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Abe Lincoln, Peace Activist
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August 29
Partial Transcript, Abrams Report, April 5, 2005

Real Patriots Don't Shut Up.

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March 19, 2003
 
You know that as soon as the shootin' starts the pundits will tell us we're not supposed to protest any more. Thomas Oliphant is a shade less craven than most "journalists" these days, and even he is telling us to shut up:

This is the moment when the work so many have done on alternatives to avoid war or to start a war with the broadest possible coalition comes to an end.

We should all respect the view that any use of force is wrong, but for those whose ambivalence led them to support every realistic hope of a different outcome, the only proper course now is support for President Bush and prayers that it will be as quick a victory as he is expecting. [Oliphant, "An Absence of Doubt," The Boston Globe, March 18, 2003]

Bleep that.
 
On January 12, 1848, Rep. Abraham Lincoln (Whig, Illinois) gave a speech in the House against the Mexican War, a war that had been declared by Congress in May 1846. This speech is worth reading.
 
Lincoln was in a position similar to that of peace activists today. He opposed the war not because he was "pro Mexican" but because he believed the war was wrong for America. The President's stated reasons for the war were, Lincoln said, a pack of lies, and the war itself a violation of American principles and the Constitution itself.
 
Lincoln began by tackling the issue of criticizing an war already in progress:
When the war began, it was my opinion that all those who, because of knowing too little, or because of knowing too much, could not conscientiously approve the conduct of the President, in the beginning of it, should, nevertheless, as good citizens and patriots, remain silent on that point, at least till the war should be ended. Some leading democrats, including Ex President Van Buren, have taken this same view, as I understand them; and I adhered to it, and acted upon it, until since I took my seat here; and I think I should still adhere to it, were it not that the President and his friends will not allow it to be so. 
What compelled Lincoln to speak, he said, was President Polk's mis-statement of of the support the war received in the House. According to Lincoln, Polk had taken a vote in the House for war supplies to be an endorsement of the war itself.
... when that declaration stood disconnected from the question of supplies, sixty-seven in the House, and not fourteen merely, voted against it--beside this open attempt to prove, by telling the truth, what he could not prove by telling the whole truth--demanding of all who will not submit to be misrepresented, in justice to themselves, to speak out ...
So, Lincoln said, the support for the war in Congress was not as strong as Polk made it out to be, and Lincoln would not stand idly by and be misrepresented.
 
I don't want to go into details about the issues of the Mexican War ... well, no, in fact I do, but I recognize that most readers are not history geeks, as I am, so I'll refrain. The point is that President Polk had not made a case for the Mexican War that satisfied Congressman Lincoln:
I have sometimes seen a good lawyer, struggling for his client's neck, in a desperate case, employing every artifice to work round, befog, and cover up, with many words, some point arising in the case, which he dared not admit, and yet could not deny. Party bias may help to make it appear so; but with all the allowance I can make for such bias, it still does appear to me, that just such, and from just such necessity, is the President's struggle in this case. 
Indeed, Lincoln suspected Polk's motives:
That originally having some strong motive--what, I will not stop now to give my opinion concerning--to involve the two countries in a war, and trusting to escape scrutiny, by fixing the public gaze upon the exceeding brightness of military glory--that attractive rainbow, that rises in showers of blood--that serpent's eye, that charms to destroy he plunged into it, and has swept, on and on, till, disappointed in his calculation of the ease with which Mexico might be subdued, he now finds himself, he knows not where. 
Finally, please take these words of Lincoln and visualize Bush instead of Polk:
All this shows that the President is, in no wise, satisfied with his own positions. First he takes up one, and in attempting to argue us into it, he argues himself out of it; then seizes another, and goes through the same process; and then, confused at being able to think of nothing new, he snatches up the old one again, which he has some time before cast off. His mind, tasked beyond it's power, is running hither and thither, like some tortured creature, on a burning surface, finding no position, on which it can settle down, and be at ease. [Link to text of Lincoln's speech]
Uncanny, huh? But please don't complain to me about the little war Lincoln got into later in his life, because South Carolina started it.

Copyright 2003, 2004 by Barbara O'Brien

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