History Self-Disovery Project (Lincoln Paper)

This was my college project. Experience something hands on, and talk about its history, your experience, and how it applies in real life. Normally I wouldn’t critique movies on this blog. But considering it was a writing assignment, I feel better about it. I’d love your feedback!

During teacher conference week, I went to go see Stephen Spielberg’s new movie, Lincoln. It is a two and a half hour film starring Daniel Day Lewis as Abraham Lincoln. The story is centered around the 13th amendment to the Constitution. The Civil War is raging on, and President Lincoln is convinced that the only way to end the war is by ending slavery. He believes the only way to do this is by passing the 13th amendment, which would abolish slavery. Passing an amendment is no easy task in the U.S. government, especially during that time. The amendment had to have two thirds of the vote in the House of Representatives, which seated mostly Democrats. And Democrats, unfortunately, were radical advocates of slavery. As the film goes on, Lincoln and his administration try to pass the amendment as quickly as they can, convincing Democrats to vote for it by offering jobs. The climax of the film is the day of the vote in the House. Will there be enough votes to pass the amendment and end the war? Will the North finally win the war? Will there at last be an end to slavery?

The movie had so much historical value. Abraham Lincoln is one of the most famous presidents in United States history. Along with all the pressure from the war, the American people, and his own cabinet, Lincoln also suffered from family tragedy, a difficult wife, and a stubborn eldest son. Lincoln’s true character is brought to life in the movie, as is the entire Civil War era. For example, in the movie, Lincoln rides out on horseback amongst the fallen soldiers on the battlefield outside of Petersburg, VA. Also, earlier on, there is a scene of Lincoln conversing with black soldiers after a battle—casually, as if he were their friend. The real Lincoln really did ride out on battlefields, because he felt that every death in the war was his fault. He felt the burden and the responsibility to end the war and slavery. He spoke to black soldiers and even the black servants in the White House as if they were as white as any other American. He had a deep desire for equality in the country.

Another historical value the movie had was the accuracy of government processions and policy. The movie shows the process of the passing of the 13th Amendment. From bribing Democrats to the Speaker in the House on the day of the vote, the movie really captures the government in action. It also shows how corrupt inside government politics can become. For example, when the House of Representatives convened in the movie, there was a lot of anger and name-calling between the Republican and Democrat parties. Also, the Republicans bribed the Democrats to vote for the 13th amendment by offering jobs and positions. The movie also portrayed the vicious discrimination that lay in the Confederacy. African-Americans, in the South, were thought of as, quite literally, animals. They were not considered human beings. It truly represented that racist part of America’s history.

Because of all this historical value, my experience seeing this film was phenomenal. I learned so much about President Lincoln, his true character, and about the country during the time of the Civil War. It was truly a split nation during that time, and I learned what that actually meant. The movie did seem to drag a little after the passing of the amendment. I thought that too much was added after the vote in the House. However, the ending was powerful. There was a flashback of Lincoln giving his famous Gettysburg Address. Everyone in the crowd was mesmerized by his words, his manner, and his motions. Throughout the movie and even walking out of the theater, I had this strong, revered respect for President Lincoln. I still do, because the movie enhanced my perspective of him as one of the greatest presidents in our history.

I think this movie is relevant for us today because it was packed with rich history, emotion and facts that, today, we sometimes forget about. We forget how horrible slavery was in our country. We see in the 19th and 20th centuries that true African-American equality was extremely hard to achieve. Lincoln reiterates the beginning of that struggle—the beginning of black equality in America. Even today there is racism in our country. The fight still isn’t over. However, we see in the movie (and in any history book) that we have come a long way since slavery and harsh treatment of blacks. A main catalyst for this would be President Lincoln himself.

I learned several things from the movie. Firstly, I learned more about the Executive Branch of government and the role of the President. It is not up to the President to pass a bill or an amendment—it is a tedious process with both houses of Congress as well as the President’s approval. I found it interesting that, in that time, women’s rights were just as appalling and disgraceful as African-American rights. And overall, I discovered more about Abraham Lincoln’s personal life and the burdens he had from the war, the American people, and his own family.

In conclusion, I believe Lincoln was a brilliant film. I would recommend it to anyone. Anyone who went to see it would learn something new either about history, government, or the President himself. From the tedious and suspenseful process of passing the 13th amendment, to President Lincoln’s grieving over his lost son, everyone can enjoy the two and a half hour experience. It is definitely an accurate, emotional, brilliant portrayal of the final abolition of slavery.

~J. L. Cordova

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