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Connecticut Delegate at Center of Bitter Democratic Convention of 1864

Radical Peace Democrat Thomas H. Seymour of Connecticut sought the nomination for president, despite his highly controversial stand on the Civil War.

 

It's ironic that former Connecticut governor and congressman Thomas H. Seymour evolved into a Radical Peace Democrat or "Copperhead." After all, following graduation from Captain Alden Partridge's Military Academy in Middletown in 1829, Seymour embarked upon a distinguished military career.

His most notable achievement occurred during the Mexican War on Oct. 13, 1847, during the assault of Chalpultepec. Built upon a rock rising up over 150 feet near Mexico City, Chapultepec was an almost impregnable fortress. The intrepid Seymour led his troops through heavy fire and was the first to enter the citadel. He became known as the "hero of Chapultepec" and parlayed that fame into a successful political career.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, however, Seymour became such a radical advocate for peace that he became the symbol of the Copperhead movement. The Copperheads, whose name is derived from the poisonous snake that can be found in Connecticut, vehemently opposed military action against the South.

In fact, the Copperheads wanted peace without any victory over the South. Many considered people like Seymour to be traitorous, despite his heroic military actions and his winning personality. So incensed was Rep. Orville Platt of Meriden at Seymour, that he turned Seymour's governor's portrait in the legislature inward so that it faced the wall! It remained that way for the duration of the Civil War.

Thomas Hart Seymour was a Connecticut delegate to the Democratic convention at the Amphitheater in Chicago in 1864. Chicago seems to have a penchant for hosting contentious Democratic conventions, as the 1968 convention there is the only other convention that can rival the 1864 meeting for controversy and upheaval.

Bitterly divided between War Democrats and Peace Democrats, the party went through numerous ballots before deciding upon a slate of candidates. Thomas H. Seymour, the most prominent member of the Copperhead movement in attendance, was at the center of the contention. Nominated to be the Democratic standard bearer in the 1864 presidential election against Republican Abraham Lincoln, Seymour could not garner enough support to get the nomination.

Eventually, Union General George B. McClellan of New Jersey received 174 votes to Seymour's 38 votes. Representative George H. Pendleton of Ohio — a Peace Democrat — received the nomination for vice president in a transparent effort to placate that wing of the party. McClellan was most emphatically not a Peace Democrat but had to run with one. McClellan, 39, and Pendleton, 37, thus became — and remain — the two youngest men ever to run on a presidential ticket.

The divided nature of the Democratic party in 1864 made it more vulnerable in the general election against Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln, of course, won the election with 55 percent of the vote. Seymour's radical stand for peace had cost him both the governor's election in 1863 and the nomination for President in 1864. His once-promising political career came to an abrupt halt. He died soon after on Sept. 3, 1868, 144 years ago from last week. His name survives in our time, as the former town known as Humphreysville, CT, was renamed "Seymour" in 1850 to honor the "hero of Chapultepec."

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