House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) quotes Abraham Lincoln in a memo released Thursday as warning of debt, but ignores the former president's call for a tax or tariff.
The messaging to House Republicans quotes Lincoln expressing concern over debt:
The book Congressman Lincoln by Chris DeRose, which I recently read, includes a chapter focused on Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to help craft a new national agenda. At one point in the book, young Lincoln warns that government debt is “growing with a rapidity fearful to contemplate.”
“[Government debt] is a system not only ruinous while it lasts, but one that must soon fail and leave us destitute,” Lincoln warns his countrymen in Congressman Lincoln. “An individual who undertakes to live by borrowing, soon finds his original means devoured by interest, and next no one left to borrow from –- so must it be with a government.”
Lincoln’s words ring true today, perhaps to a degree greater than ever before.
Lincoln, however, while warning of debt, also said that the debt had been created by the unwillingness to consider new revenue.
"By this means a new national debt has been created, and is still growing on us with a rapidity fearful to contemplate -- a rapidity only reasonably to be expected in time of war. This state of things has been produced by a prevailing unwillingness either to increase the tariff or resort to direct taxation. But the one or the other must come," Lincoln wrote in the Whig Circular in 1843.
Boehner and House Republicans are unwilling to consider revenue to solve the cuts put in place by sequestration. "The president got his tax hikes on January 1. The talk about raising revenue is over. It’s time to deal with the spending problem," the House speaker said in a recent interview with ABC News.
In his writing, Lincoln goes further, calling for a direct tax or tariff. "We repeat, then, that a tariff sufficient for revenue, or a direct tax, must soon be resorted to; and, indeed, we believe this alternative is now denied by no one," he wrote. Lincoln then goes onto debate the various merits and pitfalls of establishing a direct tax versus increasing tariffs.
Boehner is hardly the first politician to misattribute Lincoln -- Presidents Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush have used statements attributed to Lincoln though there is no evidence that their predecessor actually spoke them. Here, though, Boehner wrenches Lincoln's words from context to fit his point.