“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…” We are all familiar with these historical words and the words that follow them. But have we ever given much thought to the man behind that brief, but enduring, speech?
Steven Spielberg produced and directed a masterpiece in his most recent film, LINCOLN, starring Daniel Day Lewis and Sally Field. In a brief two and one-half hours he captured an epic year in the history of our country and the life of a very great man. The audience caught a glimpse of the volatile and determined love between Lincoln and Mary; the complete adoration this gentle giant had for his sons; and the Atlas-like weight bearing down on his stooped frame; for not only did he determine to hold the country together, he also vowed to ensure the liberty of all Americans forever with the abolition of slavery through the 13th Amendment.
The film truly carried its viewers back in time. The accents, the war footage, the historical landmarks, even the telegraph (a prehistoric version of texting, as some in the audience pointed out), and the clever witticisms and one-liners (“Not Democrats, Dimocrats”) sprinkled throughout the film, reminded us that the human journey is ever different and always the same. It may not have been a Rambo-style action film, but it certainly involved much cerebral action. The eloquence in politics was impressive, as was the intellect that made history. Warring with words is not a 21st century phenomenon by any means and I was comforted to see that the leaders in that time were as far from perfect as are the leaders of today.
“This is not usual, Mr. Pendleton, this is history.” And it was. It was no small feat to pass an amendment that forced so many to completely alter their mindset and lifestyle, yet Lincoln recognized that slavery was a scourge upon the land. The country could not move forward if it held 4 million people in chains; this was a direct affront on the Declaration of Independence and everything our nation stands for. Near the end of the film the Commander-in-Chief was reflecting with General Grant; he made a comment in passing, regarding the war and the devastating loss of life it entailed: “We have helped each other do terrible things.” How remarkable! To mourn the triumph and reflect with some regret upon the victory. But that is the consequence of bloody hands, something our country attempted to hide behind its back. As the leader of the land, Lincoln recognized that the wrong needed to be corrected and that he was as much responsible for the sin as he was for the solution.
And may it be so for our current leader and the ones to come. Lincoln said that the 13th Amendment was not merely for the people of 1865; it was also for the unborn. I am sure Steven Spielberg was denoting future generations, but I believe that America’s unborn should be recognized as citizens of the United States and should duly have all rights and equality afforded to such recognition, “among these life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Wouldn’t you agree? I know President Abraham Lincoln would.