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.