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February 18, 2007

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.

Video. Young didn't "make" that quote, and neither did Abraham Lincoln. The manufacturer was conservative operative J. Michael Waller.

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.

Waller's essay is available on his blog under the title "When Does Politics Become Treason?." (INSIGHT ran the piece under a different title: "Democrats Usher In an Age of Treason.")

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.

 


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Comments

So, any significant criticism we make of the policies of His Majesty the President equates, during a time of war, to treason; and these same people are also telling us we're going to be at war for a period ranging from the next forty years to infinity.

I wonder if there's a connection?

I have noticed that the right wing will often attribute quotes to the "Fore Fathers" to make their own policies or ideology sound more palatable to the public.

They will use our "forefathers" when they can, but when they can't then they'll say that things have changed since 9/11. They want it both ways. Thus one more example of Republican hypocrisy. As if the other 9000 examples weren't enough.

in line with ole blue (above), i would advocate a one-year moratorium on quoting ex-presidents from the floor of congress. it seems like you can justify literally anything by finding some old quote from some old president that sounds kind of like what you're saying now. it's a crutch that people use when their arguments fail to convince. i'm not pushing for ahistorical politics, just politics that's focused a lot less on historical sound bytes. in any case, could we at least stop quoting (or even trying to quote) lincoln?

For what its worth, Bob Newhart the American Comedian did a spoof on this quote in the Mid 1950's. The skit was based on Madison Avenue Marketers advising Abe Lincoln that he needed to get the phase right, fool all of the people all of the time wasn't correct. The album was called something like, "The Button Down Mind of Bob Newhart."

utica -- Yeah, for a brief period I was using a quote from Teddy Roosevelt as an email signature: "To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." But I was never really comfortable with it because I'd plucked the quote out of context and didn't fully know what the context was to begin with. I don't want to promote, even in my own small way, this practice of using quotes as a substitute for backing up opinions with evidence and solid reasoning.

Thanks, that was timely as I used it to argue with repubs at Patterico.com.

Thanks Lindsay. I think it's absolutely imperative that the Democratic Leadership draws the line and calls out Rep. Young for his un-American, eliminationist speech -- and since the Democratic Leadership has not made a peep about this, that means we need to force them (and the mainstream media) to pay attention. I just posted a diary">http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2007/2/19/92639/2972">diary at Daily Kos arguing this (and included a link to this post), and containing useful contacts. Thanks and keep up the great work.

Young isn't the only Repug to make shit up on the House floor. Sam Johnson claims to have heard of veterans being spit on by hippies almost a decade before that urban legend was invented. He also claims that he heard about the cutoff of funds while a POW when the cutoff didn't pass until six months after he was released.

There more over at The First Church of Free Speech.

So, are you going to retract the stupid shit you said now that the qoute has been proven correct?

So, are you going to retract the stupid shit you said now that the qoute has been proven correct?

Where? By whom? How? A little linky-poo wouldn't hurt.

What are you talking about? J. Michael Waller, guy who actually wrote that quote owned up in the press and on his own blog. So, we can be relatively confident that "J. Michael Waller" isn't just a pseud for President Lincoln, what with Lincoln being dead and all.

So you're saying that Waller plagiarized an authentic Lincoln quote and then lied and said that he fabricated the plagiarized quote?

Thank you for this. I just received yet ANOTHER piece of propaganda crap from my mother-in-law and instead of just deleting it, I went through it point-by-point, clearing up the fabrications.

It reminds one of the Winter Soldiers who testified in front of Congress and were later shown to be liars motivated by personal political agendas. Who could forget their treasonous lies. Well, actually, the answer to that question is an interesting one. The people who voted for John Kerry either did not know the facts, forgot the facts, ignored the facts that didn’t support their socialist political agenda, or were not the kind of people who cared about integrity. The exact percentage distribution is a matter of speculation. One can only wonder how many of those such as Beyerstein, who are now rabidly on the attack for a Republican who believed a magazine quote to be true were the same ones who fervently supported a traitorous fabricator when he ran for office as a Democrat.

>Winter Soldiers who testified in front of Congress and were later shown to be liars motivated by personal political agendas.

There is absolutely no credible evidence this is true. (See esp. "Winter Solider Controversy.") This is one of those stubborn canards that has to be slapped down every time some numbnuts brings it up.

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