Don Young's fake Lincoln quote fails to fool all of the people all of the time
You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.--Probably not Abraham Lincoln.
I'd like to make a quote: "Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged."--Abraham Lincoln.--Don Young (R-AK), February 15, 2007.
Fact Check exposed the phony Lincoln quote in August 2006, after catching Republican candidate Diane Irey deploying it against John Murtha on the campaign trail in Pennsylvania. Fact Check traced the essay to right wing "scholar" J. Michael Waller who admitted that he had written the words attributed to Lincoln and published them in INSIGHT Magazine in December 2003.
Here are the opening paragraphs:
Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled or hanged. That's what President Abraham Lincoln said during the War Between the States.
While none have suggested such extreme measures in the midst of the war on terrorism, Lincoln's approach illustrates the deadly seriousness of political responsibility in wartime and draws a fine line between legitimate political dissent and aiding the enemy.
The Supreme Court eventually stopped Lincoln's policy of having treasonous lawmakers arrested and tried before military tribunals, but for decades after the war, the late president's Republican Party successfully tagged the Democrats as the "party of treason."
Waller denies that he fabricated the quote or deliberately attributed it to Lincoln. Instead, he blames an unnamed rogue copy editor at INSIGHT who put quotation marks around the first sentence without his permission:
I'm sure the editor thought he was trying to correct what he thought was poor punctuation. The fact is, President Lincoln never said it, and I never claimed the words were his.
When I saw the quotation marks in print, I asked a senior editor to insert a clarification in the next issue of the magazine and on the website. He never did. I unwisely failed to push the matter and went on, thinking that the magazine wasn't widely read anyway.
That was a bad move, and I should have pressed for a correction. I didn't receive any feedback at all until just over a week ago while on vacation, when Brooks Jackson at FactCheck.org contacted me about it. A candidate running against Rep. John Murtha (D-Penn.) had used the quote thinking it was real, Jackson said. So did thousands of others. Jackson told me that he found 18,000 references to the so-called quote on the Internet.
My sentence, I thought at the time, was a vivid way of summarizing what President Lincoln had said about congressmen who sabotaged the Union during the Civil War. (One of my editors, a southerner in spirit, changed my "Civil War" reference to "War Between the States." I'm from New England and have always called it the "Civil War.")
That's right, Waller says never pressed for a correction because he figured nobody read INSIGHT anyway. And that creepy "War Between the States" lingo? Also the work of overzealous underlings, allegedly.
Even if Waller is telling the truth about the phantom copy editor, the spiritual southerner, and/or the lazy senior editor, the fact remains that his essay misrepresents Lincoln.
Waller claims that his gloss of Lincoln is based on this June 1863 letter in which Lincoln defends his constitutional power to suspend habeas corpus in the case of Clement Vallandigham, who was arrested for inciting troops to desert at a public meeting in Ohio during the Civil War.
"Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled or hanged. That's what President Abraham Lincoln said during the War Between the States," Waller insists.
Clearly, Waller wants you to infer that Lincoln was denouncing legislators who criticized his policies. The original article is a screed about how the Democrats were committing treason by investigating the pre-war intelligence on Iraq.
Waller claims that the Supreme Court eventually stopped "Lincoln's policy of having treasonous lawmakers arrested and tried before military tribunals." Lincoln didn't have as policy of arresting lawmakers who criticized him for political reasons. Lincoln had no such policy. When Vallandigham was arrested, he wasn't even a congressman!
In the letter that Waller cites, Lincoln explicitly says that he doesn't support the president's right to arrest his political opponents just because they are critical of his policies or the military during wartime:
Take the particular case mentioned by the meeting. They assert [It is asserted] in substance that Mr. Vallandigham was by a military commander, seized and tried "for no other reason than words addressed to a public meeting, in criticism of the course of the administration, and in condemnation of the military orders of that general" Now, if there be no mistake about this—if this assertion is the truth and the whole truth—if there was no other reason for the arrest, then I concede that the arrest was wrong. But the arrest, as I understand, was made for a very different reason. Mr. Vallandigham avows his hostility to the war on the part of the Union; and his arrest was made because he was laboring, with some effect, to prevent the raising of troops, to encourage desertions from the army, and to leave the rebellion without an adequate military force to suppress it. He was not arrested because he was damaging the political prospects of the administration, or the personal interests of the commanding general; but because he was damaging the army, upon the existence, and vigor of which, the life of the nation depends. He was warring upon the military; and this gave the military constitutional jurisdiction to lay hands upon him. If Mr. Vallandigham was not damaging the military power of the country, then his arrest was made on mistake of fact, which I would be glad to correct, on reasonably satisfactory evidence.
Lincoln claimed that Vallandigham's arrest was a matter of public safety. You don't have to believe Lincoln's excuse in order to follow his argument about the difference between suspending habeas during rebellion or invasion for safety reasons vs. the president's right to jail his political enemies without trial. (Lincoln's gambit should remind us that even the best leaders will grab power if you let them. Thankfully the Supreme Court was there to put Lincoln in his place.)
The fact that Waller's shoddy essay garnered over 18,000 mentions on the internet, and several citations by major politicians is very disturbing. Clearly, many right wingers are desperate to believe that one of our most esteemed presidents was a tyrant.