December 12, 2005
What would President Lincoln do today?By Bob Weir
Clement Vallandigham is not exactly a prominent name in the history of the Civil War, at least as that history is recounted these days. Perhaps that's because traitorous behavior during wartime is not viewed as worthy of historical attention by the grandees of academia.
Mr. Vallandigham, a Democrat congressman from Ohio during the War Between the States, was a bitter critic of President Lincoln. Although not a secessionist, he believed the sole purpose of the war should be the preservation of the Union, not the abolition of slavery.
While troops were engaged in bloody battles on several fronts, Vallandigham continuously lashed out at Lincoln and the Republicans because of what he claimed was an improper handling of the war. Sound familiar?
Inevitably, his carping was viewed as injurious to the morale of the soldiers. In May of 1863, on orders from the President, Major General Ambrose Burnside sent troops to place Vallandigham under arrest for sedition. He was charged with violating a law that prohibited the giving of aid and comfort to the enemy.
Specifically, Vallandigham was charged with making 'treasonable utterances.' He was tried by a military commission, convicted, and sentenced to a prison term.
Lincoln, evidently feeling a rush of magnanimity, had the punishment commuted to banishment to the area behind Confederate lines. In other words, he sent the traitor to live with the enemies he had been aiding and abetting.
The congressman fled to Canada, (does this also sound familiar?) where he remained in exile for a time before quietly returning to Ohio, where he passed away in 1871.
There were other Democrats who felt similarly about the war and the Commander in Chief, but, either because they understood the peril they would cause to the soldiers, or because they saw what happened to their colleague, they refrained from such 'utterances' while the battle raged on.
The rest, as they say, is history; the Union was secured and slavery was ended. We'll never know what might have happened if President Lincoln had tolerated the cynical and negative comments from his most vocal critic. Yet, it's not hard to imagine that it would have led to a serious political division in the north and, possibly, another outcome to the war.
Recently, Democrat Senator John Kerry, speaking on a nationwide news program, said,
The very next day, Howard Dean, the Chairman of the Democrat National Committee stated on a San Antonio, Texas radio program,
In June of this year, Democrat Senator Dick Durbin remarked, after reading from a report that Guantanamo Bay detainees had been chained to a floor, forced to listen to loud rap music, and endure uncomfortable temperatures in their cells,
Democrat Senator Ted Kennedy said, referring to the Abu Ghraib prison story which recounted the humiliation of suspected terrorists by a few rogue American service members,
Just a few weeks ago, Democrat Congressman John Murtha said the US should pull out the troops.
Abraham Lincoln once wrote [editor's note: this attribution to Lincoln has been seriously disputed since publication of this article] ,
It seems to me, the suggestion that American soldiers are "terrorizing" innocent women and children in Iraq, or that the war they are fighting is 'un—winnable,' amounts to a cold and calculated political move designed to sabotage the efforts of the troops in the field. Lincoln, referring to the arrest of Vallandigham, said,
Having a right to say something doesn't necessarily mean it's right to say it. Freedom of speech is important to a democracy, but so is responsibility. Attempting to gain political advantage by risking the blood of men and women in battle is beneath contempt, and worthy of the label, traitor.
Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the excutive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas. BobWeir777@aol.com