I really shouldn’t have been bored during a movie about a constitutional amendment

December 2nd, 2012

But I was. I thought Lincoln was too long, dragged on, and at times failed to keep my attention.

The entire premise of the movie was Lincoln twisting arms, giving out patronage, and personally persuading members of the House to approve the 13th Amendment. Lincoln saw that this must be done prior to seeking peace with the Confederacy. If a peace treaty was reached first, there would be no motivation to ban slavery. As history would show, shortly after the Amendment cleared the House of Representatives (January 31, 1865), the war came to a conclusion. General Lee surrendered at Appomattox on April 9, 1865.

The movie did not discuss the 13th Amendment in the Senate, or even mention that the 13th Amendment had to be ratified in the states. It was slightly misleading to make it seem like getting 2/3 in the House was all it took for an amendment to be ratified. And really, in a movie that was 2 hours and 30 minutes long, it wouldn’t have killed Lincoln (no pun intended) to at least mention the ratification process.

It was ultimately ratified on December 18, 1865 when Georgia ratified.

One interesting tidbit. Mississippi did not ratify the 13th Amendment till 1995. Kentucky ratified in 1976.

The movie did delve a bit into Lincoln’s views of his war powers–which he saw as empowering him to do whatever was necessary to allow him to abide by his oath to the Constitution. That is an interesting formulation. In order to obey my oath to the Constitution I should be able to do that which the Constitution may not allow.

Also, Lincoln acknowledged that his cajoling of representatives to vote for the law was appropriate pursuant to his war powers. But, once the war was over, Lincoln conceded that his war powers would cease, and he would not be able to be so persuasive (perhaps he never heard of a kinetic military action–duh).

Also, Lincoln flat-out lied to the Congress. Lincoln invited a commission of Confederates (including Vice President Stephens) to Virginia to meet with him to discuss peace. A conservative Republican, on the cusp of the pivotal vote on the 13th Amendment, asked the President if he invited any Confederates for negotiations? Lincoln replied, something to the effect of “So far as I know there are no Confederate Commissioners in the City.” That was a half-truth at best. There were no Confederates in the City of Washington. But there were certainly confederates in Virginia.

Lincoln acknowledged this was an impeachable offense, but did not seem to care.

There were some interesting homespun wisdoms Lincoln dispensed, which may have been authentic. One story related that the British troops at Fort Ticonderoga placed a picture of General Washington in the latrine. Why? Because nothing makes a Brit shit like the sight of General Washington (my paraphrase).

Also, there was a scene where General Grant was listening to the results of the vote by telegraph. The telegraph operator called off the name of each Representative, and how they voted. A solider drew big tally marks on a board to indicate how many aye and nay votes there were. I couldn’t help but think that those were, quite literally, the first live-tweeted hash tags!

So I’d pass on the movie. There just wasn’t enough to keep me entertained for 150  minutes.