Chuck Welsko

Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Jason Phillips

Committee Co-Chair

Brian Luskey

Committee Member

Aaron Sheehan-Dean


This is a study of people, politics, and rhetoric during the American Civil War. The people are eastern Pennsylvanians, the ordinary men and women from Berks, Bucks, Lehigh, and Northampton counties. The narrative traces the failure of these people to unify in the Civil War. Instead, citizens used a rhetoric of loyalty to fuel the bitter divide between Democrats and Republicans. Historians have studied the concept of loyalty extensively in the past, but only with the purpose of identifying which political or ethnic subgroups of the population were "loyal." Copperheads and Blacksnakes moves beyond the issue of who and focuses rather on the how of loyalty: the ways in which individuals---soldiers, civilians, newspaper editors---constructed notions of loyalty and used those conceptions in political discourse.;The results of such a study are dramatically different than previous scholarship. Eastern Pennsylvanians' added their definitions of loyalty to an established political culture. At the start of the war, Democrats and Republicans invoked sentiments of antipartisanship to form a common, singular sense of unity. Within weeks though, that appeal for unity and nonpartisanship faltered, first amongst newspaper editors, then amongst local residents as the Union suffered military defeats, national elections approached, and the Lincoln Administration adjusted Federal policy (with the advent of taxes, conscription, and emancipation) to crush the Confederacy. Political partisans in eastern Pennsylvania came to view their opponents as disloyal to the nation, exaggerating the pre-war divisions and partisanship that dominated American politics. Citizens used loyalty to advance the interests of one party, one part of the population, that they believed was both virtuous and capable of restoring the fragmented American nation. As a result, the Civil War generated a period where derisive political rhetoric gained legitimacy as eastern Pennsylvanians envisioned their 'disloyal' political opponents as threats to the nation, ushering in an intensified and more deeply divided polity.