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          Spielberg's Lincoln

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Go to the Learning Guide for this film.

The Historical Accuracy of Spielberg's Lincoln

"History is what the present chooses to remember about the past." Historian Eric Foner

Steven Spielberg, commenting on the difference between history and historical fiction:
"It's a betrayal of the job of the historian, to explore the unknown. But it is the job of the filmmaker to use creative 'imagination' to recover what is lost to memory. Unavoidably, even at its very best, this resurrection is a fantasy ... a dream. . . . One of the jobs of art is to go to the impossible places that history must avoid." What's True and False in "Lincoln" Movie by Harold Holtzer on The Daily Beast, 11/22/12
For a summary of TWM's conclusions about the historical accuracy of the film, see the first three paragraphs of the Learning Guide beginning with "Steven Spielberg's Lincoln is a well-researched work of historical fiction . . . ."

The number of historical details that this film gets right are legion and too many to mention. For those who have studied Lincoln's life, the film has repeated instances of delight when scenes previously only read about are presented on screen. In A Civil War Professor Reviews 'Lincoln' The Daily Beast 11/27/12, Professor Allen Guelzo states:
The pains that have been taken in the name of historical authenticity in this movie are worth hailing just on their own terms. Lincoln's White House office (now the Lincoln Bedroom) meticulously replicates the marble fire-place, Lincoln's stand-up pigeonhole desk, the scattering on the cabinet table of the Congressional Globe and a printed speech by Lincoln's postmaster-general Montgomery Blair, the portrait of Andrew Jackson on the wall and the half-tone lithograph of British parliamentarian John Bright on the mantel. The theatre box in which Abraham and Mary Lincoln are listening to Gounod's Faust has the same pattern of wallpaper as the fatal box at Ford's Theatre, and Tad Lincoln learns of his father's shooting while attending a performance of Aladdin. All the familiar figures appear: the staffers Nicolay and Hay, the 13th Amendment's abolitionist floor-manager James Ashley, Navy Secretary Gideon Welles ("Neptune"), Secretary of War Edwin Stanton – even the clerk of the House of Representatives, Edward McPherson, is correctly situated. Ulysses Grant really did have reddish-brown whiskers, and his military secretary really was a full-blooded Seneca sachem, Ely S. Parker. Even the glass-cased amputated leg of the scoundrel-general, Dan Sickles, makes a quick appearance.

It is on Lincoln himself that the most demanding historical exactness is fitted. And Day-Lewis wears it uncommonly well. His reedy-pitched voice reflects the numerous descriptions of Lincoln's voice which described it as a tenor, with almost squeaky accents. He walks flat-footedly, as Lincoln did, wraps himself in a shawl, features only a tuft of beard at his chin (the luxuriant chin-whiskers of his early presidency had been shaved-down by the time of the movie's events, in 1865), and quotes Shakespeare between off-color stories. Day-Lewis captures Lincoln's canniness and his awkwardness, his external simplicity and his internal complexity, a man easy to underestimate but dangerous in the outcome when you do. Even odd snatches of Lincoln's words surface, and not just in the set-piece moments like the Second Inaugural – "flub-dubs" to describe Mary Lincoln's over-budget redecorating projects, the recurring dream of the ship navigating toward an unknown shore, the theorems of Euclid, the desire to see Jerusalem.
This is not to say that the film is perfect and it is clearly not a documentary. However, on most occasions that the movie veers from the historical record there is a strong reason either to explicate an important historical fact or to satisfy the demands of telling a good story.

Notes on Critiques of the Movie

TWM has undertaken an extensive review of the critiques of the film. The most interesting and telling are summarized below.

By focusing on one month in the decades long fight for abolition and on the passage by the House of the resolution proposing the 13th Amendment to the States, the film will encourage the public to mislead itself about how important social change comes about. See the first three paragraphs of the Learning Guide which describes this criticism in detail. Modern-day Americans get most of their history from the movies and often a major film will set historical events in the public mind. Lincoln will probably be such a movie and therefore, the effect of the film, or rather the public's misuse of the film, will be to distort history. However, this is more of a criticism of how most Americans learn their history than it is of the movie itself.

Some critics have pointed out that more balanced views of emancipation could easily have been incorporated into the film. For example, the two major black characters, Mrs. Keckley and the White House butler, Mr. Slade, could have been shown to be active in the effort to help the black community in Washington, D.C. In fact, Mrs. Keckley was instrumental in starting and running a charity that assisted contrabands with food and education. This could have been easily shown by the filmmakers, but it was not. This is a valid criticism, although the most important role of blacks during the Civil War in promoting emancipation is shown by the movie in the first scene. It was the fact that black men were willing to fight heroically and that thousands died in battle that was probably the most important factor changing the attitudes of white Amercicans about emancipation.

Another valid criticism of the movie is that "with the exception of Secretary of State William Seward . . . Lincoln presents almost every public figure as either comical, quirky, weak-kneed or pathetically self-interested. Only the president is able to rise above the moment and see the end game. This treatment does injustice to men like Rep. James Ashley, Sen. Charles Sumner, and Sen. Ben Wade . . . . These men were serious, committed legislators who fought a lonely fight for black freedom before the war, and a difficult struggle for black equality after it. They deserve better." Fact-Checking 'Lincoln': Lincoln's Mostly Realistic; His Advisers Aren't by Joshua Zeitz, The Atlantic, 11/12/12. This criticism can also be applied to the character of Secretary of War Stanton whose abilities as an administrator were an important asset in winning the war but who is shown as a petty and ineffectual bureaucrat. Other than Seward, only the characters of Thaddeus Stevens and Preston Blair are presented as serious actors in the passage of the 13th Amendment. To the extent that this criticism is accurate, it is valid.

One interesting but flawed critique of the film is made by Richard Kreitner writing for The Nation magazine. Mr. Kreitner focuses on the characterization of Thaddeus Stevens and claims that ". . . it is fundamentally reactionary to celebrate, as Lincoln does, a man of such strong progressive principles only in the moment when he was forced to compromise with political reality." See 'Lincoln,' Thaddeus Stevens and Why American Politics Still Needs Radicals by Richard Kreitner, The Nation, December 10, 2012. Mr. Kreitner's insight misses the point that it was the greatness of Lincoln that he did not push for that abolition of slavery until the people were ready and that his public advocacy didn't stress the reasons that Stevens was for it (that slavery itself was evil, which Lincoln also believed) but only that it was a war measure designed to strike at the heart of the Confederacy. We revere Lincoln not because he advocated what was right, for example unlike Stevens, he never argued for racial equality, but because he lead the country to victory in the Civil War and because he emancipated the slaves. (See Frederick Douglass' evaluation of Abraham Lincoln). Thus, it is inconsistent to criticize Stephens (who did in fact make the compromize attributed to him in the film) while honoring Lincoln for the same type of conduct. Radicals should not be ashamed to compromise some of their positions to accomplish their first and most basic goal.

And that's about it for insightful and important critiques of this movie.

Scene by Scene Comments — Errors and Observations

The division of the movie into scenes is TWM's own arbitrary choice and is undoubtedly flawed and inconsistent.

1. Hard fighting by black troops and two African American and then two white soldiers talk to Lincoln and recite lines from the Gettysburg Address.
Black soldiers engaged in hard fighting on many occasions. It is extremely appropriate that a movie about emancipation begin with a scene of black soldiers in a hard fight. Time and time again Lincoln and other foes of slavery cited the bravery of black soldiers as an argument for emancipation. For many in the North, this fact alone changed their view of African-Americans.

The scene with soldiers quoting the Gettysburg Address has been criticized as unrealistic because of the claim that the speech was not as famous during the war as it is now. What's True and False in "Lincoln" Movie by Harold Holtzer on The Daily Beast posted 11/22/12. While it may be true that in 1865 the Gettysburg Address was not universally venerated as one of the best speeches ever made by a statesman, as it is now, there were many people who knew immediately that Lincoln had given a great speech at Gettysburg. For example, Edward Everett, the famous orator who was the featured speaker at the Gettysburg cemetery dedication, wrote to Lincoln the next day saying, "I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes." The speech was reprinted in many newspapers whose reactions were divided on party lines. Republican papers recognized the importance of the speech. For example, the Chicago Tribune stated that: "The dedicatory remarks by President Lincoln will live among the annals of man", a prediction what turned out to be true. See Gettysburg Address: Ideas are always more than battles andexcerpt from the Chicago Trubune. In 1864 Lincoln was asked to write out a copy of the speech for sale at a benefit for soldiers. This is the so-called Bancroft copy. See Article on the Gettysburg Address from Lincoln Online. The speech marked a seminal point in the development of Lincoln's thoughts on the purpose of the war, that it was also for the abolition of slavery as well as the preservation of the Union. This idea arose from an effort to find a reason for the horrendous loss of life caused by the conflict. Thus, it is not completely out of the question that a young white soldier who had lost two uncles at Gettysburg in July of 1863 would use the speech as solace and memorize it. Nor is it out of the question that an educated and politically aware African-American, like the corporal shown in this scene, would have memorized the speech in which the President, had clearly enunciated the end of slavery as a central purpose of the war.

In addition, like the corporal in this scene, many black soldiers were not shy about demanding equal pay. See Foner, pp. 253 & 254);
2. Lincoln talking to Mary. Lincoln tells her about a dream that he is on a ship rushing toward an unknown shore. Mary tells him that she thinks the carriage accident in which she was injured was an attempt to assassinate him. She advises him not to waste time on the 13th Amendment in this session of Congress because it is sure to be defeated. Mrs. Keckley is introduced in this scene.
Lincoln did have a recurring dream that he is on an phantom ship rushing toward an unknown shore. He usually interpreted the dream as being about military victory and spoke of it the night before he died while waiting with General Grant for word that General Sherman had defeated one of the last Southern armies, an army commanded by General Johnston. Diary of Gideon Welles, Vol. 2 pp. 282 & 283 and Abraham Lincoln: A Biography, By Benjamin P. Thomas p. 516. President Lincoln frequently quoted Shakespeare as he does in this scene. Mary Lincoln was convinced that the carriage accident was an assassination attempt.
3. Lincoln takes Tad to bed and looks at glass negatives of slave children that Tad had been playing with.
Some critics have complained about this and another scene with the glass negatives of the photos of slave children. They assert that glass negatives were too delicate and valuable to be given to Tad to play with. This may be correct but it is typical of the extremely minor observations that critics of this film would cite, looking for something to write or say. The scene in explains Lincoln's feelings and focusing the audience's attention on some of the effects of slavery. If the scenes with the glass negatives are a variation from the factual record, they are justified to explicate historical fact and advance the narrative.
4. Lincoln gives a short humorous speech followed by a band playing patriotic music. Lincoln takes his speech out of his hat.
Critics have pointed out that at this point in his career Lincoln would have had an assistant to hold the speech for him. This seems a valid criticism but again it is minor. Lincoln would keep speeches in his hat in earlier days. This scene is meant to harken back to those times. What seems odd about this scene is that this late in the war when victory was in sight and Lincoln was idolized by so many, that he would have to project a down-home persona. But that apparently, is a true characterization of the man and the way he at times presented himself.
5. Lincoln and Seward talk about strategy while riding in a carriage. Seward states that they are 20 votes short in the House of Representatives which he describes as a rat's nest. Lincoln, the leader who needs to motivate his subordinate, likes the chances of passage.

6. Lincoln works with assistants in his office. Seward is there.

7. Lincoln and Seward interview Mr. and Mrs. Jolly. Mr. Jolly is for emancipation as a war measure if Lincoln is for it but would be against emancipation when the War is over. He doesn't want former slaves taking his job. Lincoln tells the story of Jefferson City lawyer.
Historian's don't have a clear perception of why Lincoln was so anxious to have the 13th Amendment passed in January of 1865. The film presents three reasons. First, that he was concerned that public opinion would not support the amendment once the war was over. This is not accepted history, but it is consistent with all of his public statements. Opinionator: Steven Spielberg, Historian by Philip Zelikow, New York Times, 9/28/12. It is very likely correct. Second, Lincoln did know and talked about the fact that the legal grounds for the Emancipation Proclamation were shaky and might not hold up in peacetime. He knew that without the 13th Amendment, successor governments might seek to re-instate slavery. He also knew that courts can come up with unexpected decisions (for example a determination that the Emancipation Proclamation was illegal or applied only to the contrabands who had crossed the Union lines or that it didn't apply to children of the former slaves; as to the latter, see Goodwin p. 686). See Scene #10. Third, Lincoln states that the country had to get the war finished and also to put the slavery issue behind it before it could move forward. (See scene #46). While, we have not read historical support for this idea, it does seem logical. The slavery question had dominated American politics and caused a civil war. Thus, the reasons presented in the film stand up to historical analysis and may "advance the way historians will consider this subject." Zelikow.

This scene is a good example of Lincoln's well-documented story telling prowess. See Goodwin, p. 8.

Abraham Lincoln was never universally popular with the American people. There was still strong Copperhead sentiment as shown in the House debates. Lincoln became a revered icon only when he was assassinated.
8. Lincoln with Seward after the Jollys leave. Lincoln tending the fire. Tad's distress signal.

9. Lincoln visits Preston Blair asking for the support from conservative Republicans. Blair's price is that he wants to go to Richmond to ask jhis old friend Jefferson Davis to send peace commissioners. The character in the film saya, "Conservative members of your party want you to listen to overtures from Richmond. That above all. They'll vote for this rash and dangerous amendment only if every other possibility is exhausted."
TWM can find no evidence of a quid pro quo between Lincoln and Frank P. Blair, exchanging the peace feeler for support to the amendment. Such an agreement would, most likely be kept private. We do know that Lincoln gave no terms for Blair to offer. Blair's trip was a purely private enterprise, although Lincoln knew of it and gave Blair a pass to pass through the Lincoln lines. This is a reasonable "use creative 'imagination' to recover what is lost to memory."
10. Cabinet meeting about the assault on Wilmington. Discussion of Lincoln's position on the Emancipation Proclamation and questions of its legality.
This is one of the clearest explanations anywhere of Lincoln's reasoning behind issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, his doubts about its Constitutionality, and his fears of how it would fare in peacetime courts. This is one of two reasons given in the film for Lincoln's urgency about getting the 13th Amendment passed by the House in January of 1865. The other reason, that public support for the amendment would wane, is described in scene #7, the interview with Mr. and Mr. Jolly. Scene #10 is suitable to be shown to classes that don't see the entire movie as an explication of Lincoln's thoughts about the Emancipation Proclamation. It is shown at minutes 23.17 to 26.13 of the film.

Note that we see only a shadow of the independent and fractious cabinet that Lincoln assembled and which is described in Goodwin's A Team of Rivals. This is because "by January 1865 the president had grown weary of the incessant squabbling and back-stabbing. He scrapped his Team of Rivals for a Team of Loyalists. Those who couldn't find comity, like Salmon P. Chase, the fiercely antislavery [and ambitious] Treasury Secretary, and Postmaster Montgomery Blair, a cantankerous conservative, were out, replaced by men who understood that they served at the pleasure of the president. Attorney General Edward Bates retired to his home in Missouri, replaced by James Speed, a Lincoln loyalist and slavery foe. Interior Secretary John Usher was swapped out for James Harlan, one of Lincoln's staunchest supporters in the Senate. Of the original cabinet, those remaining—Secretary of State William Seward, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles—were deeply loyal to the president." Fact-Checking 'Lincoln': Lincoln's Mostly Realistic; His Advisers Aren't by Joshua Zeitz, The Atlantic, 11/12/12.
11. Lincoln speaks with Representative Ashley and instructs him to bring the Amendment up for a vote and get it passed.

12. Republican Congressmen discussing the Amendment in Stevens' office.

13. Seward with lobbyists. His instructions are that nothing should be done that is strictly illegal and that the lobbyists can only offer patronage jobs. Under today's campaign finance laws offering a Congressman a job in return for a vote would be illegal.
The scenes show lobbyists employed by Secretary of State Seward trading government jobs for votes on what today seems such an obvious human rights issue are creative constructs of events which the participants kept secret. The events in these scenes are obviously exaggerated for their comedic value.
14. House Debate January 9, 1865.
There are three changes from historical fact in this and all other scenes of House debates. First, in the movie, Mary and Mrs. Keckley are watching from the gallery. In fact, Mary Lincoln never attended a House of Representatives debate. This is a fiction writer's device to heighten interest in the scene. Second, the speakers in the House never address each other directly but instead address the Speaker. This is still the custom today. These changes were made to heighten the emotion in the scene. Third, Stevens did not chiefly rely on the type of ad hominem attacks shown in the film. He was a devastating debater but usually employed logic to destroy his opponents. See Remarkable Radical Thaddeus Stevens by Steve Moyer, HUMANITIES, November/December 2012. Had Stevens called another member a "fatuous nincompoop" he would probably have been ruled out of order. The purpose of these scenes is to show Stevens' wit and ability to make another member a laughing stock, but when he did it, he did not use invective, instead he used logic.
15. Robert comes home to the White House. Mary thinks it's for the party. He intends to leave school and enlist.

16. Blair reports to Lincoln about the peace commissioners.

17. Lobbyists talk while walking and in various places with Seward and others.

18. Seward and Lincoln talk. Seward confronts him about rumors of the Commissioners.

19. Scene of Commissioners crossing no man's land.
There were no black soldiers in the welcoming party. It would have been seen as an affront and the commissioners would have probably immediately returned home. The timing of the arrival of the commissioners has also been changed. They actually did not cross Union lines until January 29, two days before the vote. Their presence behind Union lines was extended in the film to add tension.
20. Back to Lincoln and Seward talking.

21. The commissioners are shown arriving at U.S. Army headquarters, City Point, Virginia.

22. Robert and Lincoln are with Slade and Tad. Robert wants to quit school and join the army.
As shown here, Lincoln did not have a particularly close relationship with his oldest son.
23. Lincoln with Mary in Willie's room.
Willie's death was a tragedy for both of the Lincolns and it was a wound that never healed.
24. The Grand Reception January 15, 1865.
Mrs. Lincoln did not like Stevens. Actually, she probably hated him because he had investigated her for over-spending on redecorating the White House. However, she would not have berated him in public at a White House reception. This scene was apparently placed in the movie to show not only to refer to the investigation and her anger, but also Mrs. Lincoln's wittiness, feistiness and political savvy, all of which she possessed. Mary Lincoln, following the lead of her father, disliked slavery, although her family had owned slaves when she was growing up and she had many relatives who fought for the Confederacy. Foner, p. 13. Mary Lincoln was a strong supporter of her husband's efforts to abolish slavery. National First Lady's Library - article on Mary Todd Lincoln;
25. Lincoln and Stevens talk in the White House basement.
There is no record of this meeting. It's a way to explicate their different positions over reconstruction. Some critics claim that at this point Lincoln didn't have a reconstruction plan but to the best of TWM's knowledge that is not correct. Lincoln's attitude toward the Republican Radicals is shown in this statement to one of his assistants "They are nearer to me than the other side, in thought and sentiment, though bitterly hostile personally . . . They are utterly lawless—the unhandiest devils in the world to deal with — but after all their faces are set Zionwards." Tyler Dennett, ed., Lincoln and the Civil War in the Diaries and Letters of John Hay (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1939) page 108. Thaddeus Stevens was a misanthrope, although he was also an idealist in his belief in abolition and racial equality. It is doubtful, however, that Stevens would have actually used the words, "I shit on the people." Stevens was an educated and eloquent man. He probably would not have used profanity because, as Oscar Wilde said, "The expletive is the refuge of the semi-literate." That, most clearly, was not Thaddeus Stevens. Moreover, in his personal and public life Stevens had always wanted to help the poor, oppressed and downtrodden. He was called "The Old Commoner" for that reason.
26. Lincoln and Mary talk after the party. They discuss Robert's desire to join the army.

27. Lincoln at the War Department telegraph office. Lincoln tells the Ethan Allen story.
This is an example of Lincoln using stories to defuse tension and to make a point. He loved to tell the tale of Ethan Allen and the British outhouse. He would have used the word "shit" for emphasis, although he generally did not swear and objected when others did it too frequently.
28. House of Representatives debate. Representative Yeaman announces he will vote against the Amendment. Democrats accuse Lincoln of trying to "Niggerize" the nation.
Democrats frequently attacked the Republicans and Lincoln accusing them of supporting racial equality, miscegenation, etc. This scene represents that line of attack.
29. Wood, Pendleton and other Democrats against the Amendment meet with Representative Hawkins. Hawkins talks with a lobbyist.

30. Lobbyists and Seward talking with flashback off lobbyist getting shot at. The rumors of the delegation from Richmond are ruining the effort to get Democrats to change their votes. If Davis wants to cease hostilities, no democrats would care about the Amendment.

31. Grant talks to the commissioners. They have the two countries vs. one country discussion.
Grant met the commissioners and spoke with them. He was impressed by their sincerity. See Lincoln's Report to Congress Concerning Meeting With The Confederate Representatives. One of the obvious reasons is that Stevens had been advocating for peace for years.
32. Lincoln with Seward who is reading Grant's telegram outloud.
Grant did send the telegram asking the President to meet with the Commissioners. However, it was on February 2, after the vote on the Amendment. Ibid.
33. Lincoln in the office thinking; clock ticking.

34. Lincoln waking his secretaries talking about clemency for a young cavalryman who tried to avoid combat by hobbling his horse. He also discusses the visit of the Secesh Commissioners.
Lincoln was often at odds with Secretary Stanton and his generals on the subject of clemency for ordinary soldiers who deserted or avoided combat. Mr. Lincoln's Office: Pardons & Clemency from Mr. Lincoln's White House;
35. Lincoln at the War Department telegraph office deciding whether to bring the Commissioners to D.C. and philosophizing.

36. House of Representatives Debate January 27, 1865. Stevens must say that the amendment has nothing to do with racial equality. There's nothing he wouldn't say to abolish slavery.
Stevens' compromise and the speech in which he said he was for legal equality and not racial equality actually occurred on January 13, 1865. For Stevens' speech on the Amendment on January 13, see Congressional Globe, 38 Cong. 2 session, January 13, 1865, pp. 265-267. The chronology has been re-arranged for the purposes of the story.
37. Robert and Lincoln visit the hospital. Lincoln greets wounded soldiers and Robert vomits when he sees dismembered limbs. Robert insists upon his intention to enlist.

38. Mary and Lincoln talking about their grief at Willie's passing.

39. Mary and Lincoln at the opera. She tells him that since her son is in the army he had better get the amendment passed to stop the war.

40. Lincoln returning home talking with Mrs. Keckley.

41. Lincoln visits the lobbyists' room. They tell him to deny the rumors.
Lincoln was active in the lobbying effort. For help in executing his strategy, Lincoln turned to Charles A. Dana, a former journalist who the president and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton often deployed as their personal eyes and ears at the front — and for discreet political missions. Now, maneuvering to admit Nevada to the Union to guarantee a three-quarters majority of the states required for ratification of the amendment, Lincoln called on him again. "Dana," said Lincoln,"I am very anxious about this vote. It has got to be taken next week. The time is very short. It is going to be a great deal closer than I wish it was."

According to Dana, Lincoln "mentioned three particular congressmen who might be susceptible to persuasion." "What will they be likely to want?" Dana asked. "I don't know," said Lincoln. "It makes no difference, though ... [W]hatever promise you make to them I will perform." Vorenberg p. 198.

Two of the congressmen asked to be appointed internal revenue collectors, while the other sought an appointment at the New York Custom House. In return for being granted these favors, all three threw their weight behind the amendment. "I have always felt," wrote Dana, "that this little piece of side politics was one of the most judicious, humane, and wise uses of executive authority that I have ever assisted in or witnessed." Sydney Blumenthal on How Lincoln Played the Political Game to Win By Sidney Blumenthal, Newsweek, 10/15/12;

42. Coffroth visits Stevens in his office.
While we don't know if this meeting took place, Coffroth, a Democrat was seated in return for his vote. Vorenberg p. 202.
43. Back to Lincoln with the lobbyists. They discuss Representative Yeaman.

44. Lincoln meets with Yeaman in the White House.
George H. Yeaman was a representative from Kentucky who provided a crucial vote for the Amendment.
45. Lincoln talking to a representative whose brother died in the war trying to convince him to vote for the Amendment.
As the vote neared President Lincoln personally appealed to various representatives. "To one representative whose brother had died in the war, Lincoln said, 'your brother died to save the Republic from death by the slaveholders' rebellion. I wish you could see it to be your duty to vote for the Constitutional amendment ending slavery." Vorenberg p. 198.
46. Blair meets with Lincoln and other politicians. He asks about the Commissioners. Lincoln was quoted as saying, "I am the President of the United States of America, clothed in immense power! You will procure me these votes."

Lincoln did say something like this. See quotation in Guide.

47. House debate and vote on the Amendment January 31, 1865.
Stevens' concession that he only sought "equality before the law" occurred on January 13. See scene # 36.
48. Lincoln's office; he writes the misleading statement.
49. Final House Debate and vote.
Some critics misinterpret this scene as portraying Stevens as a politician who had trouble compromising. However, the compromise Stephens was asked to make related to a core belief; anyone would have trouble with that. In any case, Stevens was "a politician's politician and had no problem crawling in the mud to achieve an objective." Zeitz Atlantic article. The House voted alphabetically by the name of the member and not, as in some national political conventions, state by state, as is shown in the film. The movie shows two Connecticut congressmen voting against the abolition of slavery. In fact, all four Connecticut Congressmen voted for the Amendment. This change was made dramatic effect, to demonstrate that the 13th Amendment "passed by a very narrow margin that wasn't determined until the end of the vote." See Tony Kushner Fires Back at Congressman's 'Lincoln' Criticism By Christopher John Farley, Wall Street Journal 2/8/13. However, a Connecticut Congressman was 'Lincoln' screenwriter fires back at Conn. Congresman.

Radical Republicans were required to moderate their rhetoric and soft-peddle their position on racial equality. For Steven's statement, recanting his belief in racial equality but insisting upon his support for equality before the law, see Congressional Globe, 38 Cong. 2 session, January 5, 1865, p. 125.

Contrary to what is shown in the film, the vote on the 13th Amendment was not the first time that African-Americans sat in the House gallery. Wilentz.
50. During the vote – several scenes returning always to the vote in the House of Representatives: the White House; the army etc.

51. Stevens at home with his housekeeper. He presents her with the Amendment.
The movie's description of Stevens' relationship with Mrs. Smith, which has them sharing a bed as a happily married elderly couple, is a reasonable interpretation of their relationship. Historians differ about whether they were sexually intimate. However, sexual intimacy is not the important question in assessing the connection between Mr. Stevens and Mrs. Smith. The take away, a point made by the movie, is that Stevens respected Mrs. Smith and "in many ways they had lived as a couple." See Section in the Guide on Mr. Stevens and Mrs. Smith. See also Remarkable Radical Thaddeus Stevens by Steve Moyer, HUMANITIES, November/December 2012. Stevens probably did not take the original Amendment home to show to her.
52. Lincoln boarding the River Queen and negotiating with commissioners.
The meeting took place and the parties could not agree. Accounts of the meeting written later by the participants show a different dialog than is presented by the film. Lincoln and Alexander Stevens were friends from Lincoln's service in the House. See The Hampton Roads Peace Conference: A Final Test of Lincoln's Presidential Leadership and and Goodwin pp. 692-694.
53. Petersburg burning and Lincoln inspecting damage outside Petersburg on April 3, 1865.

54. Lincoln and Grant talking on a porch.

55. Surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865.
Grant's uniform was actually muddy and unkempt. However, the scene retains the important historical truth that the surrender was conducted with mutual respect between the two men and the two armies.
56. Lincoln and Mary talking in the carriage on the day of the assassination.
Lincoln's comments on traveling are also related in Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World by James Carroll.

Mary Lincoln would not have used the word "sniper" in describing her worry about an assassination attempt on the President. The common word for a sniper in the mid-19th century U.S. was "sharpshooter".
57. Lincoln meeting with congressional leaders at the White House the night of the assassination.

58. Tad watching Aladdin and the announcement.
Tad was watching a performance of Aladdin when the announcement was made that his father had been shot.
59. Deathbed scene, April 15, 1865.
Stanton did say, when Lincoln was declared dead, "Now he belongs to the ages."
60. Flashback to the Second Inaugural.
Some critics have contended that Lincoln would not have used his hands in the manner shown in the film. Some scholars now believe that when faced with the re-emergence of the power of the plantation owners and oppression of blacks in the post-war South, that Lincoln would have been led by events to taken a harder stance on reconstruction.


Additional Discussion Questions

See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

Bridges to Reading:

    Lincoln: How Abraham Lincoln Ended Slavery in America: A Companion Book for Young Readers to the Steven Spielberg Film Lincoln by Harold Holzer;

    The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery by Eric Foner (2011 Pulitzer Prize Winner).

Links to the Internet:

Common Core State Standards that can be Served by this Learning Guide
(Anchor Standards only)

Multimedia: Anchor Standard #7 for Reading (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). (The three Anchor Standards read: "Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media, including visually and quantitatively as well as in words.") CCSS pp. 35 & 60. See also Anchor Standard # 2 for ELA Speaking and Listening, CCSS pg. 48.

Reading: Anchor Standards #s 1, 2, 7 and 8 for Reading and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 35 & 60.

Writing: Anchor Standards #s 1 - 5 and 7- 10 for Writing and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 41 & 63.

Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards #s 1 - 3 (for ELA classes). CCSS pg. 48.

Not all assignments reach all Anchor Standards. Teachers are encouraged to review the specific standards to make sure that over the term all standards are met.

Selected Awards, Cast and Director:

Selected Awards: 2013 Academy Awards: Best Actor (Day-Lewis); Best Achievement in Production Design, 2012 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Tommy Lee Jones), Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Sally Field), Best Achievement in Directing (Steven Spielberg), Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay (Tony Kushner), Best Achievement in Cinematography, Best Achievement in Film Editing, Best Achievement in Costume Design, Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score, Best Achievement in Sound Mixing.

2013 Golden Globe Awards Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama Daniel Day-Lewis; 2013 Golden Globe Awards Nominations: Best Motion Picture - Drama, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Tommy Lee Jones), Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Sally Field), Best Director - Motion Picture (Steven Spielberg) Best Screenplay - Motion Picture (Tony Kushner), Best Original Score - Motion Picture (John Williams).

Featured Actors: Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln. David Strathairn as William Seward, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Lincoln, James Spader as W.N. Bilbo, Hal Holbrook as Preston Blair and Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens.

Director: Steven Spielberg.


In addition to websites linked in the Guide or excerpts of books available on the Internet and cited in the body of the Lesson Plan, substantial portions or the entirety of the following resources were read in the preparation of this Learning Guide:

  • Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin;
  • Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty years a Slave, Four Years in the White House by Elizabeth Keckley, Electronic Edition on Documenting the American South;
  • Lincoln's Melancholy — How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled his Greatness by Joshua Wolf Shenk, Houghton, Mifflin Company, 2005;
  • The Fiery Trial — Abraham Lincoln an American Slavery by Eric Foner W.W. Norton & Company, 2010;
  • The Thirteenth Amendment and American Freedom — A Legal History by Alexander Tsesis, New York University Press, 2004;
  • Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment by Michael Vorenberg, Cambridge Historical Studies in American Law and Society, 2001.
  • The Scorpion's Sting — Antislavery and the Coming of the Civil War by James Oakes, W.W. Norton & Co., 2014;
  • Thaddeus Stevens — Scourge of the South by Fawn M. Brodie, W.W. Norton & Son, 1959;
  • Thaddeus Stevens — A Being Darkly Wise and Rudely Great by Ralph Korngold, Harcourt Brace & Co., 1955;
  • Thaddeus Stevens — Nineteenth-Century Egalitarian by Hans L. Trefousse, Stackpole Books, 2001

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