Obama still looks to Lincoln for inspiration
Prospects for passage look grim when Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd, played by Sally Field, urges him to stop relying on cabinet ministers and get his hands dirty in the quest for votes.
We see Lincoln going out in his horse and carriage, calling on recalcitrant representatives, stooping his 6ft 4in frame to enter a garret where shady political operatives plot arm-twisting and offers of patronage to ensure the amendment’s passage.
Lincoln borders on deceit to hide peace negotiations that might derail the amendment. Thaddeus Stevens, a representative from Pennsylvania and an ardent abolitionist, played by Tommy Lee Jones, comments after the vote: “The greatest measure of the 19th century was passed by corruption, aided and abetted by the purest man in America.”
In his first term, Obama was notoriously reluctant to engage with Congress. Perhaps that began to change this week, when he challenged Republican Senators who maligned his UN ambassador and held a negotiating session with congressional leaders on debt, deficits, spending and taxation.
Lincoln, like Obama, knew what it was to be hated. One of the most virulent pamphlets against his re-election called him “Abraham Africanus” and featured his alleged dialogues with Satan.
The 13th amendment decrees that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude . . . shall exist within the United States.” When it passed by a margin of two votes, a great cry of joy rose up outside the Capitol building.
I heard a similar cry last June 28th, when the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. Its author, too, may one day be credited with greatness.
What we know to be moral and right was not evidently so at the time. There were politicians who disliked slavery but feared that abolition would lead to suffrage for blacks and women.
Those arguments now sound like a distant echo of present-day debates about same-sex marriage, regarded by many Democrats as the civil rights issue of our time.
Like many a Hollywood epic, Lincoln gives the reassuring impression that no matter how fraught the process, America does the right thing in the end. That reading forgets that Lincoln was assassinated 2½ months after the 13th amendment passed, for advocating citizenship for blacks. It would take another century for African Americans to achieve a semblance of equality.