Abraham Lincoln: The Lawyer Who Changed America
Spoiler Alert: The following will discuss important parts of the biographical film Lincoln (2012)
The Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry on April 30th, 1864 is the opening for Lincoln (2012). Director Steven Spielberg uses the following scene to set the tone for the rest of the film as we see Corporal Ira Clark, of the Second Kansas Colored Infantry, and American President Abraham Lincoln. As rain falls the two men discuss the inequality suffered by the ‘negroes’ and the possible future of their rights.
Throughout the film we are shown a weakening, yet somehow with strengthened resolve, Lincoln who is determined to have the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of America passed. The possible future and current inequality, discussed with Clark, Lincoln knows all too well. It is the one his bill, the amendment, sets the stage for. This is the nucleus of the film, the focal point, as his personal life is sparingly seen throughout. Lincoln is not naïve, a characteristic we are shown when he encourages citizens of Jeff City to call upon their representative to vote in favor of the amendment ‘as a military necessity’. The people, in 1865, were not readily able to consider ‘negroes’ as equals or with the vote, a point that is made at multiple intervals during the film. Abraham Lincoln is often considered to have openly wanted the end of slavery and racial inequality for moral reasons. The film does not strongly challenge this view, as he is seen to delay the peace commissioners from the Confederacy, but does so subtly with the imperceptibility of the racial issue as the focal point. Giving the amendment importance as a military necessity allowed Lincoln the opportunity to reach his goal:
A compass, I learned when I was surveying, it’ll… it’ll point you True North from where you’re standing, but it’s got no advice about the swamps and deserts and chasms that you’ll encounter along the way. If in pursuit of your destination, you plunge ahead, heedless of obstacles, and achieve nothing more than to sink in a swamp… What’s the use of knowing True North?
– A quote from Lincoln in the film, 59 minutes
Actor Daniel Day-Lewis’ representation of Lincoln, whose commitment to portraying the late American President accurately as possible is unfaltering, helps brings Spielberg’s biographical film to life. His role would have been no mean feat, as Lincoln is an iconic person who most people have an image of in their minds. Matching this image while preserving historical accuracy and hollywood dramatisation would have presented obstacles for Spielberg and Day-Lewis. However Day-Lewis prepared for his role by utilising his oft used method acting technique while spending a year reading over hundred books about Lincoln in order to bring him to life. You don’t see Daniel Day Lewis on screen, you see Abraham Lincoln in his final months.
Abraham Lincoln, born on the 12th February 1809 to Thomas and Nancy Lincoln, was largely self-educated and practiced law while aspiring to a career in politics. By 1846 he was elected to the House of Representatives and it was in 1854 that Lincoln publically opposed slavery. By 1860 he had ran and been elected the sixteenth President of the United States. Less than six months after his election, in April 1861 the American Civil War had begun. This war marked the majority of his time in office, which was spent guiding the US through a time of warfare that ended prematurely upon his death.
The film ends, unsurprisingly, with the assassination of Lincoln. Spielberg avoids providing visuals to the murder, and instead tastefully chooses to have it announced to a theatre where Lincoln’s youngest son, Tad, is in attendance. The film provides the message that Lincoln has now become a martyr through his untimely death. A man martyred, whose death only helped solidify his legacy.
I suppose it’s time to go, though I’d rather stay…
– Lincoln’s final words in the film.
Today, 15th April 2015 is the 150th anniversary of the death of President Lincoln: a man who was ahead of his time in his fight for liberty and equality before the law for all. His fight laid the foundation for years to come, one that ended slavery and set the stage for the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and a fight that still resonates with American society in recent years. King’s I Have A Dream (1963) speech was given in the 100th anniversary year of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (1863), whose inspiration and influence was not lost on King. The opening line of King’s speech is about a ‘great American… [who] signed the Emancipation Proclamation.’ What he could have, and would have achieved, had he lived to serve his second term in full will always remain an unanswered question.
Abraham Lincoln – A man who changed America for the better and set it on course to what it has become today. You will always be remembered for what you achieved and for what you allowed to be achieved. Your legacy lives on…