Skip to comments.Learning from Lincoln: Both Onscreen and Off
Posted on 12/08/2012 8:28:33 AM PST by Kaslin
What is it about Abraham Lincoln that has captured the hearts and minds of the American public since his assassination nearly 150 years ago? After all, one could argue -- rather persuasively -- that our 16th president was the least qualified candidate ever elected to high national office; in fact, his public service record included just four terms in the Illinois state legislative, one unremarkable term in the House of Representatives, and two unsuccessful bids for the US Senate. In addition, he had virtually no executive experience and, as his contemporaries invariably pointed out, Lincoln seemed wholly unfit to lead the nation during the chaotic and consequential times in which he lived.
And yet whats so striking about Steven Spielbergs outstanding film Lincoln is the eponymous heros latent political acumen. Since his death in 1865, Abraham Lincoln has been immortalized as the Great Emancipator and The Rail-Splitter -- two larger-than-life epithets that continue to inspire our collective imaginations. But, as Spielberg sharply demonstrates (through the talented Irish-born actor Daniel Day-Lewis) Lincoln was, after all, a human being -- a man who struggled, fought and ultimately died for the one indispensable cause that meant everything to him: the right for a free people to govern themselves.
Historians such as Eric Foner and the late David Herbert Donald have written important and absorbing works about Lincolns life and legacy. His empathy, keen wit, good-humored temperament, and passion for storytelling are only a few of the amiable characteristics evinced in the film. But perhaps Lincolns greatest quality -- as painstakingly revealed in Doris Kearns Goodwins absorbing book Team of Rivals, on which the aforementioned movie is partly based -- was his ability to recognize and seize opportune political moments.
Far from being the country bumpkin and second-rate lawyer often depicted in the contemporary newspaper articles of his day -- Lincoln was in fact a shrewd and cunning politician. And this trait is manifested brilliantly in the film when he decides -- against the wishes of some of his most ardent supporters -- to pursue a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery.
At the very beginning of the movie, theres a seemingly inconsequential scene in which Secretary of State William Seward (ably portrayed by David Strathairn) attempts to convince his boss that mobilizing support for a 13th Amendment to abolish slavery was not only political suicide, but would be met -- inevitably -- with harsh and vigorous criticism from House Democrats. Lincoln, however, with his characteristic soft-spoken charm, replies coolly: I like our chances now.
While this conversation probably never actually took place (indeed, Goodwin makes no mention of it in Team of Rivals), it is a simple yet revealing response. This echoes Lincolns patience to wait for the appropriate tactical moment to announce his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation to the general public in September 1862 (after the Union armys long-awaited victory at Antietam). He likewise, in this situation, understood the importance of timing. And with the 1864 lame-duck session in full swing (and the publics increasingly growing desire to finally settle the slavery question -- in Lincolns words -- for all coming time before the war ended and the Emancipation Proclamation became null and void), the 16th president recognized that now was the decisive moment to act.
Eschewing the initial advice of his supporters, he shrewdly rounded up the requisite votes (by any and all means necessary) from an unlikely coalition of former Whigs, conservative Republicans, and War Democrats. In the end, after several weeks of cajoling, lobbying and politicking, the amendment passed by a razor-thin margin of two votes in a Congress of 184 Representatives.
One need only spend a few hours watching Lincoln (a masterful and deeply engrossing film that I encourage all Americans to go and see) to understand why our 16th president was by all accounts a political genius.
And there is still much we can learn from him.
Indeed, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has reportedly invited Steven Spielberg to screen Lincoln in the U.S. Senate Chamber later this month. Perhaps this might just do some good, and impel Senate Republicans and Democrats to finally put aside their differences (at least until the looming fiscal cliff fiasco is averted) for the sake of the nation.
After all, given the grossly partisan antics weve seen thus far, it certainly cant hurt.
Thank you me Lord.
And yours are something more?
Not at all
And why was Lincoln’s life worth one more penny than any of those boys he sent to certain death to kill their fellow Americans.
My goodness! Where did you get your education? From Obama? If ever anyone needed the Lord, you do.
Why not simply address the subject matter rather than make a personal attack ?
I do not think of Abraham Lincoln s a politician, a god, or even an idol of any kind. I think of him as a human being who, through his faith, rose above difficult times, rejection, the and stupidity of his peers to achieve through human trial and error the goals God had in mind for him. I also think of him as a kindred soul.
Your warped vision of Abraham Lincoln requires inquiry as to the source of your unworthy rant. The entire nation deeply mourned the untimely demise of a great and loved American. The tracks of his funeral train were lined with many thousands of his countrymen standing in silent honor of their valiant leader.
Are you kidding? Lincoln's entire presidency was one long train of "grossly partisan antics". What do you call a civil war in which one kills rather than persuades -- "statesmanship"?
He wasn't great and loved until after he was safely dead.
Interesting that there was a character who looked exactly like Ted Kennedy.
I had heard that speilberg apologized for Showing Republicans in a good light in the film when it opened in NYC but I cannot find the link to confirm this.
My unworthy rant rests with the 650,000 young men and boys in their graves. Your warped view simply rests on a single menacing monster most responsible for not allowing southern states to separate in peace. You clearly place greater value on paper of big government over the lives of people. The Jesus Christ I follow sees all people of equal value.
Freedom has never been free.
I, too, believe all people are born equal. Of course some of them were born black. The economy of the south depended on black slaves, who definitely were not treated equally.
The Civil War and President Lincoln’s emancipation paraoclamation ended slavery, and apparently the South will never get over it.
The Civil War rages on......
Only the absolutely largest plantations had slaves and were profitable. The average farmer picked his own damn cotton. The ENTIRE economy of the South did not depend on slavery. That is just bull$h1t. Only 15% of households had slaves. Feeding and housing slaves cradle to grave was an expensive proposition.
Apparently you know nothing....
I am not from the South. My family fought for the North, but yet I see the massive evil that was done. The Africans were sold by their own people and ended up far better off here regardless. Less than 10% of southerners owned slaves. Most people today are simply slaves to big government. Try living out from under government and find your property taken, be caged like a lower animal, or killed by a swat team. Lincoln did not start the war to end slavery but to expand his power and to him killing 600 or 6 million was of little consequence.