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Northwest Conspiracy


NORTHWEST CONSPIRACY. Military reversals in 1863–1864 led Confederates to promote insurrection in the Northwest. The plan relied on the Sons of Liberty and other Northern sympathizers and called for the liberation of Confederate prisoners from northern prison camps. Insurrectionists would use weapons from federal arsenals to arm themselves and overthrow the governments of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. With a Northwestern confederacy allied with the pre-existing Confederate states, a dismembered North would be forced to surrender.

Clement L. Vallandigham, supreme commander of the Sons of Liberty, then in Canada, refused to cooperate with Jacob Thompson, Confederate commissioner in Canada. Other, less scrupulous Copperhead (or Peace Democrat) leaders accepted funds and promised cooperation. An uprising planned for 20 July was postponed to 16 August, and again to 29 August, the date of the Democratic National Convention at Chicago. The federal government learned of the plan and reinforced the guard at Camp Douglas, where the first blow was to be struck; the uprising did not take place, although sixty Confederates under Capt. T. H. Hines were present in Chicago.

Abandoning hope of Copperhead assistance, the Confederates proceeded in September and October to create diversions on the Canadian border, most important of which were John Yates Beall's raid to liberate prisoners on Johnson Island in Lake Erie and the raid on Saint Albans, Vermont.

The Northwest conspiracy failed because Copperheads refused to take arms against the federal government and because Copperhead violence would endanger Democratic prospects in the campaign of 1864.


Klement, Frank L. The Limits of Dissent: Clement L. Vallandigham and the Civil War. New York: Fordham University Press, 1998.

———. Copperheads in the Middle West. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960.

Charles H.Coleman/t. d.

See alsoCanada, Confederate Activities in ; Civil War ; Knights of the Golden Circle ; Sons of Liberty (Civil War) .

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