Following the recent non-event over the Confederate flag, I finally buckled underneath my undying curiosity and watched Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln film. Mainly, I wanted to see how they would portray our 16th president and the politics of the time.
Production wise, the film was excellent. Amazing acting, too.
In terms of accuracy, it was as fictional as Gone With the Wind.
However, I was caught completely off-guard by one scene in the movie at the very end where Lincoln meets with the Vice President of the Confederacy Alexander H. Stephens. During a discussion about ending the war, Lincoln chastises them for not “having faith” in the democratic process and that the war might have been avoided it they had.
Stephens points out the very ugly truth: It was Lincoln who did not trust the democratic process by invading the South and bringing it back into the Union through war. The country was not saved by the same process he praises.
“Your Union, sir, is bonded by cannon fire and death.”
Lincoln’s initial reply blew me away: And maybe you’re right.
It amazes me that this line was in a pro-Lincoln film. One could hardly imagine a Lost Cause Confederate flag-wearing activist putting in a more devastating statement as that Stephen utters. Yet not only does Spielberg allow it, his fictional Lincoln – a character who unlike the real man might be able to mount some sort of defense of his actions using the hindsight amassed from the preceding 150 years – is unable to offer anything other than a weak rationalization.
Either this is because Spielberg erroneously thinks it is sufficient to justify the Civil War, or Stephens’ point is impossible to overlook, since it would be even too much for a fictional Lincoln to claim he fought the war to free the slaves when the actual one said the exact opposite.
My guess is it is the former, because if Spielberg had considered it to be as weak an argument as it is, he wouldn’t have put the scene in there. Still, he allows Lincoln to say “and maybe you’re right.”
It gives an entirely new perspective on the Pledge of Allegiance. Since atheist activists are keen on removing “Under God” from the pledge, maybe we should reword it to say:
One Nation, Bonded By Cannon Fire, Indivisible
And Held Together By the Eternal Threat