The Herald Bulletin

December 8, 2012

Jim Bailey: Now Steven Spielberg's 'Lincoln' belongs to the ages

By Jim Bailey
For The Herald Bulletin

— Once again the Mounds Mall 10 cinemas opted not to bring a movie of substance to Anderson, so we had to travel down Interstate 69 to see “Lincoln.”

The trip was well worth it to see Steven Spielberg’s recounting of the historicity of the 16th president, likely the most capable and astute man ever to hold the office.

The historical drama is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.” It covers the period of the Civil War winding down and the political drama that accompanied the passing of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which outlawed slavery in the United States and its territories.

Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Lincoln, casting so realistic a figure as to give the feeling you are watching the 16th president himself. Sally Field played first lady Mary Todd Lincoln. But it was Tommy Lee Jones, playing House Republican leader Thaddeus Stevens, who brought life to the drama surrounding the selling of the 13th Amendment to a divided House in which opposition Democrats held the key to the necessary two-thirds majority for passage.

The story tells in dramatic fashion the manner in which wheeling and dealing, compromise and political pressure all came together for passage of the amendment while the war waned. Likely if the South had surrendered before the vote, a two-thirds majority in its favor could not have been mustered. But once it passed, Lincoln made it clear in a meeting with Confederate leaders that the former slave states would not be able to muster enough opposition to keep three-fourths of the states from ratifying it.

History has told us that Lincoln’s marriage, coming after the untimely death of his initial sweetheart Ann Rutledge, was not a happy one. The movie reflected the stress between the Lincolns, much of it over the lingering heartbreak of losing their son Willie at an early age. The resolution of eldest son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to join the war effort after dropping out of Harvard Law School was difficult as well for the Lincolns.

Differences in communication at the time from the instant news we have now were evident in the way runners from the Capitol carried developments in the House to Lincoln in the White House and back. Just as dramatic were the political pressures applied from all directions during the debate on the amendment.

After its passage we see Stevens “borrow” the official copy of the amendment for the eyes of his biracial housekeeper, Lydia Smith (S. Epatha Merkerson), whose relationship with the bachelor congressman we subsequently learn was more than a housekeeper.

Through it all I found the film an intellectual feast minus some of the emotional involvement I expected. That is, until Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s (Bruce McGill) famous line on the death of Lincoln, “Now he belongs to the ages.”

Jim Bailey’s reflections on Anderson’s past appear on Sunday. His regular column appears on Wednesday. He can be reached by email at jameshenrybailey@earthlink.net.