If you are planning to see the new, Steven Spielberg directed, Lincoln movie you might want to invest in an accurate history book instead. While it is successfully dramatic, the movie rehashes several 150 year old myths about the Lincoln presidency and America's most horrible war.
First, to the movie's credit, the script avoids a key, blatant lie that is currently being taught throughout American public schools today. The script focuses correctly on explaining how slaves were freed by the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, not the Emancipation Proclamation. Abraham Lincoln's proclamation did not apply to any northern states. It only applied to southern territory that was not under control of the Union. Therefore, it was ignored by the Confederacy too. The original proclamation of September 22, 1862, even stated that all southern states could keep their slaves if they returned to the Union by January 1, 1863.
LINCOLN AND SLAVERY:
Although properly focused, the movie misleads its audience into believing that Abraham Lincoln was consumed with the thought of freeing slaves. In reality, Lincoln was a white segregationist from Illinois, whose state Constitution had banned permanent black residents since 1848. Lincoln stated repeatedly in his 1861 inaugural address, his 1862 Horace Greely letter and other times during and before the war that his only intent was to "preserve the union" not free slaves. As a lawyer, Lincoln actually represented Robert Matson, a slave owner who wanted his part-time seasonal slaves returned to him. In 1847, Mr. Lincoln took his case all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court where he lost. Throughout his presidency, Lincoln made repeated attempts to colonize all African Americans beginning in 1862 with his Commissioner of Emigration, James Mitchell, the former leader of the American Colonization Society. In April of 1865, wellafter Congress passed the 13th Amendment and just before his death, Mr. Lincoln was still discussing his colonization plans with Union Army General, Benjamin Butler.
LINCOLN AND THE WAR:
The movie aptly shows graphic scenes depicting some of the many horrendous battles in the appalling war against Southern independence where 620,000 Americans died, almost as many Americans killed as in all other wars combined. But the script serves to conceal Lincoln's role in instigating the war. Lincoln refused to meet with Confederate commissioners who came to Washington to negotiate a peaceful separation in February of 1861. He did not seek a constitutionally required declaration of war from Congress before initiating the war or petition the U.S. Supreme Court for a ruling as to the legality of secession according to the rights of the states under the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. He ignored the vast majority opinion of his own cabinet and decided to invade Virginia on July 21, 1861 over objections of his military commanders, Generals Winfield Scott and Irwin McDowell. At that time, the Union had never suffered a single casualty from the Confederate military, which had committed no hostilities against the Union for over three months prior to the invasion. The script tends to ignore these well established, largely suppressed facts and imply that Mr. Lincoln had no choice but war.
CAUSES OF LINCOLN'S WAR:
The script also tends to deceive the audience into believing that slavery was the major cause of the war. It avoids the issues of Constitutional rights that Jefferson Davis so frequently wrote about and the excessive tariffs that caused South Carolina to initially threaten to secede 30 years earlier. Given that just over 15% of southerners owned slaves, it should be obvious that 85% of southerners were not fighting for the right of the minority 15% to own slaves. Although northern soldiers fought to preserve the union as Lincoln demanded, southern concerns about Constitutional rights and excessive taxation were proven to be justified. After southerners elected state representatives, who voted democratically to secede and unanimously elected Jefferson Davis as their President, they were then forced to fight to protect their homes, families and property from continual invasions. Today, almost all of us are victims of the uncontrollable federal government and taxing excesses that were spawned by President Lincoln's war.
LINCOLN AND THE PEOPLE:
The script further misleads the audience into believing that Lincoln was a beloved populist although with 39.8% of the vote, he was the most unpopular president ever elected. In one scene, Sally Fields, who plays Mary Todd Lincoln, remarks that: "No one has ever been loved so much by the people…" She obviously was not referring to southerners since they were victimized by death and destruction from dozens of invasions. She also could not have been referring to the 30,000 or so northerners who were imprisoned without trial for opposing the invasion of the south. Among them, 30 Maryland legislators were imprisoned to keep the state from voting to secede and thus preventing the war by encircling Washington D.C. with Confederate states. Hundreds of newspaper editors, publishers and citizens were also imprisoned for publicly opposing the invasion. Imprisoned notables include Frances Key Howard, grandson of star spangled banner author, Francis Scott Key and George Armistead Appleton, grandson of Major George Armistead, who commanded Fort McHenry during the key victory in the war of 1812.
LINCOLN AND HUMANITY:
The movie theme seems to purposely exaggerate Abraham Lincoln's concern for slaves to falsely portray him as a great humanitarian. In another dramatic scene, Daniel Day Lewis, who plays Lincoln, asks: "Shall we stop this bleeding?" This line is acutely ironic since it was Lincoln who initiated the bleeding for millions of Americans. Mr. Lincoln personally directed key activities of the Union Army that repeatedly attacked civilian populations. The army burned hundreds of homes in South Carolina, destroyed dozens of farms and killed thousands of head of cattle in the Shenandoah Valley, burned dozens of cities and towns across Georgia, pillaged civilian homes in Fredricksburg, Virginia, and fired cannon shells into the towns of Vicksburg, Mississippi and Petersburg, Virginia for months. These unprecedented atrocities against American citizens are documented in "War Crimes Against Southern Civilians" by Walter Brian Cisco.
The movie leaves a burning question as to why Steven Spielberg chose to continue the historical glorification of Abraham Lincoln while covering up the horrible truths about his administration and concealing the source of the greatest atrocities ever committed against American citizens. The real facts must have been uncovered given the historical research that was performed. Did Mr. Spielberg's lust for money and a "feel good" plot far outweigh his desire to present the full truth? We may never know the answer to such questions. In the meantime, if you are simply looking for dramatic entertainment that will make you comfortable by filling your Kool-Aid cup with propaganda, this movie might be for you. If, on the other hand, you expect any historical documentary to inform you accurately about past events, then your admission fee would be better spent on obtaining an accurate historical education of the Lincoln administration by reading a book such as Professor Thomas DiLorenzo's The Real Lincoln.