American Portraits

Clement Laird Vallandigham: Resounding Silence

In this lesson, students will learn about the self-sacrifice of Clement Laird Vallandigham and ways in which they can sacrifice their own comfort for what they believe.

Founding Principles

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Civil Discourse

Reasoned and respectful sharing of ideas between individuals is the primary way people influence change in society/government, and is essential to maintain self-government.

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Due Process

The government must interact with all citizens according to the duly-enacted laws; applying these rules equally among all citizens.

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Rule of Law

Government and citizens all abide by the same laws regardless of political power. Those laws respect individual rights, are transparently enacted, are justly applied, and are stable.


The former Congressman stood before his audience in Columbus, Ohio, and began to speak. He condemned the Civil War effort. He condemned the Lincoln administration. He argued that the war was not meant to save the Union. Instead, he declared, it was intended to establish a despotic government, one that would free blacks and enslave whites. The government was refusing to acknowledge the states’ right to self-government….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can you sacrifice your comfort to stand up for your beliefs?

Virtue Defined

Self-sacrifice is purposeful action exchanging personal loss for the good of others.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will learn about the self-sacrifice of Clement Laird Vallandigham and ways in which they can sacrifice their own comfort for what they believe.


  • Students will analyze the actions of Clement Laird Vallandigham.
  • Students will understand the virtue of self-sacrifice.
  • Students will apply their knowledge of self-sacrifice in their own lives.


Clement Laird Vallandigham was born in Ohio in 1820. Vallandigham was an attorney who was elected to the Ohio legislature in 1845 and served in the United States House of Representatives from 1858 to 1863. He was a Democrat, supported “states’ rights,” and opposed the Lincoln Administration and the Civil War. For his beliefs, Vallandigham became part of the group known as “Copperheads.”


  • States’ rights
  • Copperhead
  • Despotic
  • Self-government
  • Monarchy
  • Disguised
  • Advocate
  • Gerrymandering
  • Habeas Corpus
  • Civilian
  • Military court
  • Jurisdiction
  • Quell
  • Controversy
  • Banished

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

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Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • What was Vallandigham’s role in the debate over the Civil War?
  • Why did Vallandigham give the speech in Columbus, Ohio?
  • How did Vallandigham sacrifice himself for a greater purpose?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

  • Cowden, Joanna D. “Heaven Will Frown on Such a Cause as This”: Six Democrats Who Opposed Lincoln’s War. Lanham: University Press of America, 2001.
  • Klement, Frank L. The Limits of Dissent: Clement L. Vallandigham & the Civil War. New York: Fordham University Press, 1998.
  • Vallandigham, Rev. James L. A Life of Clement L. Vallandigham. Baltimore: Turnbull Brothers, 1872.

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