David Barton was a piker compared to Gonzales

I couldn’t believe it myself when Gonzales said Washington and Lincoln had authorized electronic surveillance, but now we have a corroborative account that shows that Washington did authorize grand electrical schemes. Remember, he had the assistance of Franklin, so it isn’t that implausible, is it?

Washington got his warrantless electic surveilance. And though the resulting confligration left 233 people dead, and the Barbary pirates avoided detection, a vital precedent was set. Nobody could tell the President to do diddly squat. He was the President, after all. This would come in handly four score and seven years later, when Lincoln was using electricity to shock the genitals of Southern prisoners—a new kind of electric surveilance, to be sure, but another great chapter in the history of freedom.


  1. Mark Paris says

    That explains the little white wires dangling from the ears of the statue of Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial – he was listening to an ipod. You have noticed them, haven’t you?

  2. Anonymous says

    We need to be clear about what is being defended by Gonzales here. It isn’t wiretapping, it’s data mining. Wiretapping, whether legal or illegal involves only a few individuals. Data mining involves ideas that are deemed to be somehow suspect. Washington’s interception of British messages during the Revolutionary war is no precedent at all for the sort of extensive data mining the Bush administration is trying to excuse today.

  3. says

    Well, I don’t know about surveillance, but I do know that Washington was an aristocrat who represented the rich. Does it mean Bush has a good precedent to steal from the poor and give to the rich?

  4. PaulC says

    I couldn’t believe it myself when Gonzales said Washington and Lincoln had authorized electronic surveillance

    What, you never heard of the celebrated midget telegraph spies who hid under the desks of confederate generals keying a morse transcript of the enemies’ plans?

  5. Mark Paris says

    I believe anonymous is right about data mining. Bush could easily have obtained warrants after the fact is they were, indeed, wiretapping only a limited number of individuals or lines (say, a thousand or so?). But of course he couldn’t get a warrant that would allow the government to tap every electronic communication in the country. I believe that’s the real story.

  6. says

    What possible kind of electronic surveillance could they have done, back then? I didn’t even know electricity was even in practical use.

    What, you doubt our Attorney General? If Alberto Gonzales says it, it must be true! How could it be otherwise?

    You’re one of them al-Qaeda loving liberals, aren’t you?

  7. PaulC says

    I didn’t even know electricity was even in practical use.

    As I suggested, telegraph communications were available when Lincoln was in office.

    Of course, it’d be pretty hard to conceal the cables. I wonder if anyone ever tried to tap telegraph lines, though. This would also not be electronic surveillance in the conventional sense of the term, since telegraphs are electromechanical devices that simply use the presence or absence of electric power to send a signal.

  8. PaulC says

    This is by no means intended to defend Gonzales’s remark, but it turns out that wiretapping of telegraphs was common during the civil war. From the link I just posted:

    In 1863, General Rosecrans deemed it most important to learn whether Bragg was detaching troops to reinforce the garrison at Vicksburg or for other purposes. The only certain method seemed to be by tapping the wires along the Chattanooga railroad, near Knoxville, Tennessee. For this most dangerous duty, two daring members of the telegraph service volunteered–F. S. Van Valkenbergh and Patrick Mullarkev. The latter afterward was captured by Morgan, in Ohio. With four Tennesseans, they entered the hostile country and, selecting a wooded eminence, tapped the line fifteen miles from Knoxville, and for a week listened to all passing dispatches. Twice escaping detection, they heard a message going over the wire which ordered the scouring of the district to capture Union spies. They at once decamped, barely in time to escape the patrol. Hunted by cavalry, attacked by guerillas, approached by Confederate spies, they found aid from Union mountaineers, to whom they owed their safety. Struggling on, with capture and death in daily prospect, they finally fell in with Union pickets-being then half starved, clothed in rags, and with naked, bleeding feet. They bad been thirty-three days within the Confederate lines, and their stirring adventures make a story rarely equaled in thrilling interest.

    Confederate wires were often tapped during Sherman’s march to the sea, a warning of General Wheeler’s coming raid being thus obtained. Operator Lonergan copied important dispatches from Hardee, in Savannah, giving Bragg’s movements in the rear of Sherman, with reports on cavalry and rations.

    Wiretapping was also practiced by the Confederates, who usually worked in, a sympathetic community. Despite their daring skill the net results were often small, owing to the Union system of enciphering all important messages. Their most audacious and persistent telegraphic scout was Ellsworth, Morgan’s operator, whose skill, courage, and resourcefulness contributed largely to the success of his daring commander. Ellsworth was an expert in obtaining dispatches, and especially in disseminating misleading information by bogus messages.

  9. Graculus says

    Eavesdropping on telegraphs would not be “electronic”, it would be “electrical”.

    Abu Gonzalez is still dumber than a bag of wet mice.

  10. PaulC says

    Eavesdropping on telegraphs would not be “electronic”, it would be “electrical”.

    Yes, I made that point. But it’s still an interesting piece of Civil War history. I was responding to Steven Sutton’s question of whether electricity was in “practical use”–left unspecified whether he meant in the time of Washington or Lincoln, but telegraphs were definitely in practical use when Lincoln was president.

  11. says

    Intercepting the communications of an enemy army is a far cry from listening in to the conversations of citizens.