And they lived happily ever after

D7992ab263e1f57be9dc8bfbeec1bbf4One reviewer says it's riveting. Another calls the film positively mesmerizing. A third proclaims it a definite contender for movie of the year.

They're all speaking of Steven Spielberg's “Lincoln” and, from an artistic standpoint, I'd tend to agree. The acting is superb. The sets are authentic and the pacing is strong, if a tad tedious at times.

But, Lincoln is also disingenuous. It leads the viewer to believe that Republican Congressman Thaddeus Stevens was a veritable demi-god who was instrumental in assuring that Abraham Lincoln's post war wishes, expressed in the immortal words of his second inaugural address “…with malice towards none and charity to all” were, in fact, enacted.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Stevens (and his fellow Radicals) made sure the defeated South WAS treated with malice towards all and charity to none (except the newly freed slaves, that is). The Radical Republican Reconstructionists sent so-called Carpetbaggers south to pillage what was left of the Confederacy's shattered economy. They also made sure newly-freed slaves were elected to both houses of Congress and kept an occupying army in the defeated states for 12 years!

The Radical Republicans so infuriated the erstwhile Southern plantation aristocracy that the latter quickly banded together to create the Ku Klux Klan. And, after the U.S. Army had finally departed, the Southerners undid most of the 13th Amendment's provisions, and installed the heinous Jim Crow laws.

So, rather than a happily ever after ending as suggested by Spielberg's Lincoln (and, his beatification of Stevens), the facts are quite the opposite. Southern blacks continued to be treated as little more than slaves until the passage of LBJ's landmark Civil Rights Act of 1965.

Spielberg drew obvious parallels between 1865 and 2012 (including the ironic ways in which the Republican and Democratic Parties have literally flip-flopped in terms of their basic platforms). But, he did the casual movie viewer a very real disservice by suggesting Stevens was a hero (and the 13th amendment the seismic event) that both appear to be in the movie.

It would take another century of lynchings, shootings, church burnings, Freedom Riders, race riots in Little Rock, Newark and Watts (and, of course, the non-violent leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,) to finally even begin to deliver on Lincoln's words.

But, maybe we'll see that in a Spielberg sequel? If so, I'd suggest the title, 'Life After Lincoln: What Really Happened.'

9 thoughts on “And they lived happily ever after

  1. Agreed, Julie. That’s why certain things seemed so random, and out of place, in Lincoln. Readers of ‘A team of Rivals’ know that Edwin Stanton grew to love Lincoln during the course of their time together. Yet, his character appears only once or twice in the flick and, at one point, storms out of a scene because Lincoln is regaling the troops with yet another tall tale. Yet, later, Spielberg correctly positions Stanton at Lincoln’s deathbed, and has him utter the now-immortal words, ‘Now, he belongs to the ages.’ What would possess the movie version of the Stanton character to have said such words? Just one of many licenses taken by Mr. Spielberg.

  2. Thanks for the comments, LauraBedrossian (aka Bedrock). I don’t want to influence your viewing of the film since Day-Lewis does a superb interpretation of Lincoln and the sets are amazingly authentic. As a student of history, though, you’ll pick up on some rather obvious inconsistencies such as the ones I’ve already mentioned (and, there are others I’ve left out). But, as Julie Farin said in an earlier comment, Lincoln is mainstream entertainment and not a documentary. I guess I held out false hopes for a factual interpretation.

  3. I haven’t seen the film yet. But based on your summary, as a fellow history fan/buff, Steve, this is disappointing. That would be like if in ‘Titanic’ the boat sailed safely to NYC . . .

  4. Mass market feature films are not documentaries. The filmmakers play fast and loose with the facts in the guise of “poetic license.” Not saying it’s right; just explaining why it’s an accepted practice.

  5. Well, I must admit to having downed several glasses of mint julep and snorting some laudenum beforehand, so anything’s possible.

  6. OK. Once more I am not disputing the facts, and your vast knowledge thereof. I am merely saying you are reviewing a movie in your head, not the one on the screen.

  7. I beg to differ with the representative from the great state of North Carolina. The movie, in fact, ends with Lincoln’s delivery of his Second Inaugural Address in March, 1865, (an event attended by John Wilkes Booth, btw, who was so inflamed by Lincoln’s words that he choose to kill, rather than kidnap, Lincoln). We also see Thaddeus Stevens savoring the passage of the 13th amendment with his common law wife who, according to my research, was a free black woman. The curtain closes with inspiring music and a fade to black. In fact, with Lincoln out of the way, Stevens and his Radical Reconstructionist faction of the Republican Party made it their business to totally subjugate the former Confederacy (with malice towards all). That engendered a backlash that, as I wrote in the blog, led to the rise of the KKK, Jim Crow laws, etc. It took the Civil Rights Act of 1965 to really begin changing the lives of African Americans in any meaningful way. Spielberg’s movie would have you believe the 13th Amendment and Thaddeus Stevens were game-changers. If anything, Stevens zeal laid the groundwork for another century of black repression in the South.

  8. I don’t know what movie you saw, Repman, but the one I saw ended with Lincoln’s assassination and made no speculation about our country having rosy romp thru reconstruction. I am not saying your facts about what happened are wrong, I am just saying that the movie didn’t lead the viewer to believe any such thing.