(Atlanta, Georgia – February 25, 2013) After being heralded by Hollywood critics as one of the best films of 2012, Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” starring Daniel Day Lewis in the title role, has been branded by historians as nothing more than fiction or “a good tale, not that different than the ones for which Lincoln, himself, was known in his day.” One historian went so far as to remark that Spielberg’s “Lincoln” bears no more resemblance to the historical account than that of the 2012 fantasy film “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”
Spielberg’s film attempts to depict Lincoln’s crusade to end slavery once and for all in these united States amidst the final months of the War for Southern Independence. Far from being historically accurate, the film radically alters Lincoln’s personal beliefs about slavery, as well as his political affairs over the issue. As do many of the revisionist textbooks of recent years, the film portrays Lincoln’s famous “Emancipation Proclamation” of January 1, 1863 as the expression of a deeply held moral, and even religious, belief about slavery that led him to bring an end to the institution wherever he had the authority to do it. Citing the various Northern states who continued to permit slavery even after Lincoln’s emancipation statement, historians point out that the declaration actually freed no slaves. In effect, it purported to free slaves in the only region of America where Lincoln did not have authority — the still independent Southern states of the Confederacy — while, at the same time, freeing no slaves in the part where he did, in fact, have the authority to deal with the issue. Many of Lincoln’s day, as well as most reputable historians today, cite Lincoln’s actual motivation for the Emancipation Proclamation as his desire to attempt to thwart the very real likelihood that Great Britain would intervene on the side of the Confederacy in order to protect their cotton imports from the deep South. Knowing that the English crown had been emotionally affected by the likes of such pro-abolition works of fiction as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Lincoln’s emancipation had the desired effect of creating a moral dilemma for Britain which ultimately kept them from entering the War.
Lincoln’s true feelings about slavery are revealed in his letter to Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, dated August 22, 1862 in which he said, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause.” In the light of his own words, Lincoln’s true motivation behind the Emancipation Proclamation becomes crystal clear… it was a war measure designed to bring the War to an end.
As to Spielberg’s fascination with Lincoln’s supposed wish to forever end slavery in America by way of a Constitutional amendment and the myth that slavery was the issue over which the South seceded in the first place, again, history eludes the talented film producer. In December of 1860, just days before South Carolina became the first Southern state to lawfully secede, Kentucky Senator John Crittenden offered what became known as the “Crittenden Compromise” which included a proposed constitutional amendment which would forever protect slavery in the states where it already existed in perpetuity. In an effort to assure the Southern states that he did not intend to interfere with the institution of slavery after taking office, Lincoln had frequently expressed in his stump speeches the same sentiment that he demonstrated previously at a debate in Charleston in which he said, “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And in as much as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” Historically, the Crittenden measures failed, not because of a lack of Northern support, but because the Southern states insisted that their real concern was not what would become of slavery but, rather, what would become of the union since it was headed toward federal tyranny over the States and the rights of the people; thus they chose to secede in spite of the proposal to keep slavery.
Spielberg’s Lincoln certainly does not reflect the historical Lincoln accurately by portraying that he wanted to abolish slavery for high moral reasons any more than the film, and others, depicts the South historically when it portrays Southerners as leaving the union because it wished to perpetuate slavery. Clearly, the real issue of the War — fear of an all-powerful federal leviathan — has once again eluded filmmakers and, as it appears more every day, has doomed us to repeat the tragedies of the nineteenth century in our future barring a miraculous change of course.
For interviews regarding the historical Lincoln or the causes of the War from the Southern perspective, please contact Jack Bridwell, Division Commander for the Georgia Sons of Confederate Veterans at 1-866-SCV-in-GA or online at www.GeorgiaSCV.org. Additionally, a wealth of educational information may be found online at www.GeorgiaSCV.org in both the printed and audio format.