I went to see Lincoln this weekend and it was a great film. But, how well did it really portray history? Be forewarned – this blog contains some movie spoilers!
The film was about Lincoln trying to get the 13th Amendment passed in order to abolished slavery. As for the tension in the country as Lincoln was trying to get the amendment passed – that was accurate. I just didn’t realize all the political tension. Some in Congress still wanted the Emancipation Proclamation recalled and even those for the 13th Amendment didn’t seem ready to hear the specific words “equality for all.”
I also learned that Secretary of State William Seward had lobbyists talk to lame duck Democrats – those that had recently lost their seats – to help procure enough votes. It is even true that Lincoln himself visited one Congressman whose brother had died in the war and although he proclaimed in the movie to “hate all Negros,” he ended up voting yes.
The film portrays Lincoln as a quiet man who could also command the attention of the room if he so desired. It showed him as a man torn within his own family while struggling to reunite a nation. He had to drown his own sorrow for the death of his son Willie (who died of illness, quite possibly typhoid fever) and had to deal with a wife on the brink of madness due to that loss. His oldest son Robert wanted to join the Army and his wife fervently begged him not to let it happen, saying Robert would be taken from them to pay for all the lives lost in the Civil War. Robert did join just before the war ended, but he was the only son to live to adulthood. Youngest son Tad, shown as being very close to his father in the film, died of heart failure six years after his father was killed.
It is said Lincoln worked 14 hours a day, seven days a week and rarely took time off. All that work, the war, and the family tension aged Lincoln beyond his physical years.
Now, for the part I found most Hollywood and was certain it was a fabrication just to add some extra feel-good to the story. At the end, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Thaddeus Stevens, folded the paper containing the official count passing the amendment and said he’d bring it back the next day. He went home and as he entered, his African American housekeeper removed his coat. It showed him removing his wig, putting on his nightclothes and climbing into bed – next to the housekeeper. He handed her the official vote and called her “my love” as he leaned over to kiss her.
I thought surely that part cannot be true, but according to Joshua Zeitz, the fact that Lydia Hamilton Smith was Steven’s life partner for 20 years was one of the worst kept secrets in Washington.
In the end, the film showed you just how perilous a time it was and how close the amendment came to being voted down. It shows a country torn and in reuniting is, how great a man Lincoln was and what risks he took to free the slaves, giving in the end, his life for his conviction.