The Neocon Case for Imprisoning and Executing Congressional War Opponents

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The neocon cabal is beginning to make the case for imprisoning — or possibly executing — members of Congress who oppose the war in Iraq. An example of this development is a December 23 Insight magazine article by senior editor J. Michael Waller entitled "When Does Politics Become Treason?" (Insight is an appendage of the Washington Times, the voice of the Washington, D.C. neocon establishment. Just before our May 2002 Independent Institute debate on Lincoln, Straussian neocon high priest Harry Jaffa made it a point to tell me that he is the chairman of the academic advisory committee of the Washington Times, where his colleague MacKubin Thomas Owens had just published an intemperate and apoplectic hatchet job on my book, The Real Lincoln, only a few weeks after all but comparing Jaffa’s latest book on Lincoln to the Bible in the same book review section.)

Naturally, the totalitarian/neocon case for imprisoning or executing the Bush administration’s political opponents is based on precedents established by Abraham Lincoln. "Lincoln’s policy was to have treasonous federal lawmakers arrested and tried before military tribunals, and exiled or hanged if convicted," Waller announces. He quotes Lincoln as saying that "Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs who should be arrested, exiled or hanged." Lincoln "spoke forcefully of the need to arrest, convict and, if necessary, execute congressmen who by word or deed undermined the war effort."

Of course, Lincoln defined a "saboteur" as virtually anyone who disagreed with his politics and policies and subsequently ordered the military to arrest literally tens of thousands of Northern political opponents, including dozens of opposition newspaper editors.

Both "Lincoln scholars" and neocon political activists typically take Lincoln at his word and seek no other definitions of treason or sabotage. To Lincoln, criticizing him or his administration amounted to "warring upon the military." And according to Waller, these words "apply to some lawmakers today," even though these lawmakers insist that they are opposing the Bush war policy "to support the troops."

Exhibit A in the neocon case for imprisoning political opponents is Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham of Ohio, who was forcefully taken from his Dayton, Ohio home in the middle of the night by 67 armed federal soldiers, thrown into a military prison without due process, convicted by a military tribunal, and deported. One place to read about Vallandigham is in Lincoln’s Critics: The Copperheads of the North, by historian Frank L. Klement. On the back cover James McPherson says that "Klement’s essays on the Democratic opposition to the Lincoln administration offers a vigorous defense of the legitimacy and value of that opposition." Interesting: Since when does political opposition in America require "legitimizing"?

While a newspaper editor in Ohio and, later, as a congressman, Vallandigham ridiculed the Whig and Republican Party political agenda of protectionism, corporate welfare for the railroad corporations, and inflationary finance through fiat money. He was a states’ rights Jeffersonian and a strict constructionist on the Constitution who once stated bluntly that he was "inexorably hostile to Puritan [i.e., New England and upper Midwest] domination in religion or morals or literature or politics." He and thousands of other Midwesterners where known as "Peace Democrats" who favored working toward a peaceful resolution of the sectional differences that existed. Vallandigham even became known as the "apostle of peace" throughout the Midwest.

Vallandigham was appalled and outraged at Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus and his arrest of thousands of Northern political opponents; the trial of civilians by military tribunals even though the civil courts were operating; arbitrary arrests without warrants or charges; military edicts that prohibited criticism of the Lincoln administration; the arrest of all of the editors of opposition newspapers in Ohio; and the mobbing and demolition of opposition newspapers by Republican Party activists or federal soldiers.

Vallandigham’s "act of treason" was to make a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives (which was repeated to his home constituents) in which he condemned the Lincoln administration’s "persistent infractions of the Constitution" and its "high-minded usurpations of power," which were designed as "a deliberate conspiracy to overthrow the present form of Federal-republican government, and to establish a strong centralized government in its stead." (See The Record of Hon. C. L. Vallandigham: Abolition, the Union, and the Civil War, Wiggins, MS: Crown Rights Publishers, 1998).

Starting a war without the consent of Congress, Vallandigham said, was the kind of dictatorial act "that would have cost any English sovereign his head at any time within the last two hundred years." Echoing Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, he railed against the quartering of soldiers in private homes without the consent of the owners; the subversion of the Maryland government by arresting some twenty legislators, the Mayor of Baltimore, and Congressman Henry May; censorship of the telegraph; and the confiscation of firearms from private citizens.

All of these things, said Vallandigham, were done not "to save the union" but to advance the cause of "national banks . . . and permanent public debt, high tariffs, heavy direct taxation, enormous expenditure, gigantic and stupendous peculation . . . and strong government . . . no more State lines . . . and a consolidated monarchy or vast centralized military despotism."

Such speech was said (by Lincoln) to discourage young Ohio boys from enrolling in the military and, through a Clintonian twist of logic, was therefore treasonous. The Republican Party made a big scene of handing the aged Vallandigham over to Confederate authorities in Tennessee in order to spread the myth that all political dissenters were spies or traitors. But the Confederates wanted nothing to do with Vallandigham, so he fled to Canada for he remainder of the war.

But Lincoln was not yet finished with Vallandigham. The political propaganda arm of the Republican Party was a secret society started in 1862 that became known as the Union League. The League spread hateful and false propaganda about any and all opponents of the Lincoln administration while lionizing the party and its leader. Frank Klement documents several huge lies that were effectively spread about Vallandigham by the Union League that served to "justify" Lincoln’s totalitarian act of deporting an outspoken political opponent.

First, the Union League forged a letter that implicated Vallandigham as one of the planners (from Ontario, Canada) of the July 1863 New York City draft riots. This was a complete forgery, as Klement proves. Nevertheless, it is still repeated to this day as "the truth." One Richard Ferrier of the Straussian neocon Declaration Foundation did so on a WorldNetDaily radio interview in April of 2002 in response to a previous appearance on the same program by myself.

The Union League forged other documents that claimed that it was Vallandigham who persuaded Robert E. Lee to head north into Pennsylvania in June of 1863, and that he was somehow involved in Confederate raider John Hunt Morgan’s abortive raids into Indiana and Ohio. These were all lies, as Klement proves.

The Union League continued to spread false history for years after the war, so that much of what Americans think they "know" today about the war is not so much fact as it is old, Union League propaganda. The worst of this propaganda is the notion that Democratic opponents of Lincoln were all traitors or snakes in the grass, i.e., "copperheads."

Interestingly, in his Insight article Waller noted that "given the recent controversy about the authenticity of quotations attributed to President Abraham Lincoln (See my article, "Abeloney" in the LRC "King Lincoln" archives), Insight went directly to the primary source for the presidential statements about how to deal with congressmen who sabotage the war effort." And what is this "primary source"? It is an 1863 publication entitled "The Truth from an Honest Man: The Letter of the President," published and "distributed by the Union League"!

Lincoln completely intimidated Congress by boldly deporting his chief critic. The message was clear: criticize the administration and this could happen to you. He also thumbed his nose at the Supreme Court by literally issuing an arrest warrant for Chief Justice Roger B. Taney after he issued an opinion that only Congress could constitutionally suspend habeas corpus. Lincoln simply ignored the Court and effectively destroyed the doctrine of separation of powers during his entire administration.

It wasn’t until after the war, and after Lincoln’s passing, that the Supreme Court regained the courage and integrity to state the obvious and declare, in Ex Parte Milligan (1866), that: "The constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and peace, and covers with its shield of protection all classes of men, at all times and under all circumstances. No doctrine involving more pernicious consequences was ever invented by the wit of men that any of its great provisions can be suspended during any of the great exigencies of Government."

Believers in limited constitutional government would say "Amen!" to this, but the Straussian neocon Lincoln idolater cabal ignores it as much as possible. Instead, they go on and on endlessly about what a great "statesman" Lincoln supposedly was by trampling on the Constitution to such an extent that his imprisoning of dissenters even included opposition members of Congress. So, don’t be surprised to see articles in the near future from the Claremont Institute, AEI, National Review, The Weekly Standard, and other neocon organs urging President Bush to be more "Lincolnesque" in his treatment of the war opponents in Congress.

Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is the author of The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, which was just re-released in paperback with a new chapter by Three Rivers Press/Random House.

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