Don Young: let’s hang Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln, as a Congressman, opposed the Mexican War and denied the President’s right to wage it without Congressional authority.

For months now, but especially in the “surge” debates this week, Republicans have been peddling a bogus Abraham Lincoln quote about how Congressmen who oppose a war ought to be hanged.

One one level, it’s just disgusting for them to be fathering their own sadistic fantasies on Father Abraham.

On another level, as Digby reminds us, it’s deeply ironic. Lincoln strongly, even stridently, opposed the sole foreign war waged by the United States during his political career. He voted for a resolution saying that the Mexican War had be “unnecessarily and unconstitutionally commmenced by the President,” and his enemies never tired of making the charge that, in opposing the Mexican War, Lincoln had failed to support the troops.

Not only did he more or less call an incumbent President a liar by demanding to know “on what spot” Mexican troops had invaded U.S. soil (the casus belli claimed by the Polk Administration), Lincoln strongly denied the President’s claim to be able to make war whenever he thought the national security required it:

Allow the president to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such a purpose – and you allow him to make war at pleasure.

The argument from authority is always weak: even if we could know how Lincoln would have voted about the war in Iraq, even those of us who are his disciples couldn’t be sure that the Lincolnian position was the correct one. He was, after all, a protectionist and a segregationist. But insofar as Lincoln’s authority has weight, it can’t possibly weigh on the pro-war side of this debate (any more than Orwell’s can).

To his dying day, Lincoln remained a Whig: that is, among other things, a believer in the supremacy of the Congress and an opponent of foreign military adventures. Claiming him as an ally in a quest for empire abroad and dictatorial power at home requires an unusual degree of effrontery.

But pretending that he advocated his own hanging? Words fail.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: