Last Sunday, Grandpère and I went to see "Lincoln", the movie. I urge you to see the film. It is excellent. Daniel Day-Lewis will be Abraham Lincoln for generations to come. As one reviewer put it, the Oscar for best actor might just as well be handed over to Lewis today. His portrayal of Lincoln is superb.
Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln should be a contender for best actress, as well as Tommy Lee Jones for best supporting actor for his role as Republican leader in the US House of Representatives, Thaddeus Stevens. And how fortunate Lincoln was to have such a wise and steadfast friend, William Seward, as Secretary of State, ably performed by David Strathairn.
Steven Spielberg's direction of the actors' performances of Tony Kushner's outstanding script is masterful. A good deal of the material for the screenplay was taken from Doris Kearns Goodwin's book titled Team of Rivals. I would not be surprised if the film made a sweep of most of the major awards - best picture, best director, best screenplay.
The movie is not a biography, but rather tells the story of the last few months of Lincoln's life, when he was focused, first and foremost, on passage of the 13th amendment to the US Constitution abolishing slavery through a recalcitrant House of Representatives. Sound familiar? At the same time, Lincoln attempted to arrange the terms to end the bloody Civil War, and, in his personal life, he dealt with his emotionally fragile wife, who had already lost two sons, and strongly opposed her son Robert's determination to join the war effort. As all the photographs of the day portray Lincoln, he was a man who bore heavy burdens.
As I watched the movie, I was carried through the history of the United States back to its beginning and forward to the present day. We reap the bitter harvest now of our foundation as the "land of the free" with the dark stain of slavery intact. Democracy was and is a messy form of government, which hardly ever gets things quite right, but what other form is better?
Another thought came to mind: whether consciously or unconsciously, President Obama may quite often use Lincoln as his model for how to be president. Although the two men, Lincoln and Obama, are quite different characters and personalities, I see similarities in the manner that they conducted themselves in office.
Oh, and how in heaven's name did the Republican Party of Lincoln's day come to be the Republican Party of today? As I pondered the answer to the question, a quick series of historical flashbacks all the way back to the beginning of our history gave me an overview of how the transformation took place. Up until today, we still wrestle with the consequences of the institution of slavery embedded in the foundation of our country.
A film that causes me think as seriously about the history of my country as "Lincoln" might well merit the designation of "great".
Image from Wikipedia.
UPDATE: Tobias Haller wrote a splendid review of the film titled "Lincoln as Grand Opera", which is quite different from mine, though we both come to the same conclusion that "Lincoln" is a must-see movie. Besides, Tobias' review is that of an expert as he was an actor in another life.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Saturday, February 12, 2011
AT this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.
On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.
One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Scurrilous Copperhead pamphlet from 1864
If we think that our current political discourse has sunk to an all-time low, a look at the editorializing and pamphleteering by the Copperheads in the North against Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War might cause us to rethink.
Wisconsin newspaper editor Marcus M. Pomeroy called Lincoln:"Fungus from the corrupt womb of bigotry and fanaticism" and a "worse tyrant and more inhuman butcher than has existed since the days of Nero... The man who votes for Lincoln now is a traitor and murderer... And if he is elected to misgovern for another four years, we trust some bold hand will pierce his heart with dagger point for the public good."
Weeks and Pomeroy didn't hold back, and neither was from the South.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
H/T to The Writer's Almanac.