Note: A shorter version of this appeared in the print-only TV Guide of The Marshall Independent.
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.
Passed by the Senate on April 8, 1864, by the House of Representatives on January 31, 1865, declared adopted on December 6, 1865, eight months after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
“Lincoln” has been covering Steven Speilberg with yet more glory, and adding to the already bright luster of the careers of Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, Sally Fields as Mary Todd Lincoln, and Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens.
Spielberg is kind of hit and miss. He’s acknowledged to be a great director, but…
Sometimes he reaches out and skillfully plucks your heart strings, leaving you moved to tears as you leave the theater, and feeling like you’ve been seduced by a smooth-talking sharpie the next day.
Worse, he has sometimes taken liberties with history in service to his ideology.
Spielberg marred what should have been the crown of his career, “Schindler’s List,” with a lie. Oscar Schindler didn’t take the Jews on his list to Czechoslovakia and persuade the Nazis not to murder them by sheer force of character – he armed them.
Spielberg lied because he hates guns.
But I think this one hits the mark and will go down among the great movies of this generation.
“Lincoln” covers the last four months of the life of the 16th president, when he strove mightily to pass the 13th amendment to the Constitution through the House of Representatives.
It begins with a scene of appalling carnage. A fierce hand-to-hand struggle in rain and mud between Confederates in grey and black soldiers in Yankee blue fades into a scene where two black soldiers are recounting the struggle to Lincoln himself on a visit to the troops.
This is how Speilberg solves one problem. If you make a film about Lincoln, you have to, have to, include “The Gettysburg Address,” and at least part of “The Second Inaugural Address,” and neither of them were given within the time frame of the movie. Spielberg has the soldiers recite “The Gettysburg Address” back to him from memory.
Spielberg very adroitly presents the legal complexities constraining Lincoln’s actions and his fears that once the war was over and his war powers terminated, the former slaves freed by The Emancipation Proclamation would be returned to slavery.
At the time Roger Taney was still Chief Justice of the Supreme court, the man who wrote in the Dred Scott Decision that black people were “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
Lincoln had the support of the Republican Party, founded specifically as an anti-slavery party but containing both Radical Republicans demanding immediate and unconditional freedom and equality for slaves, and conservatives led by party founder Francis Preston Blair (Hal Holbrook, who has himself played Lincoln) who wanted to end the war with a negotiated peace first.
Many sincerely detested slavery but feared sudden emancipation, as they had every right to with the horrible example of Haiti off our southern coast.
Lincoln had to persuade the former, led by Stevens, to moderate their public stand to “equality before the law only,” and the latter to move immediately and forego the chance of a negotiated peace. And Lincoln needed the support of a crucial number of southern sympathizing Democrats.
Otto Von Bismarck said, “Those who love sausage and revere the law, should never watch either one being made.”
This movie is about a sublime law being made, that all men are free, in ways that fascinate and repel.
The movie alternates between post-battle scenes of indescribably horror, and scenes of repulsive political corruption, yet still manages to be inspiring.
Lincoln’s son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) defies his father and joins the army after seeing soldiers dumping wheelbarrows full of amputated limbs in a pit outside an army hospital.
Lincoln and Secretary of State Seward (David Strathairn) hire a shady reprobate (James Spader as William N. Bilbo) to bribe, cajole, and get crucial votes from lame-duck Democratic congressmen any way they can.
Lincoln diverted a Confederate delegation from Washington and guarded by black soldiers so he can tell congress he “has no knowledge of a Confederate delegation in Washington.”
Lincoln was a rare leaders who could use corrupt means and not be corrupted by them. Who could lead the “Team of Rivals” as Doris Kearns Goodwin titled the book that begat the film, and make them work together for a common end. Who could deal with men who detested him, and in many cases win them completely over.
Lincoln buried two of his children, one while in office. He had a difficult and mentally unstable wife. During his term as commander-in-chief more Americans were killed than all our other wars combined.
In his last days in the White House, Lincoln confided to a visitor, “I shan’t last long after this is over.”
Day-Lewis captures perfectly the unbearable sorrow you see on the statue at the Lincoln Memorial. And I doubt there was a dry eye in the theater as the movie ended with the Second Inaugural Address.
“Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.”