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The copperhead strikes

John Conway
Posted 2/24/23

Regular readers of this Retrospect column over the years should by now be well aware of the fact that one of Sullivan County’s first historians and most noted newspaper publishers, James …

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The copperhead strikes


Regular readers of this Retrospect column over the years should by now be well aware of the fact that one of Sullivan County’s first historians and most noted newspaper publishers, James Eldridge Quinlan, was a so-called Copperhead, a pro-slavery Southern sympathizer, during the Civil War. 

Anyone with any doubts about Quinlan’s leanings on the subjects of slavery, the abolitionists, and Abraham Lincoln need only peruse the pages of the Republican Watchman newspaper during the years leading up to the Civil War and during the war itself, to be convinced. 

Like most Copperheads, Quinlan’s attitude toward Lincoln in particular changed dramatically following the President’s issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation in September of 1862, after which the newspaper stepped up its attacks, often going so far as to label him a criminal. 

And as the war raged on, the Watchman became more and more racist in its position on slavery and “the negro.” For example, in its July 1, 1863 edition, in an article entitled, “The Dear Negro,” Quinlan wrote that “every day brings with it confirmation that the Lincoln administration is thoroughly abolitionized, and is not fighting for the Union or the Constitution, but for the negro.” 

The article went on to decry the deployment of black troops to fight against the Confederacy, denouncing them as brutal, destructive of private property, and guilty of “other acts of outrage that would shock humanity to detail.” 

At that time, Quinlan’s paper was being published under the banner of the Republican Watchman and Jeffersonian Democrat, the former paper having bought out the latter a short time before. The banner would resort back to simply the Republican Watchman a few months thereafter. 

The front page of the August 12, 1863 edition of the paper is another case in point.  

In that particular edition, a story ran at the very top of page one under the heading, “Miscellaneous” that made it all too clear the low esteem in which President Lincoln and his policies were held by the publisher. 

A sub-headline read: “The Lincoln Catechism.” And was followed by a long series of questions and answers that were written in an obviously sarcastic tone which did nothing to hide the vitriol contained therein. 

“What is the Constitution?” the first question asked, to which the answer was, “A compact with hell—now obsolete.” 

Question: “What is the government?” Answer: “Abraham Lincoln, Charles Sumner, and Owen Lovejoy.” Question: “What is a president?” Answer: “A general agent for negroes.” Question: What is Congress?” Answer: “A body organized for the purpose of appropriating funds to buy Africans and to make laws to protect the president from being punished for any violations of the law he may be guilty of.” Question: “What is an Army?” Answer:” A provost guard to arrest white men and to set negroes free.” 

Twenty more questions and answers followed, dealing with subjects ranging from habeas corpus to greenbacks to states rights, and culminating in three final questions with short, simple answers. 

Question: “Who is the greatest martyr in history?” Answer: “John Brown.” Question: “Who is the wisest man?” Answer: “Abraham Lincoln.” Question: “Who is Jeff Davis?” Answer: "The Devil.” 

Nor was that article an isolated example, either. Virtually every edition of Quinlan’s Watchman contained racist jeremiads written either by him or another Copperhead newspaperman from around the country. At one point, Quinlan’s attacks on Lincoln and other Republicans—including Major John Waller, who published a rival newspaper, the Sullivan County Republican—became so obnoxious that a group of men with opposite leanings threatened to set fire to the Watchman office in order to eliminate Quinlan’s platform. That plan was thwarted when the rumor spread that the Watchman office was booby-trapped, and anyone attempting to enter without authorization ran the risk of being blown up. 

Finally, having come out on the losing side in the war, and beset by poor health, James Eldridge Quinlan sold the Republican Watchman to former Kansas governor George M. Beebe in 1866. He published his “History of Sullivan County” in 1873, and died the following year at the age of 56. 

John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian and a founder and president of The Delaware Company. Email him at jconway52@hotmail.com.  


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