I took my 12 year old civil war buff to see the movie Lincoln today. I was excited to see it, because I had read the reviews and knew the focus would be on Lincoln’s strategy for getting the 13th amendment passed. The political scientist in me couldn’t resist seeing our Congress of the 1860s in action. I also appreciated the part in the movie, as shown in the picture above, when Lincoln shows how the war has impacted him both emotionally and physically.
The movie was incredibly well done, filmed in a very understated and almost cozy manner by Spielberg. I felt I was in the White House and the House of Representatives, rather than simply viewing them on a screen. The very human portrayal of Lincoln by Daniel Day Lewis made me realize even more how Lincoln has earned his place on the National Mall, overlooking the Capitol.
One thing that struck me during the movie when Ulysses S. Grant appeared was that I had attended Grant elementary school while growing up in Spokane, Washington, while my two sons have attended Robert E. Lee elementary here in Austin, Texas. I had never thought of that before, and even my son Andrew thought it was ironic. The scene of the two generals meeting at Appomatox had even more meaning for me, having now lived in the South for 9 years. Although some consider Texas part of the Southwest, having a statue of Jefferson Davis outside of my campus office makes me think otherwise.
As I watched the scene of the House passing the 13th amendment, I couldn’t help but think that my sons and I are part of the dream of those African-Americans who sat in the gallery that day. Not only have I become a successful academic, I have had the historic privilege of voting for the first African-American President. And then to think of all that this country had to go through after the civil war to get to this point is truly mind-boggling.
Even though I knew the ending, I must admit I still cried watching Lincoln die. We will never know what would have happened had he survived to lead the country through reconstruction, but he was clearly a wise leader.
Explaining to my son how the party of Lincoln became today’s Republican party was a bit difficult, and I’m sure he won’t fully understand that change until he is much older, but I was glad that he enjoyed the movie and is connecting with the history of our country and our people.