raising his voice in their favour; that he has permitted the swindling officials of the Federal and State Governments to rob and plunder alike, the public treasury of the State, and our patriotic soldiers in the feild; and that he has failed in any single instance to bring the offenders to the condign punishment they deserved.”
The two remaining resolutions endorses the nominations of George W. Woodward for Governor — and Walter M. Lowrie for Supreme Judge, and the county ticket made by the aforesaid convention. The subordinates of Capt Chas Garrettson1 heretofore named, approved of the resolutions, and worked earnestly and zealously to elect the state and county ticket.
This is a correct copy of the resolutions passed & published by the Copperhead party of this County & the comrades and bondsmen of Capt. Garretson
By order of Council 84 U. S. A
H. H. Jacobs
York Feby 9, 1864
Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois.