Clement Vallandigam

Clement Vallandigam may not be a name out of American history most people are familiar with, but he was an interesting character. Vallandigam was an Ohio congressman at the start of the Civil War, and he was a leader among a group of Democrats, the “Copperheads,” who advocated for a peaceful negotiation with the Confederacy rather than war. I’m all for avoiding war, but Vallandigam’s reason was because he was pro-slavery.

It’s his death I want to draw your attention to. June 17 is the 150th anniversary of his untimely death. In 1871, Vallandigam was back in his home state of Ohio practicing law. He agreed to defend Thomas McGehan, who was accused of killing Tom Myers in a barroom brawl. McGehan’s defense was that Myers had actually shot himself, albeit accidentally.

But how could he accidentally shoot himself? Vallandigam thought he had it figured out, so in a conference with the other defense lawyers, he showed how he would present this to the jury. As he reenacted how he believed the scenario played out, he placed the gun in his pocket, slowly stood while drawing the weapon, cocked it, and held it in the same way Myers did, which was momentarily aimed at his abdomen.

“There,” he said, “that’s the way Myers held it.” Then his hand touched the trigger, there was a flash, and he cried out, “My God, I’ve shot myself!”

Vallandigam accidentally shot himself in an attempt to show how someone could accidentally shoot himself. He died the next day, on June 17, 1871.

I don’t know if his impressive display convinced anyone, but the defendant Thomas McGehan was acquitted of the crime.

Years ago, I had a young man question God’s love. How could God love him? Why would God love him—or anybody, for that matter? Others may ask similar questions. Jesus, the most perfect, innocent human being ever was unjustly crucified. With that execution, He took our sins upon Himself. In other words, He died in our place.

How could Jesus love like that?

“But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

How could Jesus love like that?

Indeed, that’s a tough question to answer. But if I can’t explain it, I can show it. As a follower of Christ, I am to display love even as He does. I am to demonstrate the depth of God’s love by letting His love work through me. Vallandigam showed how one man could shoot himself when others wanted to blame someone else. He did it by shooting himself in the same way! I can show how Jesus loves by loving others in the same way.

That really shouldn’t be hard, should it? I am a recipient of God’s love through His grace and forgiveness. I can love others even as He has loved me.

“And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ” (Eph. 4:32).

“This is how we have come to know love: He laid down his life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16).

I may not succeed in explaining God’s love, but I can surely demonstrate it. And I don’t have to accidentally shoot myself in the process.

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