During the Civil War, when the issues of right and wrong were clear, one of President Lincoln’s appointees, General George McClelland, betrayed him. The anti-war Democrats to whom McClelland pandered were called “Copperheads.” They rallied around McClelland to defeat the president politically, when they could not defeat the armies of America militarily. McClelland had a pretty high opinion of himself. He knew what Lincoln did not: That the war come not be won, that giving up and bringing the troops home was the only sensible answer, and that the president was not much of a leader.
Democrats overwhelmingly supported this type of defeatism and these Copperheads would shrink from almost nothing to insure that the war ended, whatever the sacrifice already made to preserve the Union and whatever the costs of allowing the Union to dissolve. These Copperheads did not really care about moral issues, like Lincoln and his Republicans did. Slavery was an abomination in the South and democracy scarcely existed, but McClelland and the Copperheads did not care.
The public approval ratings for Lincoln – if there had been such ratings in 1864 – would have shown him as the least popular president in history. The mainstream media of the time pilloried him mercilessly. Although Lincoln was intelligent, lesser men, like McClelland, considered him a buffoon. Although Lincoln had an almost transcendent nobility, lesser men, like McClelland, considered him no more than a crass pol. Although Lincoln would be judged by history to be great, lesser men, like McClelland, judged him to be ordinary.
McClelland was putty in the hands of the treacherous Copperheads. His own sense of self-importance made McClelland feel that he was much more important to the war effort than the Republican Party or the Republican president. He fancied himself at the center of things, when actually he was an incompetent whose time spent in the administration prolonged the war.