Skip to comments.Lincoln Re-Examined
Posted on 11/30/2012 12:10:03 PM PST by Kaslin
Every schoolchild with enough smarts and curiosity to get beyond the latest video game of "Call of Duty" ought to go see "Lincoln," the movie, and check out the references and his own attention span. It requires patience, but it shows through dramatic action how a self-taught rustic from the deep backwoods had the emotional and intellectual discipline to overcome poverty and grow up to be a president to rank among the greatest.
This is not about the American Dream or a Horatio Alger story. (Does anybody remember him?) Nor is it mythmaking. It's made of sterner stuff than that. Although there are 16,000 or so books about Lincoln, and a famous movie with Henry Fonda as the young Lincoln, there's enough freshness in this late portrait to animate anyone eligible to watch a movie with the PG-13 rating.
To whet an appetite, there's the excerpt available on the Internet where the president, played by Daniel Day Lewis, explains his political philosophy to two young men working in the White House telegraph office. Lincoln recalls Euclid's 2,000-year-old dissertation on mechanical reasoning, the principle that "things that are equal to the same thing are equal to each other." Euclid says it's "self-evident." Lincoln agrees.
Such nuggets of wisdom abound, along with references from Shakespeare and a bawdy story about a portrait of George Washington hanging in an outhouse to inspire relief for British soldiers in the Revolutionary War. Lincoln was a learned man, but he was earthy, too. He drew on deep learning and applied it widely. He talks in parables and finds a story to illustrate just about every situation and strategy.
In one scene, while he waits with his Cabinet for news of the shelling of Wilmington, N.C., he begins a story: "I heard tell once." The phrase so exasperates Secretary of War Edwin Stanton that he walks away, telling the president, "I don't believe that I can bear to hear another one of your stories right now." This is no marble president on a pedestal.
But Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" is an epic of sorts. It begins in the middle of things. The Civil War, though nearing the end, has been going on for four years. Lincoln is the old "war horse," but unlike Spielberg's earlier movie of that name, "Lincoln" has only one brutal battle scene.
The most poignant evocation of war shows Lincoln riding through a field of ripped and rotting corpses, and Lincoln takes off his stovepipe hat in homage to the dead, North and South and Americans all. This is not a hymn to "arms and the man" so much as a long mournful dirge played on the strings of banjos, fiddles and the keys of a parlor piano. It's as gritty and earthbound as the America of Mark Twain.
This "Lincoln" is not about heroism and ideals, but about reality and fighting for what's right, even when "right" is seen from two distinctly different points of view -- or, as Lincoln puts it, "the right as God gives us to see the right." If there was no room to compromise over slavery before the war, the struggles for compromise are not over afterward because the winds of war still blow. They merely change direction.
While every schoolchild knows that Abe Lincoln freed the slaves, not many that I've met actually know how he did it. Few seem to understand that the Emancipation Proclamation freed only the slaves in the 11 Confederate states. Fewer still know why Lincoln thought it crucial before he began his second term, and before the war was over, to enact the 13th Amendment to give all men equality under the law. That's the tight focus of the movie.
I watched "Lincoln" with two precocious teenagers, who in spite of their bravado and smarts leaned toward the screen to listen closely to Lincoln's complicated and legalistic explanation of why the country needed the 13th Amendment. They conceded they learned things they didn't know about both the law and Lincoln. (So did I.)
This is a talky movie. Compared to popular 3-D spectacles, it's muted and low-key. Many reviewers have written about how it's "relevant" today, and that Barack Obama could learn from Lincoln's cunning to keep from falling off the fiscal cliff. A knowing titter goes through audiences in Washington when Thaddeus Stevens, the radical Republican abolitionist from Pennsylvania, castigates Lincoln for his inability to win legislative compromise. "I lead," Lincoln says. "You ought to try it."
But it's about a lot more than relevance. It informs as it entertains, engages, enrages, champions, challenges and reminds once again how hard it is to bring about change in a democracy -- and do it with malice toward none.
What makes the tale so “fresh” is that the author of the book the movie is based on made up the whole story. Lincoln and Grant were busy running the war during those months. Republican abolitionists in Congress pushed through the 13th Amendment after his death as part of the reconstruction penalties on the defeated South.
The most boring and stupid film I’ve seen in ages. Lincolns politicization of slavery as a means to justify the killing of 750,000 Americans was the most despicable act in history. By today’s population equivalent, 750,000 equals 7 million.
And we think Obama is impeachable.
There is a lot of money in telling and re-telling the reconstructed Lincoln Fairy Tale. Ask Bill O’Really.
The 13th amendment doesn’t say anything about all men being equal. It prohibits slavery, a different issue. Lincoln, as President, had no Constitutional role in getting a Constitutional amendment passed by Congress and sent to the states. It was adopted by Congress on Jan. 31, 1865, before the end of his first term, but was not ratified until Dec. 6, 1865.
There was no “White House telegraph office.” The telegraph office was in Edwin Stanton’s nearby War Department, and Lincoln would walk over there to get the news.
What is the next book in the series? Killing Garfield or Killing McKinley?
The suspense is killing me.
They all miss the way it really is..
Abe will explain from "the other side."
You initiated a policy to tolerate the Marxist-Alinsky radicals and let them rant; not only has it not ceased but was constantly augmented by decades of infiltration and indoctrination. You now have two Americas. In my opinion, it will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half statist and half free; I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.
Obama is a biological-ideological issue of the 1960s Marxist-Alinsky campus radical, psycho spoiled brats; to wit, the New Normal
The film skipped almost entirely the just end to the reign of this tyrant
That seems to be lost on some. The North did not invade the South to free the slaves. It invaded to prevent secession—and that’s economics, not morality.
No thanks. No Hollyweird re-write of history for me or my kids. We’ll get all our history from the writings of the times.
I don’t see overt or moderately suggestive political movies (ex I will not see Avatar)
What a menagerie.
Saw the other day, bargain matinee...many older people there. Heard one woman say to another on my way out, “We could use a real President now, someone like Lincoln”
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I agree with you completely. Slavery really had little to do with the war at the onset. While Lincoln abhorred slavery he thought it should be ended by the government buying slaves and sending them home. I assume every black person today is glad it didn’t come to that.
I don’t remember where I read it, but if I remember correctly, Lincolns’ rational was that the federal arsenals and forts located in the South were the property, bought and paid for, of the Federal government. Thus he felt the Federal government had the right to do anything in its’ power to retain or regain that property. This may sound hokey, but it was the reasoning he used.
The United States Congress wrote and passed the Thirteenth Amendment, also known as the Corwin Slavery Amendment. In a remarkable attempt to keep Southern States from leaving the Union, this 13th Amendment to the Constitution, was whittled out of the Crittenden Compromise of the second session of the Thirty-sixth Congress.
It would legalize slavery everywhere in the Union.
It was submitted to both houses of Congress on February 28, immediately approved, and submitted to the states for ratification on March 9, 1861.
Newly inaugurated President Lincoln signed the documents letter of introduction to the state governors, and asked for their approval.
Lincoln's involvement in this constitutional amendment extended far beyond simply endorsing it, which he did in his inauguration speech and letters to the governors.
Lincoln himself was the motivation behind its introduction in committee several months earlier, as was indicated by the senator who introduced it, William Seward.
Seward introduced the measure after being informed of it by Thurlow Weed, who conveyed it as a message from Lincoln. Following the proposal's introduction, Seward wrote to Lincoln to inform him of the result of his suggestion.
The following letter was documentation of that fact:
Letter from William Seward to Abraham Lincoln
Washington Dec. 26, 1860.
My Dear Sir,
Having been hurried away from home by information that my attendance here on Monday would be necessary, I had only the opportunity for conferring with Mr. Weed which was afforded by our journey together on the rail road from Syracuse to Albany.
He gave me verbally the substance of the suggestion you proposed for the consideration of the Republican members, but not the written proposition. This morning I received the latter from him and also information for the first time of your expectation that I would write to you concerning the temper of parties and the public here.
I met on Monday my Republican associates of the Committee of Thirteen, and afterwards the whole committee. With the unanimous consent of our section I offered three propositions which seemed to me to cover the ground of the suggestion made by you through Mr. Weed as I understood it.
First, that the Constitution should never be altered so as to authorize Congress to abolish or interfere with slavery in the states. This was accepted .
Thus, it is clear that William Seward first introduced the measure in committee at Lincoln's bidding.
Lincoln personally pushed the slavery amendment through congress. When he had arrived in Washington and just before his own inauguration, he immediately met with its House sponsor Thomas Corwin to devise a plan to get it through. The two met, decided to go with the original language of Seward's Senate proposal, and push the legislation through the House floor.
The New York Tribune reported at the end of the month that Lincoln was personally urging undecided congressmen to support the amendment.
As to his role in passing the amendment, eyewitness Henry Adams had the following to say in late March 1861:
“On the very morning of the 4th of March, the Senate passed the Amendment to the Constitution by exactly the necessary vote; and even then it was said in Washington that some careful manipulation, as well as the direct influence of the new President, was needed before this measure, so utterly innocent and unobjectionable, could be passed.”
Well before his inauguration, Lincoln was engaging in political maneuvering to frame the secession crisis in a way he saw as favorable to his own cause. His support of the measure was cited as the main reason for its success.
Finally, with Lincolns influence, the Corwin Amendment got through the United States Congress, and Lincoln endorsed it in his inaugural address on the 4th of March.
Three pieces of information come from this:
1. Lincoln was very interested in preventing secession, but not the eradication of slavery.
2. Once secession occurred, he used the issue of slavery to then blame the South...this despite his disregard of its existance via his support of the Corwin amendment.
3. The emancipation proclamation was important only as a tactical war tool and to rationalize the deaths of 750,000 people because of Union war actions.
This film should be flushed.
Read the ordinances of secession passed by the various southern states. A couple of them may not mention slavery as a primary cause of secession, but most do, loud and clear.
Sic Semper Tyrannis.