I would like to urge all my readers (all two of you!) to start visiting FactCheck.org on a regular basis. This is a site run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center whose mission is to monitor the ‘accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases.’ This is a non-partisan group and their only aim is to try to make sure our politicians and politician-wannabees are actually telling the truth when they speak in public. They formed some years ago (2000 I believe) to try to address some of the accusations that fly around during campaign season. I get emails from them on a regular basis, and it is amazing (and disgusting!) how often the truth is twisted by politicians in an attempt to denigrate their opponents!

I just received an email from them in my inbox about a supposed quote by our 16th president that has been used by some Republicans to suggest that those who oppose their war policies are somehow disloyal and that Lincoln would have hanged them!

The quote is:

Congressmen who willfully take action during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs, and should be arrested, exiled or hanged.

Guess what? Lincoln never said it. This shouldn’t surprise any of you who have actually read about this great man and how he acted in a real war (as opposed to the ‘war’ on terrorism). What always amazes me about Lincoln is his restraint in a time of civil war.

Did he suspend habeas corpus? Yes. And there is legitimate debate about whether the Constitution gives a president the power to do this. In Lincoln’s case the Congress was not sitting at the time, and later retroactively approved his action. (The Constitution does expressly give Congress the power to suspend habeas corpus).

But in general Lincoln was amazingly tolerant of dissent in the northern states. The one example of intolerance that everyone loves to cite was his exile of former congressional member Clement Vallandingham who was actually urging northern soldiers to desert!

(There is a famous quote about this;

Long experience has shown that armies can not be maintained unless desertion shall be punished by the severe penalty of death. The case requires, and the law and the Constitution, sanction this punishment– Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wiley agitator who induces him to desert?)

But even in this case, he was not responsible for the arrest (Gen. Ambrose Burnside was) and wished that it had never happened. When Vallandingham returned to his home state despite being in violation of his sentence and started resuming political activities, Lincoln left him alone!

Compare this with many Republicans who like to suggest that if you don’t support the administration’s war policies, you are committing treason by ‘not supporting the troops.’ And see my previous post to find the sort of threats some of our government agents now engage in for saying something ‘suspicious’.

Anyway, the quote that is being cited originated in 2003 in an article by J. Michael Waller and was apparently an editor’s error. It was Waller’s opinion, not Lincoln’s. Before FactCheck got in touch with him about it, no one ever questioned him about it, and the magazine publisher never thought it necessary to issue a correction.

FactCheck also points out basic errors of history in Waller’s article and questions the conclusion that he reached, i.e. that this was Lincoln’s opinion of what should be done with those who disagree with the government.

It’s all crap and it pisses me off!

If you ever hear George Bush suggesting that he is somehow following in Lincoln’s footsteps in his use of presidential power in a time of war, don’t you believe him for one second. What is always incredible to me, and the thing that makes Lincoln a great man as well as a great president, is his understanding of and respect for our Constitution even during the greatest single crisis that our nation has ever undergone. Everything we have gone through recently pales in comparison; from 9/11 to the ‘war’ on terrorism, to Iraq, to Iran. Yet our current president is trying to claim powers that the Constitution expressly forbids him. Lincoln never did.

George could learn a lot from Abe.