Spielberg’s Lincoln is a masterpiece. I expected this movie to be very good but was amazed at its brilliance. Spielberg’s portrayal of Lincoln was focused on the latter stages of his thinking on slavery. Always an opponent of the institution, Lincoln, who was not an abolitionist until well into the war, struggles valiantly to not only save the union but to end slavery, something he could never see his way clear to do legally. Knowing that his Emancipation Proclamation was only a war measure, with no legal authority to end slavery, he craftily and cunningly pushes for the passage of the 13th Amendment in the last days of the war in order to ensure the death of the terrible institution.
Lincoln is presented as a man, a husband, a father and a president, with all the shortcomings one would expect from an imperfect man. However, through all of his frailties, greatness exudes. Undeterred by personal and professional obstacles and costs, he sets his mind on a goal few believed possible. Even with the Confederacy unseated in Congress at the time, opposition in the North and the border states (slave states loyal to the union) to the passage of a constitutional amendment ending slavery was substantial. Nevertheless, Lincoln stays the course and triumphs. He lives to see Congress adopt the amendment but dies in April 1865 before its ratification by three quarters of the states in December 1865, final passage not dealt with in the film. Although an amendment does not require the approval or signature of a president in the manner of regular legislation, Lincoln looks forward to signing the joint resolution of Congress as a witness, as has been the practice of some other presidents on various amendments.
The film does not deal substantially with Lincoln’s personal views on the issue of human equality or what should happen to the freedmen once slavery is ended. Spielberg should not be faulted for this, but the viewer must not draw inappropriate conclusions about Lincoln’s beliefs and actions on the basis of this film alone. Lincoln is a complex figure, and the whole truth can only be ascertained by delving deeper into his life and times.
Some suspect that Lincoln harbored the same racial prejudices as most people of his day. His speeches and written documents seem to confirm such. Although Lincoln despised slavery and worked first for its not being expanded into the territories, next that it be ended in those states still in rebellion against the union as of Jan. 1, 1863, and finally for its total end by the 13th Amendment, it does not mean that he would have embraced human equality in the manner we do today. Historical evidence exists that Lincoln believed in white superiority, grappled with the mingling of the races, and sought separation through black colonization, perhaps in the Caribbean, Central or South America, and perhaps even Texas. Should this diminish our view of him as the Great Emancipator? I think not. Lincoln was a man of remarkable character and fortitude who set into motion a great experiment with human freedom.
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Daniel Day-Lewis becomes Abraham Lincoln and should receive best actor for his portrayal of Lincoln. Sally Field was Mary Todd personified and will likely receive best actress. Last, but not least, Tommy Lee Jones was a perfect Thaddeus Stevens and my top choice for best supporting actor.
Lincoln is a must see, one of the best history films ever, and will become a sensational box office success! Of all Spielberg’s films, I believe this to be his finest. That is saying a lot.
The writer lives in Surfside Beach.