i watched lincoln over the holiday weekend. i was impressed by the narrative arc that kushner et al created over a legislative vote. yeah, i know: if you can't create suspense and drama out of the abolishment of slavery and the civil war, then what hope is there for storytelling? still, it actually focused on the legislative process, which i guess i especially appreciated given my line of work. both tommy lee jones and james spader were highly entertaining. but you know, i felt squeamish over all that rah rah america is great patriotism permeating the film. i mean, yes, the thirteenth amendment was a monumental achievement, but c'mon, y'all had slavery to begin with. let's not get too high on ourselves here.
throughout the movie i wondered what eric foner thought of this whole business. i haven't read his lincoln book, but i remember him disparaging doris kearns goodwin's thesis in team of rivals quite a bit during his book tour.
even though nobody asked for it, over the weekend, david brooks threw in his pointless two cents about how lincoln the film reminds us of how great politics could be blahblahbla. i kind of skimmed it, rolled my eyes, and moved on.
but what do i see here? eric foner's letter to the editor of the times was published today--he puts brooks and his banal, insipid op-ed in their place by pointing out that its premise is based flawed history, which he then explains in his usual concise, economical prose. i seriously have been dreaming about enlisting an authoritative voice against brooks--and here it is!
David Brooks praises the new movie “Lincoln” for illuminating “the nobility of politics” and, he hopes, inspiring Americans to reconsider their low regard for politicians. The film depicts Abraham Lincoln’s arm-twisting and political maneuvering in January 1865 to secure approval of the 13th Amendment, which, when ratified by three-quarters of the states, abolished slavery throughout the nation.
This was indeed an important moment in political history. But Mr. Brooks, and the film, offer a severely truncated view. Emancipation — like all far-reaching political change — resulted from events at all levels of society, including the efforts of social movements to change public sentiment and of slaves themselves to acquire freedom.
The 13th Amendment originated not with Lincoln but with a petition campaign early in 1864 organized by the Women’s National Loyal League, an organization of abolitionist feminists headed by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Moreover, from the beginning of the Civil War, by escaping to Union lines, blacks forced the fate of slavery onto the national political agenda.
The film grossly exaggerates the possibility that by January 1865 the war might have ended with slavery still intact. The Emancipation Proclamation had already declared more than three million of the four million slaves free, and Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Tennessee and West Virginia, exempted in whole or part from the proclamation, had decreed abolition on their own.
Even as the House debated, Sherman’s army was marching into South Carolina, and slaves were sacking plantation homes and seizing land. Slavery died on the ground, not just in the White House and the House of Representatives. That would be a dramatic story for Hollywood.
New York, Nov. 23, 2012
New York, Nov. 23, 2012
The writer, a history professor at Columbia University, won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for history for “The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery.”