Glenn Greenwald points to this Washington Times column by Frank Gaffney, in which Mr. Gaffney wistfully looks back to the good old days in which government officials who dissented during times of war could be hanged. Gaffney begins his column with a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln but which in fact is a fabrication.
Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged. — J. Michael Waller
I put J. Michael Waller’s name there because he admitted the words are his, not Lincoln’s, but he insists the false attribution was the fault of a copyeditor. See Glenn’s post for details.
Anyone who knows anything about Lincoln ought to know he wouldn’t have said that. In fact, Lincoln was a war dissenter in his early political career. As a congressman in 1848, Rep. Abraham Lincoln (Whig – Illinois) gave this speech on the House floor, in which he criticized President Polk’s war with Mexico. I wrote about this speech in March 2003, back when everybody and his uncle were shushing dissent from the plan to invade Iraq.
Lincoln began by acknowledging it was controversial to speak out against a 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.
From there, Lincoln reviewed Polk’s claims and justifications for war, and finds them flimsy and possibly fabricated. Rep. Lincoln also introduced a resolution calling for President Polk to be held accountable for the claims he made to get the U.S. into the war.
(James Polk shook a declaration of war against Mexico out of Congress by claiming Mexican troops had advanced into U.S. soil. In fact, as an eyewitness wrote many years later, the Mexicans were deliberately provoked so that Polk could have his war. See Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, chapters 3-7.)
Good think nobody hanged Mr. Lincoln back in 1848, huh?
In his post, Glenn Greenwald quotes Theodore Roosevelt:
The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole.
Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile.
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. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.
I like that quote so much I put it on a T-shirt some time back. Anyway, as Glenn says — it’s Frank Gaffney and his ilk who are the real traitors.