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Honest, It Wasn't Abe

During House floor debate on the Iraq War resolution Thursday, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) fell into a trap that's caught plenty of other Iraq war supporters -- misquoting Abraham Lincoln as advocating the hanging of lawmakers who undermine military morale during wartime.

"Congressmen who willfully take action during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs, and should be arrested, exiled or hanged," Young quoted the 16th president as saying.

Young certainly added a sizzle to an otherwise fairly bland debate by raising the specter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her party faithful being arrested for opposing President Bush's troop surge.

The only problem: Lincoln never said such a thing. It was actually J. Michael Waller in a piece he wrote for Insight magazine in December of 2003. Waller later told Annenberg's FactCheck.org that the "supposed quote in question is not a quote at all, and I never intended it to be construed as one."

Annenberg counted 18,000 subsequent references to the Lincoln "quote" by people who typically support Bush's war policy and, moreover, oppose critics of the president's war policy.

Michael Bishop, the former executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, said it's easy for both sides of the debate to quote Lincoln. Those who oppose the Iraq War, he pointed out, can easily cite Lincoln's fiery speech on the Mexican War from the floor of the House in 1848 when he denounced President Polk "for waging what Lincoln considered to an unnecessary and immoral war."

Or if you're for the Iraq War, Bishops said, "Lincoln emerges as a very useful example because of his constancy and determination to win in the face of terrible opposition from within his own party and from the Democrats."

Shortly after he left the House floor Thursday, Young found out that -- woops -- he had mistakenly put words in Abe's mouth. Young's spokeswoman, Meredith Kenny, said the congressman took the quote directly from an article he read in The Washington Times on Tuesday, which as of Thursday had not been corrected.

"Now that he's been informed these are not the actual words of Lincoln, he will discontinue attributing the words to Lincoln. However, he continues to totally agree with the message of the statement," Kenny said. "Americans, especially America's elected leaders, should not take actions during a time of war that damage the morale of our soldiers and military -- and that is exactly what this non-binding resolution does."

And no, Kenny said, Rep. Young was "not advocating the hanging of Democrats."

By washingtonpost.com Editors  |  February 15, 2007; 6:38 PM ET
 
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