Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg, is a historical drama that follows the political aspects of the last four months of the American Civil War and Lincoln’s life as Lincoln strives to gain ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which would bring an end to slavery and unlawful involuntary servitude in the United States. Spielberg, unlike other historical directors, has successfully portrayed Abraham Lincoln from several angles; the fatherly Lincoln who cares for his sons the best he can, the husband who’s career puts stress on his relationship, the charismatic and strong spoken speaker, attempting to diplomatically persuade congressmen for votes for the Amendment, the understanding martial executive, working to make the best decisions for the War, and the stressed president, who must accommodate himself with the burdens of the presidency are interwoven archetypal character roles that Lincoln fills accordingly.
Early in the movie, Lincoln is seen lying beside his young son, Tad Lincoln, on one of the hearths of the White House, waking Tad, who had fallen asleep playing with little metal soldiers on a war strategy map, whereupon Lincoln carried him to bed and tucked him in. It reawakened memories of falling asleep on the couch or in the car as a kid, and waking up in my bed, where my dad had carried me. The next day, Lincoln was in the war room, where his consultants noticed that the so-important war map, a “precise and dynamic instrument,” had been slightly burned, where Lincoln coolly remarked that he had only let his son play with it on the hearth.
It made me think of when I was a child and, as so many pictures portray, my father would allow my brother and I to dress up in his military gear, a variety of helmets, bulletproof vests, boots, and packs with equipment dripping from them, and we would get to see my dad’s (unloaded) guns as he cleaned them casually on the couch while teaching us about gun safety. In another scene, Lincoln’s eldest son, Robert Lincoln, visiting home from law school, fervently begs his father to allow him to join the Union army, claiming that he was “the only man over 15 and under 65 who has not enlisted,” however, fearing for his son’s life, Lincoln denied Robert’s plea, and I recalled a discussion in class, where it was said boys too young to enlist often joined army marching bands, or assisted soldiers, where they were generally safe, however habitually in danger, which provoked disturbing thoughts of my own brother, who is 13 now, and, had he lived in the Civil War era, would have been overcome with patriotism and would have joined a band, or lied about his age, due to looking older than he is, in order to fight (at first glance, people think we’re fraternal twins, but then they look closer and realize we don’t resemble each other except that he looks like a 16-year-old boy), where it then made me think of the miserable life that would have been left for my mother and I if my brother and father would have been killed in the war, as so many ladies had.
In one scene, Lincoln and his wife, Mary Lincoln, were unwinding after a party, where it was quite obvious that Mary was anticipating a night alone with her husband, as it appeared she had not had in ages, she was addressing him about a manner of her concern, and he had left the room in order to talk with one of his executives. Mary, already suffering from a preexisting mental instability from the death of two of her four sons and the stress of prior assassination attacks on her husband, had a mental breakdown when Lincoln reentered the room some time later, claiming that Lincoln should have had her admitted to a mental institution all the other times he had threatened to. The presidency had obviously taken a dramatic toll on her and Lincoln’s marital relationship, and it scared me to think of that if, someday, my own future marriage may be in jeopardy due to a need to be cared for, and being with a man who may not be able to care enough.
Lincoln’s superb orating skills are first displayed in the first scene of the movie- where Lincoln is approached by several young soldiers and a few leaders of a Negro regimen, who take turns reciting pieces of Lincoln’s Gettysburg, displaying their apparent idolization of Lincoln. I thought of my best friend Charlotte, who, upon seeing Lincoln, immediately “fell in love with a dead president, all due to his speaking skills,” and seemed to be akin to the young and patriotic soldiers Lincoln was visiting. In order to ratify the 13th amendment to the Constitution, Lincoln had to gain the support of democrats in congress, many southern, and did so by meeting with many of them personally, in order to persuade them, not bribe them, for their votes. His lack of bribery reveals his honest tendencies to and further engrains the notion that Lincoln is a trustworthy and dependable man, capable of running the country. His excellent skills of persuasion ultimately earthed the ratification of the amendment, ending slavery and illegal involuntary servitude in the United States.
The Martial Executive
Lincoln was often seen, especially in the latter half of the movie, with general Ulysses S. Grant, taking his word when discussing the strategy of the Civil War and advocating for the pay and wellbeing of the soldiers. All my life, I’ve seen the military side of life, with the deployments, pay, and miscellaneous hardships witnessed by being associated with the military, and as I got older, watched the news, and read history, I’ve found that presidents who have military background, or are closely associated with military generals, such as the bond between Lincoln and Grant, are generally successful in prioritizing martial decisions during times of war, as they understand the budgets and lifestyle held by those in America’s fighting force. Possibly, in modern day, with the Middle Eastern wars, if we elect a president with a military background, the current budget will be balanced, with cuts made in appropriate places.
The stress Lincoln had faced throughout his presidency, with personal relationships, the war effort, and slave emancipation, ages him “more in 4 years in his life, than 10 in any other man’s.” Although he manages to overcome these difficulties, he is assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, and dies on April 15th, 1865, where he, in remembrance of all he has done, was finally given to the ages.