Presidential Repression

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The neocon pundit Frank Gaffney had his war lust tempered a bit last week when he invoked a fake quote by Lincoln in a Washington Times column in which he viciously attacked congressional opponents of an escalation of the war in the Middle East to Iran and beyond. He called them all traitors by quoting Dishonest Abe as supposedly saying, "Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged."

The source of the quote was a December 23, 2003 Insight magazine column by Michael Waller, who now admits that the quote is not genuine. How disappointed our Strangelovian neocons (a.k.a., the Republican Party) must be. Poor Rep. Don Young of Alaska was forced to apologize for calling his congressional colleagues traitors under the supposed cover of "Father Abraham," as the Jaffa cult calls him. In a supreme act of humility, Congressman Young confessed to the Washington Post on February 16 that he "was not advocating the hanging of Democrats." (Not yet, anyway.)

But there is hope for our twenty-first century Dr. Strangeloves. Even if Lincoln never said the above statement, there is no denying that he did, in fact, arrest and exile Democratic Congressman Clement Vallandigham in 1863. And, he and his administration went on record on numerous occasions to say that all those who opposed them were guilty of treason. That’s why as many as 30,000 Northern citizens (or more) were imprisoned without due process during the Lincoln regime. The ultimate penalty for treason at the time was death by hanging. In fact, Lincoln believed that anyone who simply remained silent, and did not actively support his regime, was behaving in a treasonous manner. In his own words: “The man who stands by and says nothing when the peril of his Government is discussed cannot be misunderstood. If not hindered, he is sure to help the enemy; much more if he talks ambiguously — talks for his country with ‘buts’ and ‘ifs’ and ‘ands.’” (Roy Basler, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, vol. 6, p. 264).

Waller says that his editor at Insight mistakenly put quotations around the quote, when in fact they were his words, not Dishonest Abe’s. If so, then one would have a very difficult time arguing with Waller’s interpretation of Lincoln’s behavior.

When the British captured Washington, D.C. and set the White House on fire during the War of 1812 President James Madison, "father of the Constitution," never dreamed of mass arresting and imprisoning all dissenters, shutting down the opposition press, and deporting congressional opponents of his war policy, as Lincoln did. When Jefferson’s election as president spawned a secession movement among the New England Federalists, he announced in his first inaugural address that if there were any who wanted to break apart the union they should be left unmolested as a testament to the strength of Americans’ belief in a free society.

It was Lincoln who, immediately upon taking office, declared himself dictator, ignored the Constitution, abolished civil liberty in the Northern states, and waged total war on fellow citizens, killing 300,000 of them because they no longer consented to being governed by Washington, D.C. and politicians like himself. He did all of this on behalf of an abstraction he labeled "the mystic chords of union." This was not unlike how future tyrants would kill hundreds of thousands, or millions, of their own people for the sake of "creating socialist man," "the master race," and other collectivist abstractions.

The Waller article in Insight is mostly about the Vallandigham affair, which I write about in my latest book, Lincoln Unmasked. Congressman Vallandigham of Dayton, Ohio, was a huge thorn in the Republican Party’s side from the very first day of the Lincoln administration. In Lincoln’s Critics: The Copperheads of the North, Frank L. Klement writes that Vallandigham "was one of the most ardent supporters of compromise measures designed to prevent a military conflict between North and South" before the war. Once the war started, he became known as "the apostle of peace" and worked diligently for an end to the bloodshed and a reuniting of the two sections. He was a free trader, opposed Lincolnian central banking and corporate welfare schemes, was a vociferous opponent to Lincoln’s military conscription law, and was a Jeffersonian decentralist philosophically. He once stated that he was "inexorably hostile to Puritan domination in religion or morals or literature or politics." This of course is what happened to America in the post-1865 era with the New Englandization of the entire nation at the hands of the political descendants of the Puritans, the "Yankees. "

Clement Vallandigham posed a serious danger to the Lincoln regime, for as Klement wrote, "he was an excellent speaker." On January 14, 1863, he gave a stirring, pro-peace speech on the floor of the House of Representatives in which he charged that if the war continued, "civil rights would be washed away [in the North]. The arbitrary arrests . . ., the purging of the polls in the border states, the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, and the mobbing of Democratic newspapers were all steps toward an eventual despotism" (Klement, p. 119).

The Republican Party in Ohio gerrymandered Vallandigham out of his congressional seat, after which he ran for governor of Ohio. He continued to repeat his criticisms of the Lincoln regime, for which he was arrested and imprisoned, without due process, after sixty-seven armed federal soldiers broke into his Dayton, Ohio home in April of 1863.

Lincoln wanted to portray him as a traitor, so he instructed that he be handed over to "his people," the Confederate Army. The Confederates had no idea who Vallandigham was; he was not "one of them" but a former Congressman from the state of Grant and Sherman. He went into exile in Canada.

Lincoln never showed any respect for constitutional liberty and was a rude, crude, political shyster of the worst kind. (It is telling that one of his campaign managers in 1860 was the notoriously corrupt New York City politician Thurlow Weed). As such, he cleverly brushed aside all the protests over the treatment of Vallandigham ("There was a groundswell for Vallandigham among the masses," writes Klement) with a silly slogan. "Must I shoot" a poor boy who deserts from the Army, he asked, while not touching a hair on the head of "the wily agitator" who causes him to desert? (Repeated just last week by Rush Limbaugh). This masks and ignores the serious constitutional issue of the abolition of the separation of powers whereby one branch of government can literally imprison and deport members of another branch. But such technicalities were never Lincoln’s strong point; intentionally confusing political rhetoric was.

Isn’t there something sick about the fact that it is Lincoln the heavy-handed tyrant (and mass murderer of his own people) that appeals so much to the Frank Gaffneys, Rush Limbaughs, and Newt Gingriches of the world? Whenever almost any politician or pundit proposes the abolition of more of our personal liberties, or embarking on another unnecessary war that will kill thousands without protecting America (but make more enemies around the world while enriching politically-connected defense contractors), he invariably invokes The Legend of Father Abraham as his "justification."

When Newt Gingrich called for the invasion and occupation of Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea in a September 7, 2006 Wall Street Journal Online article, he naturally began the article with a quote from Lincoln about how we "must think anew." When Townhall.com, the web site founded by the Heritage Foundation, advocated sedition trials for opponents of the Bush administration’s foreign policies, they invoked the Lincoln legend in a series of articles in 2005 and 2006 (See Horace Cooper, "Not a Suicide Pact," and Ben Shapiro, "Should We Prosecute Sedition?" in the site’s archives).

When neocon pundit Michelle Malkin proposed rounding up all American Muslims and putting them in concentration camps, as was done to Japanese Americans during World War II, she praised Lincoln for having suspended habeas corpus and imprisoned thousands "without access to judges" (See her book, In Defense of Internment). And when American Enterprise Institute’s resident neocon political scientist Walter Berns wrote a book ("Making Patriots") complaining that America’s youth are too self-centered and not willing enough to participate in the neocon agenda of never-ending war around the globe, he offered the "solution" of more Lincolnite propaganda. We must indoctrinate America’s youth with the political rhetoric of Lincoln, our "statesman, poet, and . . . the martyred Christ of democracy’s passion play," says Berns. Don’t educate them about Lincoln’s behavior, he says (for obvious reasons), but "in the power and beauty of his words."

Left-wing statists play this game as much as these right-wing statists do. In a February 1991 article in The Nation magazine the renowned Columbia University "Civil War" historian Eric Foner opposed the break-up of the Soviet Union. The title of the article was "Lincoln’s Lesson." He harshly criticized Gorbachev for his weakness in allowing the Soviet republics to peacefully secede, something that Lincoln would never do. The American union was "a permanent government," a one-way Venus flytrap, as Murray Rothbard once sarcastically described it. Foner, who once described the Communist Party U.S.A. as "a cultural front that helped to redraw the boundaries of
American freedom," hoped that "Gorbachev would surely agree" that this was also true of the Soviet Union.

If you want to live under a government defined by militarism, mercantilism, dictator worship, and imperialism, then continue following the political sons and daughters of "Father Abraham" as they continue to invoke their "martyred Christ" as rhetorical cover for an agenda that sounds remarkably identical to early twentieth-century European fascism. Americans once fought a war against such an ideology, if you can recall.

Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland and the author of The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, (Three Rivers Press/Random House). His latest book is Lincoln Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed To Know about Dishonest Abe (Crown Forum/Random House).

Thomas DiLorenzo Archives at LRC

Thomas DiLorenzo Archives at Mises.org

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