If you want to watch a Civil War movie, don’t see Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln. If you want to be sitting in the same viewing box as President Abraham Lincoln when he was assassinated, don’t see Lincoln. But if you want to observe from the sidelines one of this country’s most revered Presidents exhibit his political savvy, then you MUST see Lincoln. The movie was released last year, earning 12 Oscar nominations, with Daniel Day-Lewis winning the Oscar as Best Actor, and is expected to be released on DVD and Blue-ray on Tuesday, March 26.
The setting is the White House in January, 1865. Lincoln knew the war would end soon. The Mississippi River was in control of Union forces. New Orleans was in Union control, Atlanta had fallen, the Union had blockaded the entire Eastern shore and Sherman’s march to the sea was complete. The Confederacy was essentially surrounded.
Spielberg’s film focuses on one central issue – passage of the 13th Amendment. It declared that “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.”
The key source of the film’s screenplay was Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. It is a 900-page volume depicting Lincoln’s rise from his Springfield, Ill. law office to his four terms in the Illinois State Legislature, one term as a member of the House of Representatives, and ultimately to the highest office in the land. It follows the lives of three of his Republican rivals in search of the Presidential nomination and then how he chooses the same three as key members of his Cabinet.
Writes one reviewer, ‘the film is about the way this principled statesman and wily politician was ready to bend rules, reinterpret the law and manipulate people, but always with the object of serving democracy and securing America’s moral leadership on the world stage.’
Another reviewer wrote ‘it’s a film about statesmanship, politics, the creation of the world’s greatest democracy, and it’s concerned with what we can learn from the study and contemplation of history. Spielberg handles these themes with flair, imagination and vitality.’
The film takes you behind the closed doors of Cabinet meetings, behind the closed doors of lobbyists working to get people to change their minds by bribery, blackmail and coercion, and even following President Lincoln to Congressman’s homes in search of a single vote.
A columnist in New York Times writes ‘Lincoln is a rough and noble democratic masterpiece – an omen, perhaps, that movies for the people shall not perish from the earth’. This reviewer was disappointed in the movie’s use of profanity. It is rated PG-13, partially because of the use of some rough language. The historical record is clear that Lincoln definitely did not tolerate profanity around him. He confronted military generals if he heard them cursing around him. Soldiers could even be court-martialed for using profanity. Lincoln was a storyteller and did tell some off-color stories, but Spielberg’s use of modern-day profanity was not necessary and was out of character for the time-period.
In the midst of the intense struggle to pass the 13th Amendment before the end of the war, Daniel Day-Lewis still is able to bring Lincoln to life while relaxing at Secretary of State William Seward’s house, his long legs stretched before a blazing fire. We can hear his curious and infectious humor in the lines of his favorite stories and witness his horror in the telegraph office when bad news from the front comes across the wire. We can watch his younger son Tad interrupt cabinet meetings to sit on his dad’s lap and witness hundreds of daily visitors to the White House trying to get the President’s attention on a personal matter.
Formally abolishing slavery in the United States, the 13th Amendment was passed by the Congress on Jan. 31, 1865, and ratified by the states on Dec. 6, 1865. The tragedy was that President Abraham Lincoln did not see the Amendment become law. He was assassinated on April 15, 1865 and died the next morning.