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Wartime Politics

Wartime Politics

By 1863, the continuing carnage on the battlefield and the dominance of the Democratic Party led to a unique political situation in the state. In March, the state legislature passed a set of resolutions protesting the continuation of the war and calling for a negotiated peace. The Democrats were angry at what they saw as attacks on constitutional and states’ rights, including the Lincoln administration’s decision to suspend habeas corpus in early 1863 and proposals to create a federally-run railroad through the state to expedite the passage of troops and supplies. The resolutions were condemned by the opposition Unionists and divided the Democratic Party. The Peace Democrats, known derogatorily as “copperheads,” were unsuccessful, however, in attracting support for the proposals from other states. Public support for the war was growing as well, as evidenced by the popularity of the Union League movement, which took hold in New Jersey in spring 1863. In the 1864 presidential election, New Jersey joined Delaware and Kentucky as the only states to cast their electoral votes for favorite son General George McClellan, who won the state popular vote by a narrow margin.

Liberty and Union! An address to the Bridgewater Club, October 31, 1864.

Portrait, James W. Wall. Engraved by W.G. Jackman, NY.

One of the most outspoken of the Peace Democrats was James W. Wall of Burlington. A member of a prominent and politically-active family, Wall was imprisoned in Fort Delaware in September 1861 for his anti-war views. A harsh critic of the Lincoln administration throughout the war, Wall was ultimately elected as U.S. Senator to fill the unexpired term of Republican and administration supporter Richard Stockton Field.

Jacob Birdsall and Wm. A. Hancock, Shall the Soldiers Vote? 1864.

Because New Jersey did not permit absentee voting, soldiers in the field were effectively disenfranchised, although some made the difficult journey home to cast their ballots. Although some soldiers had a soft spot for McClellan, the early commander of the Army of the Potomac, by the time of the election, most supported Lincoln and the Republicans.

Men Wanted for the Invalid Corps, Advertisement, June 20, 1863.

Meeting of the Democratic McClellan Club, Monday, Sept. 12, 1864.

Men Wanted for the Old Regiments, N.J. Volunteer. Poster. Mount Holly, New Jersey: "Mirror Office," August 10, 1863.