Abraham Lincoln was known for being Honest Abe, but the movie “Lincoln” will make you question how honest Abe was.
As the film “Lincoln” entered theaters last month, it created a buzz among historians over the accuracy of the history behind the president and the 13th Amendment being presented.
Spielberg’s “Lincoln” is the dramatic presentation of the 16th president’s final months in office.
Academy Award winners Daniel Day Lewis (Lincoln), Sally Field (Mary Todd Lincoln) and Tommy Lee Jones (Thaddeus Stevens) lead the movie. It portrays President Lincoln’s pursuit to unite a nation divided by war and change with the passage of the 13th Amendment in the House of Representatives during the last days of the Civil War.
David Anderson, a history professor, said the movie was historically accurate in general.
“The artistic truth is generally valid or sound,” Anderson said. “Like many other historians, I would disagree about its emphasis on Lincoln’s dominant role in emancipation, especially one that doesn’t mention how slaves themselves forced this onto Lincoln. It makes Lincoln the central character, where everything comes out of his vision.”
Anderson compared Spielberg’s portrayal of Lincoln’s vision to those of today’s radical Republicans.
“He’s seen as the moderate common sense viewer, the portrayal of the radical Republican is extremist,” he said. “In a historical sense, they were on the right side of history, they weren’t extremist. Why didn’t we see it through their eyes?”
Although Anderson said he does not agree with Spielberg’s portrayal of Lincoln as a radical, he said he does like how the film humanizes Lincoln, showing him as a doting father and a politician.
“In one sense the film shows him as part canny politician, part legal philosopher and part crackle barrel humorist, but it humanizes him at the expense of his legendary figure by showing that he did take part in the down and dirty business of politics,” Anderson said. “He’s just as much of a politician as anybody else.”
While Anderson credits the movie for much of its historical accuracy, he also takes note of the many inaccuracies within the movie.
“There are just things we don’t know for sure as facts or that just didn’t happen. It’s an imaginative reconstruction,” he said.
Anderson said many speculate whether Thaddeus Stevens had a black common law wife; whether Lincoln’s secretary of state supposedly swayed the vote; and Mary Todd Lincoln’s attendance at the House of Representatives to launch the vote.
Anderson also discussed a comical inaccuracy, which takes place at the beginning of the movie with soldiers reciting the Gettysburg Address.
“Nobody would have had the Gettysburg Address memorized in 1864. It wasn’t seen as that great of a speech then. It’s rediscovered,” he said.
Anderson said Lincoln is an important historical film even if you disagree with it, because it depicts politics during wartime and the lessons for our own times like when do you push for legislation to be passed, at what cost and what are you willing to do to get that legislation passed.
“It is a compelling film,” he said. “I would recommend it to anybody. I think everyone should see it.”
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