Lincoln Movie is PropagandaNovember 16th, 2012
With only a limited theatrical release last week, Steven Spielberg’s latest work of imaginative fiction is scheduled for wide release today. I know Hollywood plays fast and loose with history, but when they go out of their way to get the wallpaper in Lincoln’s office exactly right, and use a recording of his actual watch as the sound effect for his movie watch, but pay little deference to his actual statements or opinions… something must be said.
People are seriously calling the Lincoln movie a “much needed civics lesson.” In reality it’s essentially a 2.5 hour courtroom drama about slavery that never happened. Reviews everywhere celebrate the performance of Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role, and he should be celebrated. He stunningly and artfully brought the fictional character of our grade school textbooks to life.
The film focuses entirely on the final years of Lincoln’s life, from the tail end of the war to his inevitable assassination (spoiler alert). Lincoln and his dagger-tongued Cabinet bicker about how to end the war and slavery at the same time. The Confederates want to negotiate a peace, and so does Lincoln, but see they’ve just got to end slavery before the war ends, not after… because… well no reason really.
Starting the story at the end allows the writers to conveniently ignore the uncomfortable history that lead up to it. Sort of how “Passion of the Christ” allowed Mel Gibson to ignore anything Jesus actually taught. Here’s some of what was suspiciously left out.
Before the movie began Lincoln imposed a blockade on Southern ports with no declaration of war from Congress. He suspended habeas corpus, which is the protection against unlawful imprisonment. When a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court called this unconstitutional Lincoln signed his own arrest warrant for the Justice. He arrested an Ohio congressman for “disloyal sentiments and speeches” and imprisoned an estimated 13,000 Northern (not Southern) citizens, including hundreds of journalists, for opposing the war. No evidence. No trials.
The ugly fact is that, despite Mr. Spielberg’s revision of history, Lincoln did not believe in equality for African Americans. The Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in the 10 Confederate states, but not in any of the Union states. Lincoln called it a “war measure.” It allowed free slaves to join the Union Army. Together with a draft, another form of involuntary servitude, this gave him the manpower to win the war. Consider this quote from a letter Lincoln wrote to Horace Greeley:
“If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.”
For some reason that didn’t make it into the film. But if you think that’s bad, consider this quote of Lincoln from his debates with Douglas in 1858:
“I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, — that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, not to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will for ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.”
Most Northerners did not oppose slavery, in fact Lincoln explicitly supported slavery in his first inaugural address. Many Southern slave holders favored staying in the Union because slavery was Constitutionally protected, while the volatility of a new Confederacy made it unclear whether slavery would continue. The fact of the matter is that it was disagreement over economic policy, not slavery, that was the motivation for secession and Northern aggression. When Lincoln began his political career in the Illinois legislature he said:
“My politics are short and sweet, like the old woman’s dance. I am in favor of a national bank…in favor of the internal improvements system and a high protective tariff.”
Lincoln was a political novice whose campaign was bankrolled by Northern industrialists. They aimed to hike taxes on the South to fund welfare for corporations in the North. Southern states felt bullied by the Northern majority, and preferred a policy of free trade, which is why the Confederate Constitution read, “No bounties shall be granted from the Treasury; nor shall any duties or taxes on importation from foreign nations be laid to promote or foster any branch of industry.” Why do you think Lincoln blockaded the ports so early in the conflict?
Do you see? Lincoln wanted high import tariffs and high taxes to subsidize wealthy corporate campaign donors. The Confederacy wanted to create a free trade zone with no tariffs, low taxes and no corporate subsidies. As Confederate President Jefferson Davis said during his inaugural address, the South wanted “the freest trade our necessities will permit.”
So, the South withdrew from the Union democratically, and Davis made clear they intended no hostility toward the North by writing, “We seek no conquest, no aggrandizement, no concession of any kind…all we ask is to be let alone.”
The war cry of the North was never “free the slaves” but “preserve the Union” because a free trade zone to the South would spoil the plans of Lincoln’s corporate sponsors. The 13th Amendment, which abolished chattel slavery, was supported by a majority of the Southern states.
Every other country in the New World ended slavery without violence, with the exception of the Haitian Revolution, which was a slave revolt, not a civil war. The Civil War was essentially a very bloody tax revolt followed by a successful propaganda campaign.
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