On May 1, 1863, Peace Democratic Party leader Clement L. Vallandigham spoke to 10,000 people from this spot. Vallandigham's party, known by their opponents as "Copperheads," opposed the Civil War as an encroachment on both individuals' and states' rights, and favored a peaceful settlement with the Confederacy. Shortly after the beginning of the war, President Lincoln had suspended the writ of habeas corpus, which requires the state to show cause for arrest, as an emergency wartime measure. Peace Democrats viewed the suspension as unconstitutional. Vallandigham's speech intentionally tested the stringent wartime laws against "implied treason."
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After two years of bloody battles with few Union victories, the Lincoln administration faced losing influence in several northern states. Lincoln once confided that he feared "the fire in the rear" (a reference to Midwestern dissent) as a greater threat to the Union than military reverses. General Ambrose Burnside ordered Vallandigham arrested; subsequently Lincoln banished him to the South. Vallandigham evaded the federal naval blockade and traveled to Canada, where he campaigned in exile for the governorship of Ohio. Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July 1863 defused the Peace movement and helped assure Lincoln's reelection. Vallandigham's arrest was the greatest challenge to free speech during the war.