“Lincoln” Movie Accurate? A Historian Responds

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The “Lincoln” movie drew rave reviews from critics and audiences all around the world. It was nominated for numerous Oscars. Since, as a historian, I often speak to audiences about Lincoln’s life and his murder, I have been receiving a lot of questions about the film. One of the most common questions I have been receiving from college audiences is, “Is the Lincoln movie accurate?”

The answer is, in general terms, that “Lincoln” is quite accurate!

My answer is based on a general reaction. There are a number of errors scattered throughout the film. For instance, Mary Lincoln (whose teeth are far too bleached and perfect) refers to her fear that Robert will be killed by a “sniper.” That word was not used during the Civil War. The more accurate word would be “sharpshooter.” Is that a significant error? Of course not.

One of the historical errors is the portrayal of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. Grant is shown in the movie in a dress uniform. In fact he was muddy and somewhat unkempt, in contrast to the majestic Lee. The actual surrender took place face-to-face in a quiet room. While they had only met once before, they each respected the other. I don’t know why the film swings and misses on this very important and iconic moment, but it is still not, in my mind, a major focus of criticism.

The questions I’ve received generally center around several key moments or themes in the film I will address below. If you have a question I do not answer, please feel free to add it in the comments section. I will do my best to provide an answer. If you need to cite me as a source for a school project or media story, click here for my credentials.

LINCOLN AS A STORYTELLER: Throughout the film, Lincoln is shown telling stories, often to the exasperation of his more formal staff. Is the Lincoln movie accurate? This is absolutely true! Lincoln was a noted jokester and storyteller, who often used stories to make a point indirectly, and often used humor to diffuse a difficult situation. Abraham Lincoln’s storytelling ability was noted even as a young man. The film “Young Mr. Lincoln”  shows this off quite brilliantly as well.

THE ETHAN ALLEN STORY: One of Lincoln’s longest stories in the film concerns the patriot hero Ethan Allen and a British outhouse. While the veracity of the story is impossible to establish, it is undeniably true that Lincoln often told that specific story! It was one of his favorites! And yes, Lincoln would have said s**t for a laugh in telling the story.  See the next answer for more…

DID LINCOLN SWEAR SO MUCH: NO! The script veers from truth in this regard. Lincoln would use an off-color word in telling a humorous story (see answer above) but he did not swear and would not have taken God’s name in vain as shown in the film. In anger, of course, anyone can say anything, but his contemporaries often remarked that Lincoln did not swear or curse. Actually, Lincoln regularly objected when others did. In this regard, the Lincoln movie’s historical accuracy is terrible!

DID THADDEUS STEVENS HAVE AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN MISTRESS? Yes.  Thaddeus Stevens was sexually involved with his devoted housekeeper, a mixed race woman named Lydia Hamilton Smith.

Is the Lincoln movie accurate? Did Thaddeus Stevens have an African American Mistress?

It is impossible to know for certain the exact nature of their private relationship; in public they were always very proper. However, their romantic/sexual involvement was talked about quite often by people who knew Stevens well and is accepted by historians as true. Stevens, like Lincoln, was extremely cordial to individual African-Americans.  Thaddeus Stevens’ deep and unwavering belief in the importance of better race relations is absolutely unquestionable. Even more important, from a historical point of view, is that Smith and Stevens worked together to protect numerous escaped slaves on the famed “Underground Railroad!”

DID ABRAHAM LINCOLN ALLOW BRIBES OR ALLOW JOBS TO BE OFFERED IN EXCHANGE FOR SUPPORT OF THE 13th AMENDMENT? Is the Lincoln movie accurate? Again, this is an area in which the screenwriter, drawing upon historical sources, offers conclusions which are neither completely supported by fact nor easily dismissed. Lincoln’s people DID employ the equivalent of today’s political lobbyists to try and persuade reluctant Democrats to support the amendment to ban slavery. However, we do not know their specific conversations or interactions. Therefore, it is safe to say that those scenes are historically correct in general terms but should not be taken literally in all regards.

WAS THADDEUS STEVENS A SARCASTIC AND INSULTING DEBATER? Yes! While some of the specific putdowns he utters in the film are not recorded as such in contemporary journals, every one of them is consistent with his personality and speaking style. Some scholars of Thaddeus Stevens say that he was even more sarcastic than is portrayed in the film!

DID LINCOLN OFTEN HAVE A RECURRING DREAM BEFORE A MAJOR EVENT? Yes. While it is not recorded that he had that dream and related it specifically to the passage of the amendment, the dream itself was often referred to by Lincoln, but generally as a portent to some military action. In this regard, the Lincoln movie historical accuracy is excellent.

DID LINCOLN MEET WITH REBEL ‘PEACE COMMISSIONERS’? Yes. However, because President Lincoln did not recognize the leaders of the rebellion as a legitimate government, his meeting with them was more of a public relations move than anything else. The film captures this perfectly. To read a scholarly analysis of the meeting, click here.

DID THADDEUS STEVENS TAKE HOME A COPY OF THE THIRTEENTH AMENDMENT? Most probably not. It is rather inconceivable that particular scene had any grounding in truth. More likely, it was an invention of the screenwriter.

DID LINCOLN HAVE A COOL RELATIONSHIP WITH HIS SON ROBERT? Yes. Lincoln adored children, especially his beloved Tad and deeply mourned Willie. However Lincoln, who was not close with his own father, did not have a particularly warm or close relationship with his eldest son.

DID LINCOLN SLAP HIS SON ROBERT? No. Abraham Lincoln could be cool and dismissive of his oldest son, but nothing in Lincoln’s background, history or nature would give credence to this fabricated film moment. Biographies of Lincoln often point out how slow he was to anger and how dearly he avoided personal violence unless attacked. This scene was invented by the screenwriter.

DID THADDEUS STEVENS REALLY WEAR SUCH AN AWFUL LOOKING WIG? Yes! He was completely bald and photographs of him show that the costumers re-created his ratty looking hairpiece very accurately!

DID REPRESENTATIVES FROM CONNECTICUT OPPOSE THE AMENDMENT? No. The screenwriter admitted that he changed the historical facts on that one,  Here is his defense.

DID MARY LINCOLN WATCH THE VOTE FROM THE GALLERY? No. That was just a dramatic contrivance.

DID LINCOLN’S FACE APPEAR ON THE FIFTY CENT COIN DURING THE WAR? No. That was an error. His face appeared on paper currency four years or so after his brutal murder.

DID LINCOLN’S VOICE REALLY SOUND LIKE THAT? Our best guess is that it did. A definitive answer is not completely possible, since there are no actual recordings of Lincoln’s voice. However the screenwriters and the brilliant Daniel Day-Lewis did a tremendous amount of research into how Lincoln actually sounded.

Is the Lincoln movie accurate?

Many people who knew or merely heard Lincoln commented on distinctive characteristics of his voice. Based on everything we know, the performance is highly accurate!

It is a testament to the film making prowess of Steven Spielberg that he and his production team worked miracles in re-creating a historically accurate portrait of Lincoln. As a film, it is perfectly bracketed by the 1939 classic “Young Mr. Lincoln” directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda as Abraham Lincoln before he entered public consciousness. Click here to read my blog entry about that great Lincoln film.

What happened to the others who were with Lincoln when he was shot?  

Read my article,  “The Curse Of Ford’s Theater.”

Why did Lincoln declare a day of Thanksgiving during the midst of the Civil War? What can we learn from his unique thinking style? Click here to read more.

 

Have A Question? Need A Speaker?

If you have a question, use the comments section below. If you need a quick response due to a deadline, click here.  If you would like me to present my nationally acclaimed presentations on Lincoln’s life or his assassination to your school, group or class, click here. If you need more information or a question related to “is the Lincoln movie accurate,” please ask!

What did you think of the film? Please leave your comments below!

112 Responses to ““Lincoln” Movie Accurate? A Historian Responds”

  • Larry Levine says:

    Thank you for your comments.
    I was completely enraptured with the film. The biggest surprise was that he held face to face meetings with representatives of the Confederacy. this was not taught in any history class or book that I was exposed to.

  • N Shawhan says:

    Nice article. I think you misread the surrender scene, though. I think what we saw was supposed to represent Lee’s departure after the indoor meeting. His horse is brought to him, and he mounts and departs with the respect of his old comrades.

    • E. Medina says:

      yea i think so too. It seemed as a respectful departure of Lee

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Thank you for your comment. By not showing Lee’s surprised and grateful reaction to the incredibly generous terms of surrender offered by Lincoln, I think the filmmakers created a somewhat erroneous picture and missed a great chance to again demonstrate Lincoln’s wisdom and ability to see the big picture.

      • Nick says:

        Screenwriting is a tough thing. If you watch the Special Features on the DVD Speilberg mentions and is shown the 500+ page 1st draft.
        You can’t show everything. And coming from someone who has a degree in screenwriting and now teaches film, on a professional film every decision has weight.
        That scene is toward the end of the film, and as I remember it, sort of part of a montage. Probably the reason for sticking to the montage is pacing, since it’s the end of the film and the film is taking time away from the main character and main plot to show the aftermath.
        Perhaps the scene you reference was in the shooting script, and maybe they actually shot it, but then the editor decided it was unnecessary or that it slowed down the pace at the end of the film.
        At any rate, it wasn’t central to the main plot, and I’d probably venture to guess it really was there to tie up what happens with Grant more than anything, since Lee has no lines and that’s the only scene he’s in.

    • Wayne says:

      The statement is about Grant’s dress!! He was indeed wearing a muddy field uniform of no rank–for which he apologized to Lee for being in such clothing.

      Grant allowed the keeping of horses owned by the rebels and and sidearms,as well. He also sent some thousands of rations to the rebel camp.

      Also, he was suffering from a migraine and had been for some time, but upon receiving Lee’s request for a meeting–it immediately went away!!

      • Al says:

        The Appomattox Court House part of the movie is mostly correct. The inaccurate parts are as follows:
        1. Court House IS two words meaning town. Courthouse as one word means the physical courthouse. No one gets it right.
        2. The film did not film at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park. The film makes it look like the McLean House is by itself when its in the town of Appomattox Court House.
        3. The Ice House is missing from the left side of the buildings.
        4. Not all of Grant’s staff and the other officers and men in the front of the house were not featured.
        Grant’s uniform and the salute in the front of the McLean House is accurate. In Grants own words from his memoir:
        “When I had left camp that morning I had not expected so soon the result that was then taking place, and consequently was in rough garb.  I was without a sword, as I usually was when on horseback on the field, and wore a soldier’s blouse for a coat, with the shoulder straps of my rank to indicate to the army who I was.  When I went into the house I found General Lee. We greeted each other, and after shaking hands took our seats.  I had my staff with me, a good portion of whom were in the room during the whole of the interview. 
        What General Lee’s feelings were I do not know.  As he was a man of much dignity, with an impassable face, it was impossible to say whether he felt inwardly glad that the end had finally come, or felt sad over the result, and was too manly to show it.  Whatever his feelings, they were entirely concealed from my observation; but my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter [proposing negotiations], were sad and depressed.  I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.  I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us. 
        General Lee was dressed in a full uniform which was entirely new, and was wearing a sword of considerable value, very likely the sword which had been presented by the State of Virginia; at all events, it was an entirely different sword from the one that would ordinarily be worn in the field.  In my rough traveling suit, the uniform of a private with the straps of a lieutenant-general, I must have contrasted very strangely with a man so handsomely dressed, six feet high and of faultless form.  But this was not a matter that I thought of until afterwards.”

        Books to read

        Ulysses S. Grants Memoir
        Noah Andre Trudeau. The Campaign to Civil War Series: Appomattox. National Park Civil War Series.
        Out Of the Storm also by Trudeau
        The Surrender Proceedings: April 9, 1865 Appomattox Court House. By Frank Cauble.
        http://Www.nps.gov/apco
         

        • Barry Bradford says:

          Al,

          Thanks for the points which reinforce those I had made above, albeit more briefly.

          Grant’s memoirs are among the finest ever written by a former President. Their frank and honest tone reflect Grant’s character.

          Barry

      • Barry Bradford says:

        Wayne,

        Thanks for your insights. The treatment of the rebels, who had actually committed treason against the USA, is a very important topic. Lincoln’s decision not to have Lee, Davis and the others who defied the Constitution put to death is evidence of his fabulous “long term thinking.” I’d wager that most Presidents would have had no trouble seeing Lee and Davis hang. But Lincoln’s very compassionate and practical view of the situation was starting to lead the nation towards reconciliation.

        Barry

  • Charles Schiller says:

    FABULOUS film and it sure shows congressional fighting, bickering, stupidity, is nothing new. My question is whether, as a matter of historical fact, there really was a confederate delegation that came to offer peace, on certain terms, in Jan., 1865. Does anyone know if that’s true?

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Lincoln and Seward did meet with the rebel commissioners. Most historians recognize that the meeting was not a tremendously important moment. Lincoln rejected the notion that the CSA was a real government, therefore he would not meet with their representatives in the same way that he would meet with ambassadors from a real nation, such as Britain or France.

      To read an excellent scholarly piece on the actual meeting, click here.

  • Bill Crowley says:

    Great film. Saw it twice and the 2nd time was a good or not better. Picked up on things the 2nd time around. Loved the whole idea of targeting the 13 amendment. Nice piece of the American Pie.
    Bill

  • Ben says:

    The film shows it being incredibly difficult to pass the amendment, including a dramatic scene where Lincoln writes a note telling congress that their is no Confederate peace delegation. Was there that much drama and uncertainty?

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Ben,

      Thank you for reading my blog!

      Your question is a good one. The Lincoln letter to Congress was exactly as portrayed in the film. Lincoln was being shrewdly political. He had no intention of actually negotiating with rebels. (see my previous answer) On the other hand, he could not be seen as refusing them outright. There had actually been a number of similar peace overtures from the rebels who were growing increasingly desperate. Lincoln refused to discuss peace without the emancipation of the descendants of kidnap victims (slaves)

      Here is a superb account of the clever way Lincoln misled Congress in order to get the 13th Amendment passed without meeting with the traitors from the rebellion. I have taken it directly from a fantastic scholarly look at the history of the foolhardy rebel peace efforts. Click here to see the original, which I recommend highly.

      Historian James A. Rawley wrote: “On the day of the crucial House vote [on the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery], January 31, 1865, Representative James M. Ashley, who had introduced the bill, sent a worried appeal to Lincoln. A rumor was circulating in the House that peace commissioners were en route to Washington, and the rumor ‘is being used against us.’ Ashley requested authorization to contradict the rumor. Lincoln promptly replied in a single sentence, ‘So far as I know, there are no peace commissioners in the city, or likely to be in it.’ His reply was disingenuous, for Lincoln was aware that peace commissioners were en route to Fortress Monroe.”109 They were not, however, en route to Washington. Ashley himself wrote: “Mr. Lincoln knew that the Commissioners were then on their way to Ft[.] Monroe where he expected to meet them and afterwards did meet them. You see how admirably he answered my note for my purposes and yet how truly.”110

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Ben,

      Yes! While some of the drama was fictionalized, the passage of the 13th Amendment was, indeed, a complex and dramatic process!

      Barry

  • Marilyn says:

    I was disappointed in Sally Fields’ portrayal of Mary Lincoln. I know she hoped to make Mary appear more assertive and involved (and less mentally ill) but it simply isn’t an accurate portrayal of her. She wasn’t smart-mouthing senators about the money she spent on the White House, she secretly went to them and begged them to help her out financially before her husband found out about it. Her line to him about so many people loving and supporting him was BS. Lincoln was despised by many, thought to be illiterate, and only won the 2nd term because no one wanted George McClellan as president. I was also appalled at the portrayals of Lee as well as the actor cast as Grant … they definitely missed it on both counts.

  • Daniel says:

    Great movie, thanks Barry for your effort to clarify. Do you know if Lincoln really tried to delay the comissioner’s trip in order to carry through with the 13th amendment?

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Daniel,

      Thanks for your compliment! The film’s portrayal of Lincoln’s efforts to slow the commissioners and his reasons for doing so are very accurately shown in the film.

      Barry

  • Richard Foley says:

    At the begining of the movie, two enlisted African American Union troops are speaking to Lincoln. One of the troops confronts Lincoln over unequal pay for black troops (as compared to whites). While the pay difference is historically true, I question if such troops would be so bold as to confront the president over this matter. Is there any historic merit to this scene, or is it merely a device by Spielberg to make the audience aware of the pay discrepency?

  • Tim Freehling says:

    Hi. Thanks for the review. Abraham Lincoln is always called Honest Abe, yet the movie depicts him as a shrewd politician who bends the truth to his advantage…which is the true Lincoln, Honest Abe or this portrayal? Also, we heard several times where A.L. used vulgar speech, particularly using the Lord’s name as a curse. Is there historical evidence of this cursing?

    Thanks

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Tim,

      Thank you for the comment and question. Lincoln was a very honest person in personal dealings and tried to keep his word. However, he was also a master politician, and, as such, could be manipulative and deceptive in political dealings.

      I have amended the blog to answer the question about swearing!

      Barry

  • Dan Draney says:

    Historians have been a bit too kind to Spielberg, because they say it’s not a “documentary.” But there are many scenes in the film that are silly, that diminish the quality of the film with melodrama that contributes little to the real life drama of the story. Here are some of these silly fictions: Civil War soldiers that recite the Gettysburg Address and complain about unequal pay for black soldiers; the putative influence of an African-American maid and butler on Lincoln’s support for the 13th amendment; Tad playing with glass photographic plates of slaves; Robert Lincoln crying at the dumping of body parts; Lincoln slapping Robert, cursing and using the word “Christ” as profanity; Mary Todd’s witty critical tirade of Stevens at a White House dinner party; Lincoln meeting with W. N. Bilbo and his cronies in a tawdry “back-room parlor”; Stevens taking “the only copy” of the 13th Amendment home to read it in bed with his African American mistress. It isn’t sufficient to say these “could have happened” and it’s acceptable because it’s fiction. To the contrary, their silliness actually mars what could have been an even better film without them. To see the difference, compare the dramatic way that the vote is presented, which does use dramatic and creative licence, but does so within the limits of what actually took place, and so it is one of the most reliable and yet dramatic scenes in the film. Many will call me a curmudgeon, but honestly, I don’t think we need to insert implausible melodrama into history to make it interesting or commercial.

  • Renee Altman says:

    I had many of the same questions as above but I also would like to know if Lincoln actually went all the way to Petersburg to view the dead on the battlefield.

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Renee,

      Thank you for reading my blog! Yes, Lincoln did go to Petersburg to meet with Grant and saw many dead while there. He was a man of deep emotion and was profoundly moved.

  • Richard Carlson says:

    Excellent review of a superb movie. My question relates to the early scenes where black soldiers speak of retaliating for Confederate slaughter of black soldiers. There are clear records of the Confederates slaughtering black soldiers, at Ft. Pillow, for example. I’ve found no record of the reverse, which would have required the cooperation of or disobeying white officers.

  • jen says:

    Here’s some questions:

    1) I read that Mary and Abraham had 4 sons. Edward (died 1850) and William (died 1862). But you mention 3 and the film only mentions three.

    2)Was it accurate that nobody in public paid attention to the President? Nobody on the streets even turned around. He just walked around like a regular person, unrecognizable.

    3) Was it accurate that the members of congress didn’t tally their own votes? Nobody in the film seemed to react to the final result until the house leader announced them after adding them up. Only Mary and the press tallied the votes.

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Hello, Jen

      Thank you for reading my blog!

      (1) The Lincoln’s had four sons. Edward died as an infant, Willie died in the WHite House at age 11. His father grieved terribly:

      “My poor boy. He was too good for this earth. God has called him home. I know that he is much better off in heaven, but then we loved him so. It is hard, hard to have him die.”

      Tad lived to 18. Thus, Mary Lincoln lived to see three of her sons die, and, of course, had her husband murdered by her side. I think that a diagnosis of PTSD would be reasonable, in addition to her other mental and physical conditions.

      Only Robert lived to adulthood. He had three children and two grandchildren. One of his grandchildren was a gay woman, the other married twice but sired no children. He died in 1985 .Thus, there are no direct linear relatives of Abraham Lincoln still alive.

  • Tim says:

    Didn’t Tad die in Lincoln’s first term? 1871 or 2?

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Tim,

      Thanks for the question. Tad died in 1871 at age 18. He outlived his father.

      Tad’s story is fascinating and I may do a blog about it very soon!

  • So great to find your site. Spent the afternoon of the Inauguration today watching this film and was overwhelmed by how it left me feeling. Almost 150 years later from 1865 and Lincoln would be amazed to see what we witness for a 2nd term for #44.

    Loved your take on the factual information from the movie. Thank you for sharing it.

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Gregory,

      Thank you so much for your kind words! Please poke around my blog for other articles about movies and history!

      Barry

  • Paul Ruth says:

    Enjoyed the movie but bothered by the portrayal of Lincoln swearing and slapping his son when we know these were highly unlikely. I understand it is theater but for me it crosses a line of disrespect to President Lincoln. Not sure why screenwriters have such a fixation on swearing.

    Thank you for you blog!

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Paul,

      I’ve addressed both issues before and I agree with you. The slapping especially bothered me. In a film which generally took such pains to be accurate, the slapping and swearing were shockingly out of place.

      Barry

      • laura says:

        Many thanks for your excellent blog Mr Bradford which clarifies different aspects of the film for me, I saw it last week and feel I need to see it at least once again to understand everything! Also I’d just enjoy seeing it again.

        The slapping issue didn’t worry me too much – different times, different customs. A slap was the father’s ultimate punishment if a child had overstepped the mark, and Robert had been very cheeky on this occasion! I was more worried by the bribes/jobs for votes aspect which I would never have believed “Honest Abe” capable of.

        • Barry Bradford says:

          Laura,

          Thanks for your kind words about my blog; they are deeply appreciated!

          The slapping was wrong because it never happened. It was completely inconsistent with Lincoln’s personality and parenting style. It was written in to make a point, but it seems not to be grounded in fact. I really regret that it was included, as it leaves a false impression about Lincoln as a man and a father. In fact, Lincoln’s ability to control his temper is one if his most obvious and honorable characteristics!

          Barry

  • Scott says:

    Barry,
    Thanks for your interesting blog.

    I too thought the movie was accurate (by Hollywood standards at least) and what dramatic license was taken was fairly plausible and in the spirit of actual events. It’s a bit of a hagiography but Spielberg+Lincoln is hardly a recipe for deep ambiguities.

    I had a question similar to your point about the use of the word ‘sniper’. Was the term ‘dictator’ applied by critics of Lincoln in such a negative way? Before Hitler, et al wouldn’t most people have viewed the word as a reference to the Roman occasional habit of installing a strong ruler for ten years during times of crisis? It seems to me that even if such rhetoric was used it would not have had the same connotation that it does for a modern audience.

  • Susan says:

    I would love to know more about the stories of the black staff under Lincoln. The butler, the private asst of Mrs. Lincoln, whether or not Corpl. Clark was real, mistress of Stevens, etc. Do you know their stories and how they came to work for Lincoln?

  • Anne Fredlock says:

    The slavery amendment passed with a 70% majority. Why did the film depict it incorrectly?

    • Scott says:

      The film wasn’t incorrect. An amendment to the constitution has to pass both houses by a 2/3 majority- 66%. The 13th amendment passed by slightly more than required.

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Hello, Anne, and thanks for reading my blog!

      A Constitutional Amendment must pass both houses of Congress by a 2/3 majority. (66.7%) This getting 70% of the vote, while it seems overwhelming, was actually a squeaker, as depicted in the film!

      To put this in historical context, the 26th Amendment – which lowered the voting age to 18 – passed 94-0. The Founding Fathers intentionally made it difficult to pass an Amendment without broad support that today we would refer to as bipartisan.

      Here is an interesting historical oddity – in 1861 Congress passed the “Corwin Amendment” which would have made it unconstitutional for the government to ban slavery! This was a last ditch effort to head off the Civil War. Since no time limit was placed on its adoption, technically, the states could still pass it, although the 13th Amendment has already banned slavery. In the early 1960s, a Texas State Legislator actually asked Texas to consider passing it! It was referred to committee and died there.

  • JBarret says:

    Lincoln ran for President as a non Abolitionist, meaning he did not want to do away with Slavery in the South. He made that clear in some public Speeches. When did he change his mind, did not see any reference to this in the film. Or did he just take this position to get elected despite his true feelings.

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Lincoln’s views on slavery were complex and did change over time. He was torn between his personal feelings (he abhored slavery) and the practical necessity of averting a Civil War.

      Lincoln’s personal view can be summed up with this 1858 quote: “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.”

      There are NO quotes which shows Lincoln thought slavery was good, right, moral or should be justified. Instead, in his every public declaration, he voiced personal distaste for slavery, while acknowledging the complex economic and political difficulty of ending it. FOr most of his early career, Lincoln spoke out against the expansion of slavery. He hoped to limit it to the areas where it existed and then reduce it. As a capitalist, he believed in compensated emancipation – purchasing the enslaved human beings from those who believed holding human beings as property was an economic right. As his thinking evolved, he entertained plans to free the slaves and deport them to Africa or South America.

      So why do some people mistakenly believe Lincoln did not care about slavery? They quote, often out of context, a letter he wrote at the beginning of the War. Read it in context:

      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.

      Lincoln believed that if he could hold the Union together and avoid hundred of thousands of deaths, that would be a good result. His public proclamations beginning
      at the age of 28, while serving in the Illinois General Assembly,show he hated personally slavery,

      1854: “I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world.” The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume II, “Speech at Peoria, Illinois” (October 16, 1854), p. 255.

      1858: “I have always hated slavery, I think as much as any abolitionist.” The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume II, “Speech at Chicago, Illinois” (July 10, 1858), p. 492.

      1859: I think slavery is wrong, morally, and politically. I desire that it should be no further spread in these United States, and I should not object if it should gradually terminate in the whole Union.” The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume III, “Speech at Cincinnati, Ohio” (September 17, 1859), p. 440.

  • Richard Jones says:

    Fantastic piece of cinema, which I think balances historical fact with the need for ‘entertainment’ pretty well. The swearing and slapping I can live with – I think there is a danger that Lincoln could be beatified, and emotional responses merely add to the impression of a generally extremely likeable and balanced human being.

    My favourite aspect, however, is related to his politics. It shows that Lincoln was a master of the-then new theory of ‘Realpolitik’. He knew that to get things done, there was no point drowning in the ‘first swamp’.

    We can see this in the Emancipation Proclamation. A piece of visionary idealism, or a ploy to keep the anti-slavery European powers from recognising the Confederacy, or even intervening on their behalf?

    Well, why can’t it be both? It shows well one of the keenest political intellects of any age, of any country.

  • Frances Schiemann says:

    Did see the film,still absorbing the content, would love to know the meaning of the brown paper
    packages scatted around the rooms, what is good about the film is it will waken the importance
    of history in this very busy period in the world we
    see such a lot going on,would love to see a film
    about the French involvement in Mexico at the
    same time, please Steve

  • Hetty says:

    What a fascinating movie ! I’m from the Netherlands so I first had to dive into the American history otherwise I wouldn’t have had a clue about what is going on and what they are talking about in the movie. So yes, it definitely is a history lesson, but a very interesting one. He was a typical ‘the end justifies the means’ president and very shrewd. I also had a good laugh now and then. The end, his assasination, made me cry. I loved him that much at the end, thanks to Daniel Day Lewis.

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Hetty,

      Thank you so much for your comment! I’ve received questions/comments/views from people on every continent except Antarctica and I am love hearing how folks who did not grow up in the USA react. Your analysis was accurate; like the best politicians, Lincoln combined great vision with a practical approach to the complex American political system. I am so glad they included bits of Lincoln’s humor in the film – he was probably the wittiest man ever to hold the office!

  • Kent Ayres says:

    Where wasTad at the time of his father’s assassination? Was he really at another theater as depicted in the movie?

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Kent,

      Thank you for reading my blog! The movie correctly places Tad at another theater at the time of the assassination. He was watching a more “kid oriented” play called ” Aladdin or the Magic Lamp.” He heard the announcement of his father’s shooting (and was erroneously informed his dad was dead) from a man who interrupted the play on stage. What a sad way to hear the news.

      Tad was a very special boy with a tremendous heart, learning disabilities, and a very clever mind. I will have to do a blog about him soon!

  • tracey says:

    Why does the movie only mention three of the sons??

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Tracey,

      Thank you for the question!

      The fourth Lincoln son, Eddie, died one month before his fourth birthday. His parents were devastated by his loss. Although in those days childhood death was much more common, the grief felt by parents was no less. The Lincolns wrote a long poem of grief and farewell to Eddie,; it was published in the newspaper. It clearly demonstrates the overwhelming sorrow they experienced.

  • Simon Clegg says:

    In the UK and Australia the more progressive and well-read history teachers on this topic present the American Civil War to their Secondary School students as a war about states rights and that the bills and that the amendments that were passed in respect of slave emancipation were a means of encouraging large numbers of blacks to come to the side of the Union and to destable the South by means of leaving the CSA with a significant number of ‘free blacks’ behind their own lines. I was pleased to see this alluded to in the film, however I am interested in your view as an American well educated on the topic.

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Simon,

      Thanks for reading my blog! Where are you writing from? Are you an educator?

      The people being held in captivity in the South certainly did not need any encouragement to want freedom! And since the Southern states were in a state of rebellion against Federal authority, no law passed by a Congress they did not recognize would have been obeyed. It took force of arms to end the barbaric practice of taking human beings as property.

  • Peter says:

    What about the battle scenes? In the first, soldiers are all in close hand-to-hand combat, literally fighting with their fists. Did that really happen? In the second (at the end of the movie), bodies are in piles. I don’t recall seeing such a concentration of bodies in any Civil War photos I’ve seen. Not a big issue because it doesn’t affect the story, but just interested to know. Thanks for your thoughts.

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Peter,

      I appreciate the question!

      Due to the single shot nature of most of the weapons used by soldiers in the Civil War, it was not unusual to see hand to hand combat ensue after an infantry charge. After a soldier had fired his weapon, it would have been difficult (at best) to reload as you entered enemy lines. As a result, soldiers had to attack and defend themselves in any way they could!

  • Annie says:

    Comments about historical inaccuracies aside, I really liked this film as well as Daniel’s performance. There is so much that can be said about this film, but one thing struck me most as i sat in the theater. There was a point in the film that the question was raised about how slaves would really feel having freedom thrust upon them. Not so much a question of enfranchising them but… what would they do, where would they go, where would they work, things like that, from the slaves’ point of view. I am from the Philippines and for a long time we had what our history has come to call a dictator president… until some people made the mistake of killing his biggest political rival who was on his way home after being incarcerated in the US. This led to civil unrest and then the snap elections where the “dictator” lost and he was overthrown by what has come to be known as People Power (or the bloodless revolution in 86).

  • Barry Bradford says:
      A NOTE ABOUT COMMENTS!!

    Thank you to everybody for the wonderful questions! I have eliminated a few that were impolite. I am a historian, not a partisan, and have no desire to provide a forum for angry people who wish to push a political viewpoint and interpret the film or the life of Lincoln to fit their agenda. I have also, sadly, had to eliminate a few because they were overly long.

    My general rule is this – be polite!

  • Marilyn Baseman says:

    What was the cause of Mississippi’s not officially ratifying the 13th amendment until 2013?

  • AW Schroader says:

    It is my opinion that the inaccuracy you cite regarding the surrender of Lee isn’t entirely correct. I believe that the scene in the movie in fact takes place just after the actual signing inside the house, and was merely used to show the respect the two men had for each other upon parting.

  • Sharon Wong says:

    This doesn’t pertain to the movie itself, but I had read that Lincoln had delayed meeting with a Southern delegation prior to the war and manipulated things so that the South fired the first shot, allowing him to go to war to fight to retain the union. Is this true? Why would he want the war to begin?

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Sharon,

      Thanks for the question. I would disagree with your use of “manipulated.” LINCOLN DEARLY WANTED TO AVOID A WAR! The historical record is that Lincoln did all he could to avoid a war and to avoid provoking the rebels from starting one. Once an American base was fired on, he had a solemn responsibility to protect our Constitution, our soldiers and our nation.

  • L Lowe says:

    I know this wont be a popular opinion but I absolutely hated the film and found it a boring depiction of what I consider a fascinating point in history. I was completely disappointed.

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Certainly, not everyone loves the film!

      It was an interesting choice by the filmmakers to choose such a potentially static topic as opposed to some of the more obviously dramatic moments in Lincoln’s life. Your reaction is hardly unique.

  • Patrick Hudson says:

    Enjoyed the movie and have been fascinated by your blog. What a great resource for history students! If I get a chance to teach at a community college could I refer students to it?
    On the movie, the only inaccuracy that I caught was the dome of the capital building. I thought it wasn’t finished until after Lincolns 2nd inaugural?

  • John Lovett says:

    In regards to the surrender by Lee, I had not long before read an account stating that Lee gave Grant his sword at the court house, and I believe I saw Lee wearing a sword when he mounted his horse. Maybe it was supposed to be just the scabbard. This is obviously splitting hairs, but I think it would’ve been a nice touch to show that.

  • KERRY says:

    He was as honest as any one could be but there were times when the truth would be bent. I can’t imagine any human sacrificing not getting that amm. passed vs. telling a small untruth. Truth or slavery–which is the the worst sin?

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Kerry,

      I think only the most fanciful historian would claim that Lincoln – or any human – never told a lie! Lincoln WAS a very honest man, but he was neither completely honest nor completely consistent. None of us are.

      Barry

  • Kris says:

    I had the very unique experience of seeing this movie in Cairo, Egypt. I’m a teacher from the US but living and working in Cairo right now. I was SO pleased to finally get the chance to see this movie on the big screen. And I was only one of 2 Americans in the theater. I would have loved to have chatted with a few of the Egyptian patrons to get their thoughts on Lincoln and the movie.

    • NICOLA says:

      My husband says the part about the white house being so accessible by the public and very few guards around and lincoln meeting ordinary citizens on a daily basis is totally unbelievable-I am sure i have read historical books about this being common, but of course cannot bring them to mind. this was a common practice was it not?

      • Barry Bradford says:

        Nicola,

        Thank you for the question! And this will be fun for you – you get to prove your husband wrong!

        During Lincoln’s presidency, average citizens could simply go to the White House and wait and try to see the president. It was the bane of Lincoln’s existence, because so many people wanted political appointments or favors. However, some of the folks who waited to see Lincoln were hoping for pardons or paroles for sons or husbands in the war, others presented stories that deeply touched Lincoln. While not everybody came to the White House got to see him, by the standards of today, both the White House and the president were extraordinarily accessible.

        By the way, there is a very funny, true story about Tad Lincoln: he was a very entrepreneurial boy and found many clever ways to make money. One of his schemes involved taking money from the people waiting to see his father, by promising them that they could get in! Lincoln quickly put a stop to that, but I have to believe he chuckled at his son’s spirit.

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Kris,

      What a fascinating experience for you! I worked on the reopening of the notorious “Mississippi Burning” case (Click here for details) and I have been amazed how people in countries as disparate as Australia, Denmark, China and South Africa have responded to that effort and to the story of America during segregation. I have had views/comments/questions from people in over 90 countries on that case alone! If you do hear feedback from Egyptians who saw Lincoln, please share it here!

      Barry

  • [...]  To read my other posts regarding Lincoln click YOUNG MR. LINCOLN and IS THE LINCOLN MOVIE HISTORICALLY ACCURATE. [...]

  • [...] Here is a like to an article on the Lincoln movie. [...]

  • Tam says:

    Thanks Barry for your blog.

    I am in Australia and just saw the movie yesterday and your blog has answered many of my questions. I grew up in Sri Lanka where my father a Lincoln admirer would regularly recite the Gettysburg address to us.

    Where was Lincoln when the 13th amendment was passed? The film shows him in Washington but is that true. Why was a telegram sent to him of the count results if he was in the same city?

    Thanks,

    Tam

  • Dave says:

    “For instance, Mary Lincoln (whose teeth are far too bleached and perfect) refers to her fear that Robert will be killed by a ‘sniper.’ That word was not used during the Civil War; the more accurate word would be ‘sharpshooter.’”

    Well, even the word “doesn’t” didn’t exist at that time. People, no matter how educated, would say “he don’t know,” never “he doesn’t know.” Yet in the movie you mostly hear “doesn’t.”

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Dave,

      Thank you for a very interesting contribution to the blog! Readers like you have provided a tremendous amount of information that is being used by students, journalists, and armchair historians who are fascinated with Lincoln. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word “doesn’t” first appeared in 1739. So the word did exist in Lincoln’s time and would probably have been used by at least some of the Ivy League educated men who served with Lincoln. I suspect, based on the verbatim transcripts we have of Lincoln remarks, that his language would have been more similar to that which you suggested.

      I appreciate you reading my blog and I’m grateful for your interesting observation.

      Barry

  • Juan Heder says:

    A fascinating blog! I especially enjoyed the questions and answers.

    Do you know if there is going to be a sequel?

    Thanks and keep up the great work!

  • Bonnie Siegel says:

    I read your blog about errors in the recent Lincoln movie, and one of the most glaring errors was the type of horses used in the movie, especially the horse that Robert E. Lee was sitting on at Appomattox Court House scene. As a long-time horse enthusiast, I have always known that Lee’s horse was a magnificent tall grey American Saddlebred horse named “Traveller,” who had a black mane and tail. During the Civil War, American Saddlebreds were the most common horse breed used n the South and especially for generals in the Civil War on both sides The horse in the movie was short and rather scruffy, not tall and elegant like a Saddlebred. Even the saddle and bridle was not fitting of a general. I wonder who Spielberg used for his equine consultants. Big mistake if you know horses and the Civil War.

    Below is an account from http://www.hardwoodcreek.com/morgan-saddlebred-lore/item/10-saddlebred-civil-war.

    Traveller
    Robert E. Lee’s favorite horse was Traveller, who was of the Gray Eaglestock, and, as a colt, took the first prize at fairs in 1859 and 1860. As an adult gelding, he was a strong horse, 16 hands high and 1,100 pounds (500 kg), iron gray in color with black points, a long mane and flowing tail.In a letter, Lee described Traveller like this:
    “If I was an artist like you, I would draw a true picture of Traveller; representing his fine proportions, muscular figure, deep chest, short back, strong haunches, flat legs, small head, broad forehead, delicate ears, quick eye, small feet, and black mane and tail.”

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Bonnie -

      GREAT CATCH! Not being a “horse person” I would not have caught that! I am sure my readers will likewise appreciate the information!

      Barry

  • Mary B. says:

    Dear Barry,
    I’ve just finished watching Lincoln on DVD. While I admire the great historical accuracy of this movie I was a little taken aback by how little they showed of Lincoln’s deep faith in God. I know he never he alined himself clearly with any faith or church but didn’t he carry a Bible with him everyday? I know that Lincoln’s Bible is often used in the swearing in of current presidents. Why was Mr. Spielberg afraid to show Lincoln’s strong belief in God? Or am I totally all wet about Lincoln’s belief if God?

  • D. Kately says:

    I thought I heard my last name mentioned in the movie – Kately – I think he addressed the maid as such – at the beginning of the movie. Very interesting because when I search my family line – Lincoln is in it.

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Hi,

      Thanks for reading the blog! What you heard was not “Kately” but “Keckley.” Elizabeth Keckley, a former slave, was Mary Lincoln’s maid and confidante. SHe was a remarkable woman and wrote a fascinating history of her years with the Lincolns. To read more about her, click here.

  • Sam says:

    I could be wrong, but most of the time when the flag was depectied it looked to be the modern flag with 50 stars. Only a few times did I see one with less.

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Sam,

      I checked carefully and the flag was always correct. The stars representing the southern states were never removed, as Lincoln did not recognize them as an independent country. There were 33 states at the start of the rebellion. Kansas was granted statehood in 1861 and West Virginia joined in 1863. The flag was re-dsigned each time. At the end of the rebellion, when Lee surrendered, there were 35 stars on the flag.

  • Brandon Cotter says:

    Hello Mr.Bradford. Let me begin this post saying that I loved this movie!; regardless of the minor inaccuracies.
    Fair warning, the rest of this post is somewhat unpleasant, so you might want to ignore this post. My father is a hardheaded Republican, and he doesn’t particularly like President Obama. I am young, and trying to understand how the world works. In regards to politics, I really do try to be unbiased and analytical.
    My dad claims that Spielberg made the Lincoln movie to publicly compare Lincoln with his 13th Amendment to Obama with his healthcare reform; as to support his campaign. I’m sceptical towards his speculation, but the idea of it kind of ruins the movie for me. I’d rather not watch a historical drama with hidden political propaganda.
    Could my father actually be right?

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Hello, Brandon,

      Thank you for your question. I’m so glad that you are thinking analytically. As a historian, I believe that we need to become good critical thinkers and learn to analyze the actual evidence, rather than filtering our conclusions through the prism of our preconceptions.

      Mr. Spielberg has said repeatedly that he has been a long time admirer of Pres. Lincoln. He had been trying to make the film for many years. Additionally, a great deal of the script is actually based on a superb book, “Team Of Rivals,” which was published well before Pres. Obama was elected. Your father’s analysis fails on a couple of levels, both chronologically and practically. Pres. Obama passed health care legislation with almost no Republican support. President Lincoln intentionally sought out a high level of support from his political adversaries, the Democrats, in passing the 13th amendment.

      As you can probably infer from my blog, in addition to being a professional historian, I have a very deep background in film analysis. One time I attended a lecture by a scholar who told us that he was going to explain this history of one of the greatest propaganda films of all time. The film, he explained, was made as a political statement to try and convince Americans to stay neutral in the second world war. He isolated scenes and characters and showed how the characters in the film mirrored the real life people he felt they were portraying. He spoke for about an hour, explaining how this specific propaganda film was one of the most important and persuasive political movies of all time. If you are interested to know what the film was, read my note below.

      Film makers, screenwriters, producers, directors all have their own personal points of view. But for commercial Hollywood films, the bottom line is that they need to make money. “Lincoln” is about Abraham Lincoln and his political leadership. It made money because the story was well told in the example inspiring.

      Thank you so much for your question and for being so thoughtful.

      Barry

      PS – okay – if you want to know the name of the movie that professor claimed to be the model of political propaganda it was “The Wizard Of Oz.”

  • Malcolm Gray says:

    Mr. Bradford,

    Many thanks for the clarifications. As an American History teacher (8th grade, CA), I must be accurate. Having said that, I wish, for once film makers did not feel the necessity to amend history to make it more entertaining; I wonder if historical figures knew they were so boring, needing help to be interesting.

    Now to the points: 1. where was Andrew Johnson in all this; and, 2. was Preston Blair’s role as prominent as dramatized?

    Malcolm

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Mr. Gray,

      Thank you so much for reading my blog. The comments I receive from teachers let me know the tremendous impact the film is having. Please feel free to go to the main page of my website and sign up for my newsletter. Every time I write a new history blog article, you’ll get a notice. Many teachers have told me they use the articles in class on a regular basis.

      Here are the answers to your questions.

      Andrew Johnson did not become vice president until March 1865. He had made a shambles of his inauguration, embarrassing Pres. Lincoln to the point where Lincoln never spoke to Andrew Johnson again with one exception. On the morning of Lincoln’s assassination, Lincoln unexpectedly sent for Johnson and they met for an hour. However, Johnson was no part of the story at all.

      The Blair family was very influential for a number of reasons, not the least of which being their political power in a key border state, Missouri.

      Hope this helps!

      Barry

  • Malcolm Gray says:

    ….oops….I forgot a PS….

    PS: What is the quintessential Lincoln biography? If it’s one of your works, you won’t be thought self-aggrandizing.

    • Barry Bradford says:

      I have heard that there are more biographies written about Lincoln than any other person who ever lived. It amazes me that new books come out every year – you would think that they would eventually run out of new things to say. Yet, quite often, a great historian will find a new angle or emphasis. The movie was based in part on the book “TEAM of Rivals” which focuses on Lincoln’s relationship with his cabinet. It is a brilliant book. Pres. Obama is said to have been strongly influenced by it.

      It’ll be interesting to hear what my other readers suggest. I like “With Malice Toward None: A Life Of Abraham Lincoln” as a general biography that is both well written and highly readable, as well as being very thoroughly researched.

      BB

  • Malcolm Gray says:

    Mr. Bradford,

    I look forward to your newsletter.

    Many thanks for both replies.

    Since Hannibal Hamilin was a lame duck, I presumed he too had little/none to do with the 13th Amendment as well, despite his anti-slavery position.

    Final thought about changes to history….

    “…and come February the first, I intend to sign the 13th Amendment.” Daniel Day-Lewis.

    Did I miss something in Article 2 and 5?

    Malcolm

  • Jeff says:

    Mr. Bradford,

    In the scene where Lincoln meets the guys playing poker, one of them makes the comment about “Lincoln’s picture being on a 50 cent piece.” Did they make coins or currency with the likeness of living presidents during that time?

    Thank you for research and the information you provide.

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Jeff,

      I am very surprised that no one has raised that question before! No, Lincoln’s face did NOT appear on coins during his lifetime. Four years after his barbaric murder by rebel agent John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln’s face appeared on some paper currency.

      Thanks for catching that one!

      Barry

  • Richard Guilfoyle says:

    During the voting of Jan. 31, 1865 depicted in the film Lincoln, one of the later voter’s names called is “Howard Guilfoyle”. He votes in favor. Is the name historically accurate? I cannot find a member of congress matching that name. If it is inaccurate, perhaps you might speculate as what might be going on. A joke? Poor research?

  • Nosedocman says:

    Here was a leader who knew that ultimate authority comes from our Creator… A great example for all of us inside and outside the beltway.

    • Barry Bradford says:

      He did have great faith in God and relied on Scripture – yet had no real use for organized religion!

  • Ravi says:

    I am trying to understand how the Senate works. When the crucial 13th Amendment was being discussed, Lincoln is shown spending time at home with his son. Does the US President not attend the senate meetings?

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Ravi,

      Thank you for your question. Due to the division of powers in the United States government, the president almost never appears before Congress, except during the State of the Union address. While the president does meet with congressional leaders, most generally at the White House, the president rarely goes into the halls of Congress.

  • michelle says:

    Was there to many stars on the flag

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Hello, Michelle,

      I answered this one below.

      I checked carefully and the flag was always correct. The stars representing the southern states were never removed, as Lincoln did not recognize them as an independent country. There were 33 states at the start of the rebellion. Kansas was granted statehood in 1861 and West Virginia joined in 1863. The flag was re-dsigned each time. At the end of the rebellion, when Lee surrendered, there were 35 stars on the flag.

  • Lexus Beal says:

    So Lincoln really did have two sons? Some websites said he only had one that lived to maturity?

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Lincoln had four sons; only one lived to aunthood. Lincoln saw two of his sons die before he did. His ability to preserver is a mark of his greatness.

  • Lexus Beal says:

    Did Lincoln really turn down a peace treaty because he thought without the war the 13th amendment wouldn’t be passed

    • Barry Bradford says:

      Hi! Scroll down through the comments and you will see I have addressed this in some detail. Lincoln did not recognize the CSA as a legitimate nation, so he would not have negotiated with them in the same way he would have negotiated with, say, France or Great Britain.

  • Dominique Dupire says:

    Thank you for your precious answers. This is more a commentary than a question and I may be a little late in the debate, but here it is anyways…

    Despite argumentation by many about adecdotical innacuracies it seems to me one of the main historically misleading editorial stance is the portrayal of Lincoln as an absolute pure advocate of abolitionism, when facts shows a much more ambivalent, if not opportunistic, position of his presidency over this paramount issue.

    thank you.

    • Barry Bradford says:

      There are two different terms you need to consider. “Abolitionist” generally referred to somebody who believed in the immediate end of slavery. Lincoln was not an abolitionist for most of his life. However, it is absolutely and unambiguously clear that Abraham Lincoln detested slavery. There is simply no mention by any person at any time of Lincoln saying anything other than his personal feeling was that slavery was an abomination.

      A modern day equivalent might be a response to the question of illegal immigration into the United States. One of the Republican candidates seeking the nomination for president in recent years was asked his opinion on illegal immigration. He said that he was 100% against it. But then, when asked what could be done on a practical level to remove 13 million illegal immigrants from the United States of America, he admitted that he had no practical solution. If you were to add up every person currently serving in the military or law enforcement on every level in the United States, it would not equal the number of illegal immigrants who would need to be deported. Then, you would run into the question of transportation, logistics, compensation, citizenship claims and so on.

      Abraham Lincoln detested slavery but also recognized that coming up with a practical solution that would respect the rights of all parties was difficult and complicated. He explored a number of different possible scenarios, including compensation to the owners, deporting the enslaved people to a new land, and other ideas as well. What you call “opportunistic” I call practical. Lincoln did what he could against the backdrop of the reality of millions of people being held against their will and an armed rebellion of traitors within his own country. The benefit of hindsight allows us to see where slavery might have ended quicker if Lincoln had promoted Grant sooner. But with draft riots in the north, copperheads agitating for a negotiated settlement, and a large army attacking the Constitution of the United States, Lincoln did the best he could. Remember that every president until Lincoln had the opportunity to try and end slavery and none of them did.


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