The Copperheads, or "Peace Democrats", represented a problem for Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans during the Civil War. They campaigned against the war as a failure and opposed many military appropriations. The term came from the habit of some of the midwestern, old-money Democrats wearing copper pennies around their necks. Unlike most Democrats who supported the war, the antiwar Copperheads were opposed to the emancipation of the slaves. They were unhappy with the war effort, and reflecting their heritage, disliked the Republican ecomonic policies, especially a national banking system.

The most famous of the Copperheads was one Clement Vallandigham, a congressman from Ohio who gave up his seat to campaign for peace. In 1863, the writ of habeas corpus was suspended and he was promptly arrested. Lincoln wound up releasing him but exiled him into Confederate territory. He made his way back up north and eventually into Canada. He ran for governor of Ohio in 1863 but lost, as did many of the Copperheads in various state elections of the same year. Their loss has been attributed to northern victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg.

The Copperheads did manage to hold on to some power. With Confederate agents, the subsidized many Democratic papers throughout the war, freeing prisoners and capturing ships. They opposed their own Democratic parties nomination of General George McClellan for president in 1864 on the grounds that he refused to accept their demands for an immediate peace. They did manage to place a Copperhead, George Pendleton, of Ohio as the vice presidential candidate. Their actions also lent credence to the Republicans postwar brandishing and charging of some Democrats with "disloyalty".