Living in the land of Lincoln for way too many years, we’ve talked of heading down to Springfield to learn a bit about his life. We finally did that recently, and it seemed after that like a good time to catch the recent Spielberg movie, Lincoln. My family and I loved the movie. After having seen where he lived in Springfield for 16 years and experienced the history in pictures and writing, the movie seemed like history come alive. From what we learned about Lincoln during our trip, Daniel Day Lewis, who played Lincoln, captured the spirit of the man, and in an uncanny way; every bit worthy of an Academy Award. And Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln could easily have won one too.

There are some on my side of the political spectrum, the right side, and yes pun intended, who have a visceral dislike of Abraham Lincoln. I have a feeling they would not like the movie all that much, because it is a sympathetic portrait of the man, not to imply simplistic. Part of that portrait is of a president who was deeply conflicted about many of the things he did, or more accurately, felt he had to do. His opponents in his day would cut him no slack for that, as I imagine his detractors would not today.

I have not read widely on Lincoln or his presidency, nor do I trust liberal Hollywood to portray history accurately, but the movie’s portrayal of the debate around the 13th amendment seemed plausible. Of course those who wanted to abolish slavery and pass the amendment are portrayed as the more virtuous, but it is self-evident in our day that they were on, in a phrase that won’t seem to go away, “the right side of history.”

I thought it interesting that the only way the amendment could get passed with the requisite number of Democrat votes was by assuring them that it only asserted that blacks had equality before the law, not that they were in equal in any other way. It was a disgusting compromise that had to be made, like other compromises around the founding of our country and slavery, and one that likely kept black Americans from fully realizing de facto equality before the law for another 100 years. That’s a long time to have freedom in name only.

From what I know of Lincoln, and what we learned about him in Springfield, I forgot that I was watching an actor, so well did he capture what I imagine Lincoln was like. We only tend to see images of the man as dour or seemingly depressed, weighed down, as he obviously was, with a civil war, but Lincoln was lighthearted, a man who obviously loved his family, and a friendly neighbor. He was a very good politician, in large part because people liked him, as the movie illustrates well.

I think all this Lincoln has made me more curious about the man, and I think I’ll have to read a couple of the 15,000 plus titles that have been written about him. That’s a lot of books! Not at all a surprise that a man at the center of the most wrenching time in our nation’s history. And as far as movies about Lincoln, of which I’m sure there are more than a few, Spielberg’s does him justice.