Edson B. Olds was a Copperhead leader and three-term U.S. Congressman from Ohio. In 1862, federal officials arrested and imprisoned Olds for disloyalty.
Edson Baldwin Olds was born in Marlboro, Vermont, on June 3, 1802. Circa 1820, he moved to Ohio, where he taught school and began studying law with his brother Joseph Olds. Gradually, his interests turned to medicine, and he began studying under Dr. William N. Lucky. Shortly thereafter, Olds moved to Philadelphia, where he completed his medical studies and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1824.
After receiving his medical degree, Olds returned to Ohio, where he opened a practice in Kingston, in Ross County. On June 18, 1824, he married Anna Maria Carolus. Over the course of their marriage, the couple had eight children, six of whom survived infancy. Olds moved to Circleville, Ohio, in 1828. He continued to practice medicine there until 1837 when he became involved in commercial business interests.
While living in Circleville, Olds became active in politics as a member of the Democratic Party. In 1842, voters elected him to the Ohio House of Representatives, where he served until 1846. From 1846 to 1848, Olds held a seat in the Ohio Senate, and he was that body’s presiding officer in 1846 and 1847. In 1848, voters elected Olds to the first of three terms in the United States House of Representatives. He served during the thirty-first through the thirty-third Congresses (March 4, 1849-March 3, 1855). Olds was chairman of the Committee on the Post Office and Post Roads during the thirty-second and thirty-third Congresses. His tenure in Congress ended in 1855, after his unsuccessful bid for reelection the previous year.
A Peace Democrat
After the Civil War began, Olds sided with Peace Democrats (also known as Copperheads) and became an outspoken opponent of the Lincoln administration.
Arrest and Imprisonment
On August 12, 1862, acting on the recommendation of Ohio Governor David Tod, federal officials arrested Olds for treasonable acts, including discouraging enlistments in the army. Although the government never formally charged Olds with a crime or tried him in a court of law, officials imprisoned him at Fort Lafayette, in New York, for four months. Olds spent twenty-two days of his incarceration in solitary confinement.
During Olds’ imprisonment, Fairfield and Hocking County voters elected him to the Ohio House of Representatives, symbolizing his local popularity and the growing political strength of Copperheads in southern Ohio. Upon being released from prison on December 12, 1862, Olds returned to Lancaster. In June 1863, he filed a warrant for Governor Tod’s arrest for kidnapping. The court granted Tod a continuation, prompting Olds to file a civil suit for $100,000 against the governor. Tod’s lawyers got the criminal complaint transferred to federal court, where Olds had little chance of winning. As the cases dragged on, Olds eventually dropped his complaint.
Olds served in the Ohio House from 1862 to 1866 and then returned to his home in Lancaster. He died there on January 24, 1869. Olds is buried in Forest Cemetery at Circleville, Ohio.