Saturday, December 08, 2012
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Local historians critique Spielberg movie

Part 3: Was it flawed?

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[December 08, 2012]  During the discussion last week on the movie "Lincoln," the audience had plenty of questions and comments -- so many, in fact, that the program that was supposed to last approximately one hour went well over 90 minutes. Even though it ended then, Ann Moseley said that Ron Keller, Paul Beaver and she would remain afterward to continue discussions on a one-on-one basis with anyone who wished to talk to them.

During the group discussion, the panel talked about characters and events in the movie and those who lived the actual history.

Speilberg's version of Lincoln was created based on the book by Doris Kearns Goodwin, which Keller dubbed as one of the best historical accounts ever written.

The group talked about Tad Lincoln, whom Moseley has spent a lot of time studying. In the movie it appeared that Tad was at the theater when Lincoln was shot. Moseley said Tad was at another theater watching the play "Aladdin." She also explained that he learned of the incident involving his father when someone came running onto the stage shouting that Lincoln had been shot.

Moseley also commented that there was one portion of the movie that was historically correct that she was happy to see included. Lincoln and Tad had a code they used to communicate so the young boy didn't go rushing into a room when his father was with Cabinet members. Moseley said they showed that in the movie: Tad knocking in code on a wall and Lincoln dismissing his people so he could attend to his son.

Jean Gossett from the audience asked about a scene in the movie when the South sent a delegation to attempt to end the war. She said it was something she had not heard before and wondered if that was accurate.

Beaver said it was.

Also during the course of the conversations, Beaver and Keller in particular talked about how Lincoln was a master at timing. There was a point when Lincoln and his Cabinet had an opportunity to end the war, but it would not have been with a clear winner, per se. Everything would have remained status quo, and the South would have retained the right to own slaves. The two historians said this did not serve the purpose and wasn't going to deliver the outcome Lincoln wanted, so the battles continued.

The panel found that by and large the movie was a wonderful and accurate depiction of Lincoln and what he went through during the Civil War, but they did find a few things that they were disappointed in.

Moseley said what bothered her most perhaps was the error in how Illinois supported the 13th Amendment. In the film Illinois was depicted as opposing the amendment, when in fact this was the first state to ratify it.

Moseley said in real life there were two brothers who were to vote on it, and their mother had always been anti-slavery. Moseley said she'd even read recently in a review that their mother would have been rolling over in her grave to know they had been portrayed as being opposed to the amendment.

Keller said that a qualm he had with the movie was that it portrayed all the Democrats as believing they should not ratify the amendment because the slaves were not equal and couldn't be. Keller said the 13th Amendment was a social revolution amendment, and there were many who didn't believe it was right to have such an amendment in the Constitution.

Beaver noted that in the movie Lincoln struck his son. He said that was not Lincoln, and he didn't believe that portion of the film was accurate.

Mosley also noted that Tad had a speech impediment, and that was not portrayed in the movie.

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The panel discussion last week lasted over 90 minutes, and even then it appeared that the audience would have been willing to stay longer and hear more of the three historians' opinions on the movie.

As they wound down, some of the final subjects touched on Lincoln and the right to vote. The 13th Amendment didn't specifically address the right to vote for freed slaves.

However, Keller said Lincoln did touch on that subject in the last speech he gave before being shot. It was that speech that sent John Wilkes Booth over the edge and prompted him to murder Lincoln.

One of the last questions from the audience came from Tim Becke, who questioned where Lincoln stood with God. He had wondered whether Lincoln was a Christian or, as some believe, an atheist. He said that this movie answered this question for him. Becke said in the movie it seemed that Lincoln was fulfilling a destiny, something he was called to do and that only he could do. He asked the panelists to weigh in on this.

As an example, Beaver said he often asked his classes: If the South had won the Civil War, when would slavery have ended? He said it was a puzzle for his students, but in the end it didn't matter because the 13th Amendment was passed and the North did win the war.

Keller said that in 1841 Lincoln went through a depression and was suicidal. Lincoln said during that time: "I would as soon die now, except I have done nothing to make people remember that I have lived." Keller said that in freeing the slaves, Lincoln had found his purpose.

Keller also noted that Eliza Gurney came to see Lincoln, and she prayed with him, and he commented to her: "I believe I am a humble instrument of God." Keller said he believed some kind of transformation occurred during that time.

Beaver also noted that Lincoln's second inaugural speech spoke of God's presence.

When Keller finally took the last question and it was answered, Mosley drew the evening to a close by thanking the tourism bureau for their help in preparing for the panel discussion, and Lincoln College and John Blackburn for providing refreshments.

She invited everyone to visit the museum before leaving for the evening and to take a moment to enjoy coffee and cookies.


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