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Longtime GOP activist Frank Gaffney comes awfully close to suggesting war opponents are committing treason. In doing so, he takes a quote from Abraham Lincoln that makes Gaffney's own blather sound downright sane:

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

Problem is, Lincoln never said it. As Glenn Greenwald explains, the quote was basically fabricated by an editor at Insight magazine in 2003, and the pro-war crowd has been running wild with it ever since.

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  1. Wasn’t Gaffney aware that Lincoln opposed the Mexican-American war while he was a member of Congress?

  2. What’s worse: that Gaffney is rhetorically threatening a majority of the United States Congress with execution, or that he is genuinely arguing that the Office of Special Plans was right to issue their ginned up report about Saddam/Al Qaeda connections, even though we now know for certain that it was false?

  3. Well, they’re willing to lie about Saddam’s WMDs, making up Lincoln quotes to prop up their jingoist bullshit is well within their capacity and character (or lack thereof).

  4. So, is Gaffney suggesting that everything Lincoln said is the absolute truth? If he had said that, would it be more reasonable to start hanging Congresspersons* or to disagree with Mr. Lincoln?

    * Not that hanging Congresspersons for other reasons is necessarily a bad idea…

  5. Lies! Oceania has always been at war with East Asia!

  6. Wikipedia has a bit more on Lincoln’s behavior during the Mexican-American War:

    He spoke out against the Mexican-American War, which he attributed to President Polk’s desire for “military glory – that attractive rainbow, that rises in showers of blood.” Besides this rhetoric, he also directly challenged Polk’s claims as to the boundary of Texas.[12] Lincoln was among the 82 Whigs in January 1848 who defeated 81 Democrats in a procedural vote on an amendment to send a routine resolution back to committee with instructions for the committee to add the words “a war unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun by the President of the United States.” The amendment passed, but the bill never reemerged from committee and was never finally voted upon.[13]

    Lincoln damaged his reputation by an intemperate speech in the House. He announced, “God of Heaven has forgotten to defend the weak and innocent, and permitted the strong band of murderers and demons from hell to kill men, women, and children, and lay waste and pillage the land of the just.” Two weeks later, Polk sent a peace treaty to Congress. No one in Washington paid any attention to Lincoln, but the Democrats orchestrated angry outbursts from all over his district, where the war was popular and many had volunteered. In Morgan County, resolutions were adopted in fervent support of the war and in wrathful denunciation of the “treasonable assaults of guerrillas at home; party demagogues;” slanderers of the President, defenders of the butchery at the Alamo, traducers of the heroism at San Jacinto.

  7. “* Not that hanging Congresspersons for other reasons is necessarily a bad idea…”

    Crimethink, you beat me to it!

  8. the return argument will be

    ” you cant provy he he didnt say it! You dont have a plan!”


  9. “Well, they’re willing to lie about Saddam’s WMDs.”

    Who lied about Saddam’s WMDs?

  10. Sorry, ‘Prove’


  11. I’m going to fabricate some Ronald Reagan quotes to refute the fabricated Lincoln quotes.

  12. comes awfully close to suggesting war opponents are committing treason.

    Apparently he is not brave enough to go all the way and tell the obvious truth.

  13. Fuck Insight, Gaffney, Lincoln, and the troops.

    – Josh

  14. Longtime GOP activist Frank Gaffney

    Would this be the same guy who’s been pushing the doomsday scenario? Why yes. Yes it would be.

  15. James K Polk was this countries greatest President. The Lincoln “endorsement” adds to the case.

  16. Lincoln never said it….the quote was basically fabricated

    Nothing new here. People have been misquoting Lincoln for years.

    For some reason it makes Democrats feel good to repeat the myth that “everyone was a racist then”.

  17. For some reason it makes Democrats feel good to repeat the myth that “everyone was a racist then”.

    What you mean?

  18. Lincoln, Reverend Moon, same difference. Whaddya want?

  19. Do EMPs affect pacemakers?

    How many congressmen have pacemakers?

  20. Do EMPs affect pacemakers?

    I don’t know. But I assume EMP would be one way to get American Idol off the air.

  21. “Problem is, Lincoln never said it.”

    Wasn’t it Samuel Johnson who said, “Facts are the last refuge of scoundrels.”?

    …er, wait…no, that was “patriotism”! “Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.”

    What’s the difference anyway? Patriotism, facts–it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other to a scoundrel.

  22. Reminds me of Goering quote (and it is correctly attributed):

    “Naturally the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. …Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country”

  23. Actually, given that Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and imprisoned thousands of Northern war dissenters (including anti-war newspaper editors and 31 Maryland legislators), it seems that Gaffney is following squarely in the tradition of Lincoln.

    In fact Lincoln even exiled a US Congressman from Ohio – Clement Valladingham – for making anti-war remarks during a campaign speech… again very Gaffney-like.

  24. It would be nice if Congress would send bills to the President like the Declaration of War in the Mexican-American War. It basically said, “The President is a total dick for starting this war, but its too late to stop it now. (Note that it actually was.)”

  25. James K Polk was this countries greatest President. The Lincoln “endorsement” adds to the case.

    Polk was only the second greatest President from Tennessee. How could he be the greatest one of the nation?

  26. Patrick, I was thinking of the Vallandigham case too, but Lincoln’s position probably wasn’t as extreme as the quotation ascribed to him. In his response to the Albany Resolves, he gave some tortured reasoning to the effect that if someone speaks against a law knowing it will probably lead people to break the law, then the person has the responsibility to explicitly condemn breaking the law. So by that standard, he argued, Vallandigham incited unlawful conduct. Amusingly, Vallandigham did explicitly condemn draft resistance and desertion, but Lincoln either didn’t know that or simply ignored it.

    I’m taking this from the Geoffrey R. Stone book Perilous Times.

  27. In fact Lincoln even exiled a US Congressman from Ohio – Clement Valladingham – for making anti-war remarks during a campaign speech… again very Gaffney-like.

    How could that be if Ohio was never made a State and we don’t need to pay incom tax?

  28. The quote may be inaccurate, but that doesn’t mean that Gaffney isn’t following in Lincoln’s tradition.

    It just means that much of Lincoln’s conduct is a disgraceful as Gaffney’s rhetoric.

  29. If one elimates the hidden premise that Lincoln is to be considered a demigod no matter what, but instead was just another politician that became corrupted with power, then you are left with a temptest in a teapot–because Lincoln did truly and frequently act like a tyrant in the 1860s, as opposed to his positions in the 1840s.

  30. As George Washington said, “those neoconservatives are idiots.”

    Or, to quote Oscar Wilde, “Frank Gaffney is a dillweed.”

  31. Guy,

    Although I certainly admire “Old Hickory” particularly for his actions before assuming the Presidency-namely in Alabama, Spanish Florida and Louisiana- I rate Polk #1. He only served one term, we didn’t get involved in a Civil War, and he added a whole lot of real estate with little hassle or drama. The Mexican War went swimmingly-as far as wars go, and he bluffed the British out of the Pacific Northwest.We may have had a greater President but not one who served a single term.

  32. “war opponents are committing treason……”

    Well… if their opposition is purely political
    based on wanting the Opposition President and his Party to FAIL. And assuming, hypothetically, they would support the War if it was conducted by an executive of their own Party and/or had the support of a majority of the American People and/or their constituency..

    How would you characterize their opposition?

    I would say if they are undermining the War effort and positioning the USA to FAIL for Partisan political reasons, as opposed to strictly moral and policy differences, they are fucking traitors and are Damn lucky we don’t live in a Just Society which would give them their due.

    especially if they voted for it

    “Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!”

    Stephen Decatur

  33. “GOP activist”? Gaffney’s a warmonger, plain and simple.

  34. Wow, Jackson and Polk as great presidents. What are the qualifications? Ethnic cleansing? Imperialism? Unjust wars?

  35. Parabellum,

    Thank goodness you knew who I meant for first best.

  36. There are too many Daves on this board.

    Gaffney was wrong, that quote is actually from Chief Seattle’s famous 1800’s speech warning of automobile pollution, AIDS, global warming, Three Mile Island, and Vanilla Ice.

  37. I really don’t think he cared if it was a real quote or not. It served his point, one way or another. I doubt that knowing it wasn’t real would have kept him from publishing it anyways (and he knew most of his readers would lap it up and assume it was true)


    But thanks to the James K. Polk talk, I’ve got a song stuck in my head.

    In 1844, the Democrats were split
    The three nominees for the presidential candidate
    Were Martin Van Buren, a former president and an abolitionist
    James Buchanan, a moderate
    Louis Cass, a general and expansionist
    From Nashville came a dark horse riding up
    He was James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump

    Austere, severe, he held few people dear
    His oratory filled his foes with fear
    The factions soon agreed
    He’s just the man we need
    To bring about victory
    Fulfill our manifest destiny
    And annex the land the Mexicans command
    And when the votes were cast the winner was
    Mister James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump

    In four short years he met his every goal
    He seized the whole southwest from Mexico
    Made sure the tarriffs fell
    And made the English sell the Oregon territory
    He built an independent treasury
    Having done all this he sought no second term
    But precious few have mourned the passing of
    Mister James K. Polk, our eleventh president
    Young Hickory, Napoleon of the Stump

  38. Strictly speaking, we cannot say that Lincoln never made the comment in question, but only that we have no evidence that he did. Besides, he probably used all the words in the quote, if not exactly in that order, so why quibble over minor details? In any number of possible worlds, Lincoln did make the statement. In fact, in some of those worlds Ronald Reagan freed the slaves, Lincoln married Hillary Rodham and the writers of “Lost” haven’t just been jerking viewers’ chains for years.

    (I gained these liberating insights, by the way, in Intelligent Design threads here over the years. You claim dinosaurs and human beings never coexisted? Then how do you account for the Flintstones, Mr. Smarty-Pants Scientist?)

  39. I wouldn’t doubt for a minute Lincoln had thoughts along these lines, though was far too politically savvy to speak them. Sgt. Henry Hayward, 29th Ohio, March 2, 1863, letter to his sister, Cora: “I believe that if such men as Vallandigham should come here (Virginia) and talk the way he does in Congress the soldiers would kill him.”

  40. I don’t see his quotes from the Mexican War and the Civil War as contradictory. Sure, actually being in power probably helped some of that, but all of this assumes an equivalency (in both Lincoln’s mind and actuality) between the two wars. Somehow I think our Civil War was kind of a bigger deal where treason would be more of an actual threat it would during than a war of expansion (or someone else’s civil war, for that matter)

  41. “Somehow I think our Civil War was kind of a bigger deal where treason would be more of an actual threat it would during than a war of expansion (or someone else’s civil war, for that matter)”

    I don’t think intolerance of dissent is ever justified in a free country.

  42. Your not living in a free country if there is a civil war going on.

    I often make the point, when someone defends the administration’s wiretapping and mail-reading practices on the grounds that he in commander in chief and we are at war, that our homes and neighborhoods are not battlefields.

    Well, during the Civil War, they were.

    Which is not to defend everthing Lincoln did, but he gets a little more leash.

  43. What I’ve always wondered about this type of argument is, Do the people who make the argument actually believe what they are saying?

    That is, are they genuinely concerned about people getting killed because of free discussion? I just don’t understand the impulse to argue this way. It isn’t rhetorically clever and it doesn’t have a high correlation with what you’d call “the real world”, so I can only surmise that people who do this believe that there is something menacing about public debate on the war.

  44. JasonL,

    Calling people traitors doesn’t have to be clever or reality-based to be successful.

    Once you’ve got a lynch mob, all you have to do is point and yell “Get ‘im,” and it works.

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