Copperhead is based on the 19th-century novel The Copperhead by Harold Frederic (1856-1898), who was born and raised in Utica, New York. Both the novel and the film are presented as based on actual events that took place in upstate New York in 1862 and 1863, during the first half of the American Civil War. The main character, dairy farmer Abner Beech, opposes the war being waged by President Abraham Lincoln in the name of preserving the Union. Like other Northern "Peace Democrats," Beech is contemptuously labelled a “Copperhead”--a poisonous snake--by those who ardently support the war and regard his stance as unpatriotic and even treasonous. Peace Democrats like Beech accepted the label, reinterpreting the copper "head" as the likeness of Liberty, which they cut from copper pennies and proudly wore as badges.
|A cartoon appearing in Harper's Weekly, February 28, 1863,|
disparaging Peace Democrats as "Copperheads"
|Billy Campbell as Abner Beech|
|Marching village recruits off to war|
|Jee Hagadorn confronts Abner Beech|
|A domestic scene from Copperhead|
|Esther Hagadorn and Tom Beech|
The central theme of Copperhead is what can happen to ordinary people when we let our differences ripen into hatred, and forget the counsels of brotherhood and compassion on which our Lord meant our lives together to be based. The lesson is exquisitely presented in James Chapter 3:
[T]he tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. . . . But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. . . . For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace. (James 3:5-10, 14-18)Would that people today take this teaching to heart! The tenor of our times is remarkably similar to that prevailing mid-19th century America. We are riven with fear, conflicting values, political faction, corruption, and controversy, which paralyze government and make enemies of neighbors and even family members. Instead of reaching out to and caring for each other as unique, priceless children of God, we seem more intent on "winning" the "culture wars," whichever side of those we happen to be on. We are divided and pitted against each other by self-serving media, interest groups, politicians, and professional grandstanders. Our country seems every day on the verge of a real, not just a figurative, civil war. In this poisonous climate, we do well to reflect on the lessons presented in a film like Copperhead. I urge everyone to see it.
|Abner Beech embracing his sons.|