Lincoln – Mid-Week Review

By Maya Borom | 20 Feb 13

By Maya Borom.

Lincoln Poster

In 1865 the very fabric of American society was being pulled apart by civil war. The southern states had seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of the South in protest against President Abraham Lincoln’s proposed 13th Amendment to the US Constitution that would abolish slavery. Vicious fighting and enormous loss of life was occurring on both sides and the debate over the validity of the amendment amid such turmoil polarised public and political opinion on Lincoln and the issue of slavery.

…Spielberg portrays the delicate balance of politicking and activism that was a crucial component of Lincoln’s drive to succeed …

Lincoln is Steven Spielberg’s historical drama of the events surrounding the President’s struggle to muster enough support amongst the House of Representatives to ensure the safe passage of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution and abolish slavery from the nation. The text of the amendment stated 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.” and allowed for Congress to enact federal legislation to enforce it. Set against the devastation of the civil war, and the refusal of the South to stop slavery and slavery related practices, the passage of the amendment was always going to be tumultuous and fraught with vote rigging and political threats. Its successful insertion into the Constitution persevered only because of the sheer political determination of President Lincoln (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) and his Secretary of State, William Seward (David Strathairn).

In Lincoln Spielberg portrays the delicate balance of politicking and activism that was a crucial component of Lincoln’s drive to succeed in having the 13th Amendment passed. The amendment followed on from the Emancipation Proclamation order made as commander in chief of the armed forces in 1863 which freed slaves in the Confederate. His desire to ensure freedom for all peoples of the nation by federal legislation conflicted with the immediate need to seek peace yet he managed to engineer both the passing of the amendment and the surrender of the South with his political integrity intact.

Rather than focus exclusively on Lincoln as statesman, the film focuses on Lincoln as humanist, as a human rights activist seeking to redress a great wrong in the face of political lobbying, and someone willing to challenge the status quo of government (his government) in order to effect profound change. Spielberg captures a moment in US history that forever altered the trajectory of the nation and of its people. The right to be born free was a powerful concept that has shaped American domestic and foreign policy ever since. The amendment was adopted in December of 1865 only eight months after Lincoln was assassinated. Remarkably, on 7 February 2013, Mississippi finally ratified the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, finally, officially fulfilling Lincoln’s legacy – in part due to the film – some 148 years after it passed through Congress in 1865.