I saw the movie Lincoln a few nights ago. It was based on a book by Doris Kearns Goodwin called Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. The actors were terrific and the writing impeccable. If you were looking for blood and guts of Civil War battles or the intricacies of Lincoln’s assassination, you would have been disappointed. The blood and guts were auxiliary and Lincoln’s murder was anticlimactic. President Lincoln’s death was mere reminder of why Lincoln thought it critical to end slavery with as many legal legs as he could muster.
The movie focuses on the political dilemma of passing the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery forever, before the war’s end. The urgency of this effort wasn’t seen as necessary by many. This made for heavy lifting from the President.
The Emancipation Proclamation, delivered in 1863, didn’t free the slaves in the Border States. It was an executive order issued by Lincoln and could have been considered a temporary war measure. Lincoln, in his infinite wisdom, saw this dilemma and acted. He knew he had to get the amendment passed by the House, before the end of the war, and knowingly stalled peace negotiations at the risk of losing votes in his own party. If he didn’t, the Southern States may have legally gone right back to slavery and 600,000 Americans would have died for naught. Lincoln forced the vote January 31st, 1865, before the war ended.
Having passed the Senate April 8, 1864, the real challenge was the House.
The movie was politics 101. Many would be surprised at who were fer and agin slavery. The average Obama voter would identify with the Civil War Democrats as the heroes in releasing the slaves. Most would be shocked that every Republican in the House voted for the 13th Amendment and Lincoln, with some assistance, was responsible for wrenching 20 “HELL NO!”--Dem votes and turning them into “yes” votes, most of whom were lame ducks and offered jobs in Lincoln’s second term. In the end all Republicans voted for the 13th Amendment and only 23% of the House Dems were yes votes.
What I found most intriguing—other than the superior acting of Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln, Sally Fields as Mary Todd Lincoln and Tommy Lee Jones as the radical Republican House leader Thaddeus Stevens was the ascendency of Lincoln to be above the fray, yet in control of it--and he did it in a manner that respected enemies and kept friends in the most urgent of situations.
Here are a few examples of Honest Abe’s expertise:
· President Lincoln knew his Emancipation Proclamation had little chance of being preserved after the war. Either the courts would have overturned it as a wartime declaration or the Southern States would refuse to ratify it.
· At the same time Lincoln was cajoling 20 Democratic Representatives no votes to change their votes on the 13th Amendment, he had to herd the conservative wing of the Republican Party, who valued peace with the South over abolition. In the end he kept those as “yes” votes by not meeting with the Confederacy until the vote was cast.
· The President, just beginning his second term after a terrible and costly and war-torn first term, was determined to have a respectful and uniting reconstruction of the South.
· Lincoln reached over the aisle with a steely determination and soft touch to a group of Democrats largely so racist, they wouldn’t consider ending slavery even upon their inevitable defeat and at the cost of saying no to their generous job offers in a second Lincoln Administration.
· Ironically, Doris Kearns Goodwin and famed director Steven Spielberg are both Democrats and Obama supporters. They are united in praise of a man who had to cajole 20 house Democrats into changing their votes in order to end slavery once and for all.
Without Lincoln’s amazing political ploys buoyed by steely effort and gentle touch, slavery would have likely continued, possibly growing back to the human disaster it was before the Civil War.
Lincoln and the Republicans saved the soul of the United States of America.
The true meaning of Lincoln was that he had the opportunity to become a king, but chose to preserve the “…Republic for which we stand—one nation, under G0d, indivisible—with liberty and justice for all.