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Damnable Treason or Party Organs?

Damnable Treason or Party Organs?

Democratic Secret Societies in Pennsylvania

(p.42) Damnable Treason or Party Organs?
This Distracted and Anarchical People
Robert M. Sandow
Fordham University Press

During the Civil War Republicans contended that secret Democratic societies defied the government, undermining the Union war effort. The assertion of Democratic disloyalty lay at the core of Republican Party rhetoric during the war and remained a potent partisan strategy in the postwar decades. It held sway through the mid-twentieth century when historian Frank Klement took up the “Copperhead” cause. Klement's many books and articles presented them as civil libertarians frustrated and disadvantaged by their wartime role as opponents of the Lincoln administration. Klement dismissed the charges of Democratic Secret Societies as Republican propaganda. New work on the Copperheads by Jennifer Weber reasserts the Republican paradigm of Democratic treason and dismisses Klement as an apologist. This essay will use Pennsylvania as a test case to explore the reality of undeniable Democratic clubs. A minority of dissatisfied Democrats did organize, but at the grass-roots level. Their ad hoc associations mirrored the creation of Republican “loyal” societies with a spectrum of goals, from partisan unification to draft resistance. Military tribunals of test cases failed to vindicate Republican assertions of widespread Democratic treason. Thus the Republican paradigm falters when held to the light of evidence at the local level.

Keywords:   Copperhead, Frank Klement, Jennifer Weber, Pennsylvania, Republican Party, Democratic Secret Societies, Treason, Civil War

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