". . . that . . . normally automatic insinuation that any critic of Lincoln must secretly wish that slavery had never ended."*Thomas J. DiLorenzo has echoed my previously stated qualms about the celebration of graft, fraud, and manipulation of the people's representatives with political subterfuge that is Spielberg's Lincoln.
But the Spielberg Lincoln movie gets its history completely upside down. The main story line is how Lincoln supposedly utilized every bit of his political sleaziness to help get the Thirteenth Amendment through Congress. This is a fiction. It never happened according to the preeminent Lincoln scholar of our time, Harvard University’s David Donald (See page 554 of his Pulitzer prize-winning biography of Lincoln). In fact, the opposite was true: The genuine abolitionists in Congress had to use their political powers to get Lincoln to voice his support for the Thirteenth Amendment. Spielberg’s movie, based on the book Team of Rivals by the confessed plagiarist Doris Kearns-Goodwin, is an extraordinarily misleading work of fiction. (See my LRC review of Goodwin’s book entitled "A Plagiarist’s Contribution to Lincoln Idolatry").
DiLorenzo is no fan of Mr. Lincoln; he has elsewhere pointed out the less than forthright means of getting his way--Lincoln just had bigger fish to fry, mainly the vanquishing of any resistance to Henry Clay's dream of a nationalized republic (as opposed to what James Madison called our "confederated republic").
But if Lincoln's "statesmanship" was not to blame passing the 13th Amendment by hook or by crook, what is the point of Spielberg's Lincoln other than a mere celebration of social change through political fraud, through a travesty of representative democracy?
Jo Ann Skousen has written in her blog a similar reaction to my own:
In addition to buying votes for his amendment, Lincoln also resorts to outright lying. . . . [H]e sends a letter denying any knowledge of the peace delegation from Richmond, even though this is clearly a lie. He sends this note with a flourish and a chuckle — and the audience in my theater cheered. I was disheartened that they didn't feel the same shame I felt when I saw a president of the United States deliberately lie to get his way. But I wasn't surprised. It's what we expect today.Indeed, it's a celebration of cynicism, a middle finger to a false and failed sense of self-government. It's the very spirit of judicial activism.
This cynical view pervades the "one party democracy" complaints of Thomas Friedman and the chuck-the-Constitution bleating of Louis Michael Seidman. Look at one of Seidman's arguments for removing the limitations from the federal Beast; he cites the illogic of ratification that underlay the 13th Amendment:
Moreover, when the law finally caught up with the facts on the ground through passage of the 13th Amendment, ratification was achieved in a manner at odds with constitutional requirements. (The Southern states were denied representation in Congress on the theory that they had left the Union, yet their reconstructed legislatures later provided the crucial votes to ratify the amendment.)Let's hear that again: "their reconstructed legislatures later provided the crucial votes to ratify the amendment." Let's get this straight. The South had just been subjected to scorched earth acts of terror, psychological warfare of rape and pillage and arson. They had fought and lost; and we are told this had everything to do with slavery. Then their legislatures, their state representatives, ratify the Amendment that the Southern Congressmen would have certainly voted against, because, hey, Lincoln won and no hard feelings, right? Anyone smell a rotten egg? DiLorenzo has said that more historians are coming out of the closet and 'fessing up to Lincoln's misdeeds. Seidman is one of them. Something is just not kosher about the ratification of the 13th. (Who says it's not an unlucky number?)
For Seidman, achieving the desired result through breaking the rules just shows how silly it was to have those rules in the first place.
Like I said before, this seems to be the essential lesson of Spielberg's movie.