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, he was elected 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, Olds was elected 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.
Edson Olds moved to Lancaster, Ohio, in 1857. After the Civil War began, Olds sided with Peace Democrats (also known as Copperheads) and became an outspoken opponent of the Lincoln administration. 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 he was never formally charged with a crime or tried in a court of law, Olds was imprisoned at Fort Lafayette, in New York, for four months, twenty-two days of which he spent in solitary confinement. During his internment, Fairfield and Hocking County voters elected Olds to the Ohio House of Representatives, illustrating 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 were able to get 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 interred in Forest Cemetery at Circleville, Ohio.
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