Back to School With Copperheads

A few months ago Mr. Balcum, principle of the Middletown (Conn.) high school, expelled from the school a son of Samuel Babcock – a Democrat of the Copperhead stripe – for insisting on wearing a Copperhead badge, by order of his father, against the rule of the school. The father brought a suit against the teacher, and a justice imposed a fine on him, but the case was carried up, and the Supreme Court has reversed the decision. (Highland Weekly News, January 28, 1864)

There is, apparently, nothing new under the sun.

Especially in school.

Just as there are arguments today about whether students can wear patriotic or campaign items in school, the debate also raged during the Civil War.

Over 150 years ago, the 1864 election campaign was raging in the North. Children of Peace Democrats, or "Copperheads" wanted to wear their Lady Liberty and butternut badges to school.

Likewise, their War Democrat or Republican classmates insisted on wearing Union cockades. The resulting fracuses led to lawsuits, suspensions... and a great deal of fuming in the newspapers.

Consider some of these entertaining anecdotes I discovered concerning Copperheads in the schools.

The Definition of "Partisan Badge"

A few days since some difficulty arose among the pupils in the High School, caused by the wearing of a Copperhead badge by one of the scholars, who boasted that his father was in the Rebel army.

To offset his obnoxious exhibition the loyal children procured Union rosettes, pins, small flags, etc., with which to testify their regard for the Government.

The excitement spread into the common schools and presently the school board took the matter in hand. This body has a majority of Democrats. It met and decided that partisan badges should not be worn by the scholars, and then decided that all the Union badges were "partisan."

The Dayton Empire becomes the defender of this decision and goes so far as to say that the flags, etc., are "Abolition emblems." Think of that! A Democratic paper, the especial organ of the man whom the Democrats propose to nominate for Governor of Ohio, denouncing the Stars and Stripes, or rosettes of Red, White and Blue, as "Abolition Emblems' which are not to be tolerated! When such a standard of Abolition is set up, thank God, we are classed among the "Abolitionists." (Cleveland Morning Leader, April 23, 1863)

The System Stinks

One Democratic newspaper, after a scuffle in which some Copperhead children were expelled, sneered at the school system in general.

It has been seen that the Dayton Empire has advocated the right of the pupils to wear Copperhead badges if they choose. The Cincinnati Enquirer takes the same ground, and goes enough further to say:

"Looking upon the State machinery for what is called educating the sons of the people as much better calculated to perpetuate ignorance than to promote enlightenment, the only feeling we have of regret is occasioned by the fact that it was the sons of Abolitionists, rather than those of Democrats, who were expelled.

"As the teacher really did the boys a kindness by turning them out of the seminary, we suspect that if wrong was committed anywhere, it was upon those who were compelled to remain." (Cleveland Morning Leader, 29 April 1863)

Banning Teachers with Copperhead "Proclivities"

A young man from Nelson, Portage county, appeared in this village on Saturday last, who sported conspicuously on his coat, a Copperhead badge....He was accompanied by his sister, who was attending the Teachers' Examination, and who proved to be as strong a Copperhead as her brother.

Westfield Normal (Teachers) School, c. 1860
Betraying the "proclivities" by an excited advocacy of the cause, she was informed by Mr. Whitney, one of the Board of Examiners, that, unless she would take the oath of allegiance, she could receive no certificate. This she refused to do, and in default thereof, was directed to leave the class.—The action of the Board was in accordance with a decision of the State School Commissioner, and its justice is too obvious to require comment.

Brother and sister returned home, we doubt not fully convinced that Copperhead badges and Copperhead sentiments are at a great discount in Chardon. (Chardon Democrat, May 20, 1863)

Everybody Should Be Allowed

The Dayton Empire says, in respect to wearing badges in the common schools of that city:

"If one class of children are allowed to wear Abolition emblems, the other have the same right to wear Democratic emblems, and we hope they will exercise it, if they feel disposed."

The "Abolition emblems," mark it well, are the eagle buttons, the tri color, and the stars and stripes. The "Democratic emblems," are "copperheads" and "butternuts"....

Yes, and the "Copperhead" emblem, or "Badge of Liberty," "mark it well," is made of the head of the Goddess of Liberty, cut from a copper cent, with the word "Liberty" stamped across the top of the cap. (Dayton Daily Empire, 23 April 1863)


My reproduction Copperhead Badges is back in stock - with a lower price! This beautiful copper-plated replica of the original "Lady Liberty" badge is sure to be a conversation piece.

If you want more fun and helpful info about Copperheads in the 1860s, check out my info pack which is all primary source material on Copperheads. It includes a book of anti-Copperhead cartoons, a snide "Copperhead Catechism" and a compilation of newspaper anecdotes (like the ones above) about Copperheads.

Whether your sympathies are with the Republicans, War Democrats or Peace Democrats, there's a badge there for you! Get ready for the 1860s election season with your Copperhead - or Union Cockade!
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