Spielberg’s “Lincoln”

At two and a half hours, it is both too long and too short. Would have made a better TV series, like “Roots,” wherein the history could have been explored in greater detail. Also, the title is misleading in the same way as reference to reform of the medical insurance industry as “Obamacare” is misleading. What the movie is really about is the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment by a lame duck Congress and before the readmission of the secessionist states to the Union would have interfered with the passage of a law to regularize the status of former slaves as free men and citizens. Peace was held hostage and the city of Wilmington was torched to extort a permanent change from self-serving members of the House, not very different from the scoundrels we see grandstanding today.
Thaddeus Stevens, compellingly portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones, is rightly credited as the moral force behind the termination of legal slavery and his speeches are presumably accurate renditions of what is preserved in the Congressional Record. So, in retrospect, there is some irony in his restriction of the principle of equality to legal/legislative dealings, the rule of law. No one could have expected a hundred and fifty years ago that the impulse to rank and segregate their fellow men would lead the majority of the population to countenance the abrogation of most human rights in the interest of maintaining dictatorship. Who knew that government by the people could be effectively undone by the rule of law, impersonal, impartial and highly impervious to change?  Who knew that the deprivation of human rights would be the price of civil rights?
Legal injustice. Slavery was the exemplar from the beginning, was it not? What the law taketh, it can return and then take away again. And the scofflaw legislators need not even show their hand.

      Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

       Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.[2]

21 Responses to Spielberg’s “Lincoln”

  1. BurtCohen December 26, 2012 at 9:37 pm #

    The premise of the movie is a fiction. Thaddeus Stevens was the driving force, Lincoln was not involved. Lincoln was all about concentrating and centralizing power, and the big corporate interests at the time, the railroads, were the beneficiaries.
    There was a great deal of unnecessary bloodshed.

    Great movie, though.

    • Kathy Sullivan 2 December 27, 2012 at 3:12 am #

      Burt, you must be confusing Lincoln with Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer – now that was fiction (although the premise of slaveowners as bloodsucking vampires is not that far off from what they were).

      Seriously, saying Lincoln was “not involved” in ending slavery goes beyond revisionist history to something closer to an alternative universe. You have a blind eye on this topic, you need to cleanse your head by reading some history not written by apologists for the confederacy.    

    • xteeth December 27, 2012 at 5:01 pm #

      I have hand written diaries from my great great grandfather who was from southern Ohio. It is very clear that people from around where he lived cared little for the slavery argument. They went to war (in his case walked all the way to Savannah from Uhrichsville, Ohio to preserve the union. He took part in the battles of Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, Atlanta, Chattanooga, Richmond, Perrysvile, Savannah, and Kenneshaw Mountain though not always in the front line. I think I’ll stick with his views on this subject.

    • hannah December 27, 2012 at 7:08 pm #

      All out state and local governments are public corporations, artificial bodies created by charters, whose membership is based on residence, rather than purchase or voluntary association. Corporations are organized for specific purposes, as outlined in their charters, and are assigned immunities and powers to further those purposes. Thus, when certain factions undertake to subvert those purposes, they can properly, it has been determined, be considered to be in a state of insurrection and liable to being considered an enemy of the state. Commitments and the assumption of obligations have consequences. One can remain in a state of disassociation as, for example, Korea and the Philippines chose to do, unlike Hawaii, but, having once joined the union, disassociation can rightly be perceived as a threat.

      Equality under the law has turned out to be a deceptive notion, as long as respect for human rights is not fundamental. As long as juveniles are categorized as the property of their parents, women are denied the integrity of their bodies and adult males are required to register for involuntary military service, the rule of law is a tyrant in waiting. The Thirteenth Amendment is not being complied with.

  2. BurtCohen December 27, 2012 at 11:36 pm #

    Of course Lincoln was heavily, deeply involved in ending slavery. What is inaccurate in the movie is his alleged involvement in working congress to pass the 13th amendment. That was Stevens, not Lincoln.  

    • Dartmouth Dem December 28, 2012 at 1:59 am #

      Burt, gotta brush up on your Civil War history. Lincoln was critically involved in passing the 13th Amendment. . . .

      The legislation failed to get a 2/3 majority the first time it was put before the House. Then Lincoln demanded that it be a central part of the 1864 GOP platform, and he worked holdout Dems to security the required majority the second time the 13th Amendment was taken up by Congress in January 1865. In addition, Lincoln set forth that southern post-war state legislators would need to accept the 13th Amendment as a condition of sending representation to Congress.  

      • BurtCohen December 28, 2012 at 3:46 am #

        While no one is arguing that the 13th amendment was anything but great, there is disagreement among historians as to Lincoln’s actual role. No doubt, Thaddeus Stevens did the heavy lifting. That is agreed. But there remains real doubt as to Lincoln’s role as set forth in the movie. Obviously Lincoln signed that amendment, one of the hugely positive things he accomplished.

        Look I loved FDR but even he did things worthy of criticism. Lincoln’s assault on civil liberties, his clamping down on newspapers, approving the mass execution of Dakota Indians, and his concentration of power in the railroads and other “trusts,” among others.

        It is a great movie, and of course parts are fictionalized. Does it retain an accurate sense of the times and his presidency? My guess is it does tremendously well.  

        • Ray Buckley December 28, 2012 at 3:57 am #

          History Is always written from the perspective of an individual based on their knowledge and experiences. Often two or more entirely different views can be accurate.  

        • BurtCohen December 28, 2012 at 4:30 am #

          That’s the word I was trying to think of. The movie undoubtedly has it.  

        • Kathy Sullivan 2 December 28, 2012 at 6:53 pm #

          Burt, who is your favorite president?

          • BurtCohen December 28, 2012 at 10:00 pm #

            FDR. You knew that.

            Did he have blemishes? Of course. And aside from Vietnam, LBJ was pretty great too.

            I see where you are going: FDR personified centralized legislating to create the New Deal. But had there been regions, it could have been done that way as well. Just as now health care could well be regionalized, not nationalized.

            Who is yours Kathy?

            • Kathy Sullivan 2 December 29, 2012 at 1:39 am #

              I wasn’t going anywhere – I really was just curious about your favorite president!

              There are several about whom I don’t know enough, sad to say, the whole period from 1876 to the end of the century is pretty much a blank to me, which is pretty pathetic. Think about that whole Cleveland/Harrison/Cleveland period.

              So, with that caveat, I would say George Washington. His decision to step aside after two terms was critical to the development of the United States as a democracy.  

              Also a big fan of Truman; my mother used to say, he was a great man because he integrated the armed forces and fired General McArthur.

          • Dartmouth Dem December 30, 2012 at 1:40 am #

            1. FDR — He conquered the two greatest challenges of the 20th century, the Great Depression and WWII. He is responsible for Social Security, the United Nations, the SEC, the FDIC, the National Labor Relations Act, Lend Lease, and the survival of the United Kingdom (and much, much more). He is the greatest president of all time. By far.

            2. Theodore Roosevelt — After decades of White House inertia (cited by Kathy), TR pioneered the power of the modern American presidency. He busted the trusts that threatened to turn American into a Rockefeller-driven oligarchy, and regulated the railroads. He established the Interstate Commerce Commision. He was the original conservationist and protected hundreds of millions of acres. TR also regulated the food supply, built the Panama Canal, and invited Booker T. Washington to the White House at a time when even the slightest hint of civil rights was political poison.

            3. Abraham Lincoln — Haven’t seen the movie yet, but holding together the union and ending slavery are accomplishments that merit some semblance of praise (right, Burt? :)).

            4. Woodrow Wilson — I have a soft spot for idealists. While Wilson never saw his dream of American entry into the League of Nations, he was the sole catalyst for the creation of the first global multi-national body dedicated to preserving peace and justice around the world. Every person saved by UN peacemakers owes a debt to Wilson and his Fourteen Points. He also deserves credit for passing the Federal Reserve Act, the Clayton Anti-Trust Act, and for cracking down on child labor (first-ever federal legislation).

            5. Lyndon Johnson — LBJ was a paranoid and insecure leader, and his weakness cost America dearly in Vietnam. But he is responsible for the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, student loans, the first-ever federal gun control legislation, and, of course, Medicare. Poverty among senior citizens dropped by half between 1960 and 1970, and has stayed at lower levels ever since. Thanks you, LBJ.

            George Washington may have been our greatest leader, but he (and Jefferson, Madison, etc.) served at a time when presidential power was not sufficient to guide the direction of the country. That is not why they are on the list. Their key accomplishments came outside their presidential tenures.

            None of these men were perfect, and one could write a long diary cataloging their flaws and abuses. But they created real benefits for our country and our world.  

            • Rep. Jim Splaine December 30, 2012 at 3:16 am #

              I’d take exception especially with your characterization of Lyndon Johnson.  Just because he was President at the time and agreed to sign the legislation, I don’t think it is accurate to say he was “responsible” for the Civil Rights Act — Martin Luther King, Jr. was more responsible for that, along with some members of Congress.  

              He was also not “responsible” for the Voting Rights Act.  Student loans was a long-developed program back to the GI bills coming out of World War II, with many variations.  I think it’s true he played a major role on fighting poverty with his focus on the “Great Society.”  Medicare dates back to Harry Truman’s efforts, and even before him.  And certainly Claude Pepper and others.  

              Too often we give more credit to the person who signs the bills than those who worked to get them along the way.  And Lyndon Johnson killed some of my friends by getting us much more involved in Vietnam.  So he’ll never be on my list of “great” anything. Though he wasn’t as bad as a couple dozen others.  

              • Dartmouth Dem December 30, 2012 at 3:32 am #

                . . . but would encourage you to read Michael Beschloss’s brilliant compilations of LBJ’s tapes in 1963 and 1964 (volume 1). LBJ took on his mentor Dick Russell and southern intransigents in both parties, personally lobbied dozens of fence-sitting conservative legislators (his working of Everett Dirksen was brilliant) and devised the legislative strategy to put Kennedy/King’s tream into federal policy.

                It was brilliant. And he does deserve credit. Certainly not alone (none of these Presidents implementing their agendas without help).

                But there’s a reason why Truman did not sign Medicare into law (although he was sitting next to LBJ when Johnson did, and credited the President). And we can be sure that JFK would have pushed through the Civil Rights Act if he could. LBJ did it.

                He will be remembered for his flaws, but merits credit for his successes. And they were profound ones.  

            • BurtCohen December 31, 2012 at 4:12 am #

              LBJ got it done: civil rights, medicare. He had tremendous power on the Hill. I wish Obama had more of that. Not pretty but it worked.

              Eisenhower was pretty great too. Peace and prosperity, the highway system, the warning about the military industrial complex. And he knew it was in the republic’s interest to tax the very rich heavily.

              And in 1947, nationalized health care was very popular, as a continuation of the New Deal. The racist southern senators feared mixing of blood and scuttled it.

              The 1890s are a fascinating period: the dominance of the railroad power and the plutocrats. Wm Jennings Bryan took them on, but the plutocrats fought back. Read A Godly Hero, by Michael Kazin.

              History is great fun.

        • Dartmouth Dem December 30, 2012 at 9:44 am #

          I like to think this makes up for Dinesh D’Souza and Charlie Bass.  

  3. mevansnh December 28, 2012 at 3:33 pm #

    how accurate the film was in its subject matter, but I do know that watching Daniel Day-Lewis portray A. Lincoln gave me the awesome feeling that I was in the presence of a real man, a humble man, a deeply sensitive man.  The performances of the others also gave me an emotional experience.  

    I knew nothing about Thaddeus Stevens, and so when I returned home, I did a little research.  My great hobby is genealogy, and I discovered that T. Stevens was born in Danville, VT, and that his maternal grandfather was a sibling to two of my partner’s ancestral grandparents.  The family of Ensign Abner Morrill originally lived in the Salisbury/Haverhill part of MA in the 18th Century. Some of their children were born in Hampton, NH.  It is a small world.

  4. ruthcserr December 29, 2012 at 8:01 pm #

    This is an important contribution to any discusiion of “Lincoln”:


    • hannah December 30, 2012 at 1:16 am #

      westward passage brought with them skills and aptitudes without which the people who purchased them and put them to work would not have enjoyed even a modicum of the success they achieved amidst regular bankruptcies. Jefferson was an exception. Most of the people who acquired plantations and presumed to benefit from industrialized agriculture had not idea how to do anything that would provide sustenance. Nor did the plantation culture encourage them to learn. So, when the slaves were no longer kept in their place by force of law, they turned to providing for themselves and the ownership society was bereft. Then jealousy reared its ugly head and the achievements of blacks were negated by thievery and worse. Failure likes company. People who hadn’t constructed the South in the first place certainly weren’t up to reconstructing it. The South did not begin to prosper until the majority population realized that not being as poor as black folk is not a recipe for success.

      Incompetents lording it over those upon whom they have to rely for their daily bread is not new. What is perhaps new, as a result of our total conversion to using money to account for everything, is our awareness of the extent to which incompetents have managed to accumulate benefits for themselves even as they denigrate the 99%. And knowing how big the gap is makes it possible to come up with a mechanism to close it.

  5. RealNRH January 2, 2013 at 3:52 am #

    I had a problem with Tommy Lee Jones being cast in that role, myself. Not that he played the role poorly; far from it. But for me, I could never get past “That is Tommy Lee Jones in a deliberately bad wig” and accept him as the person he was portraying. The price of being famous for acting; it gets harder to vanish into the character. I wish that had been someone new giving a breakout performance, when I’m not having to imagine him about to whip out a Neuralyzer.

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