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  • Lincoln: The Movie, the Man

    Daniel Day-Lewis stars in the new movie “Lincoln” directed by Steven Spielberg. Photo: DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC.

    Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln debuts in Washington, D.C., this week.

    It features a stellar cast: Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, Sally Field, and Daniel Day-Lewis as our nation’s 16th President.

    Day-Lewis is known for method acting. But which Lincoln will he portray? Will he play into the liberal myth of Lincoln as “the father of big government”? Will he reflect an equally pernicious stereotype: a tyrant who supposedly deprived Southern sympathizers of civil rights? Or will Hollywood manage to show us the real Lincoln, a man who stood up for limited, constitutional government?

    The script is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. But screenwriter Tony Kushner (of Angels in America and Munich fame) persuaded Spielberg to focus on the Thirteenth Amendment. Ah, so Day-Lewis will be the “Great Emancipator.”

    “I have always hated slavery,” Lincoln repeatedly said. “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.”

    Slavery was also contrary to “the leading principle—the sheet anchor of American republicanism.” Lincoln described the Declaration of Independence in his typical, colorful terms. It was, he said, an apple of gold, while the

    Union, and the Constitution, are the picture of silver, subsequently framed around [the apple]. The picture was made, not to conceal, or destroy the apple; but to adorn, and preserve it. The picture was made for the apple—not the apple for the picture. So let us act, that neither picture, or apple, shall ever be blurred, or bruised, or broken.

    That is, the core of America is the principle of human equality articulated in the Declaration of Independence. The Constitution exists to preserve and facilitate the equality principle by protecting it in the rule of law.

    Thus, Lincoln recognized that the Constitution set forth a framework of limited government. He could not do everything he desired—such as abolishing slavery. Many took him to task for that. Abolitionists, Lincoln noted, “seemed to think that the moment I was president, I had the power to abolish slavery, forgetting that before I could have any power whatsoever I had to take the oath to support the Constitution of the United States and execute the laws as I found them.”

    Lincoln’s nearly impossible task was to guide the nation through a bloody civil war that would eradicate the evil of slavery and mold the North and South into “a more perfect Union.” Should he have allowed the Union to fall apart and potentially condemn the continent to the petty wars of confederacies? Should Lincoln have maintained the Union but surrendered the constitutional republic?

    “When the time came for Lincoln as Chief Executive to preserve and protect the Constitution,” explained historian Herman Belz, “his great and essential contribution was to make moral and philosophic distinctions concerning the meaning of liberty, equality, and republican government that restored the authority of the Founding.”

    Here’s what Lincoln did: On January 1, 1863, acting on his authority as commander in chief, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves in rebel states. This proclamation did not abolish slavery everywhere, nor did it “repeal state constitutions and laws establishing slavery.” But it was a tremendous act of statesmanship that paved the way for the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments.

    The Thirteenth Amendment eradicated the vicious institution of slavery and vindicated the equality principle at the heart of the Declaration. The Fourteenth Amendment performed many feats: affirming the citizenship of the newly freed men and women, guaranteeing them the protection of the rule of law, clarifying the status of political leaders from rebel nations, and repudiating the Confederate war debt. The Fifteenth Amendment ensured that the right to vote would not be abridged on account of race. Congress received the power to enforce these amendments (a power it refused to exercise for some time, but that’s another story).

    Day-Lewis may capture the gawky walk, looming height, and knitted brow of the man who knew the future of the republic rested on his actions, but let’s be clear: The true legacy of Lincoln is not simply that he ended slavery. It’s that he ended slavery while preserving the Constitution and the Union. He completed the Founding by vindicating the apple of gold without smashing the frame of silver in the process.

    Posted in Featured, First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    7 Responses to Lincoln: The Movie, the Man

    1. James Amato says:

      We need a movie like this. Many of us wonder if there will be a USA in the next few years and if so do we have to bear arms to protect what belongs to us or bear arms to steal and/or revold to bearly stay alive. JA

    2. C Snyder says:

      Interesting automatic interplay of the great emancipator with an immediate call to the second amendment? Which Lincoln have you studied and what part of this story relates to our right to bear arms – Southern or Northern perspective?
      For those of you who wonder if the US will exist in a few years, take a note on history, even as it is depicted in this movie; those times called for far more worry on whether this country would exist, than we have now. What a negative, non-sensical view for a true American to have. We have survived much worse than our current state of affairs in the past and I am confident we will do so again. CS

    3. weard says:

      Lots of good analysis, but you missed a few things. 1) Lincoln did not preserve the Constitution, he destroyed it. Without the 9th & 10th Amendments the document is pointless. 2) Lincoln did not preserve anything. Lincoln created a new Country on the ashes of the Republic. 3) Lincoln was a Racist. The Gettysburg address was simply a brilliant PR move to reframe the conflict in order to keep the British & French Navies from assisting America – remember like most wars economics is the key issue and Europe wanted America's raw materials as badly as the North. 4) Lincoln sacrificed over 700,000 innocent lives to install Federalism – you forgot to count that cost! Etc, etc. Look up the danger of navigating Cape Hatteras and see why Deep South captains preferred to sail directly to Europe. The tariff on the goods they returned with sounds a lot like one of our Founders issues with England. Also look up the different people. The North managed to move West only as far as Ohio, while America wrote all of our key founding documents and settled the rest of the country until it was safe enough for Northerners to come and install bureaucracy, usury and various other schemes. Keep reading, you have to dig to find the truth. Aside: Lincoln's First Words when he heard South Carolina had seceded – "what will we do for taxes?"

    4. It's time to free the unborn from the slavery of abortion. Join me to support a new Emancipation Proclamation to end the vicious institution of abortion. Now is the time.

    5. Craig says:

      And freeing slaves in states where he couldn't and not where he could was good how?

    6. deb ahart says:

      can't wait to see this movie, I love anything about lincoln

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