Thank you, Steven Spielberg, for bringing Abraham Lincoln to life on the screen. I have now seen this movie twice and almost have all the characters straight. But despite all the attention to detail, there are some factual errors, as Maureen Dowd points out in this column. During the voting on the 13th Amendment, Representatives from Connecticut are heard to say “Nay.” Joe Courtney, the current Representative from Connecticut’s Second District, points out that the record shows that all four Connecticut congressmen voted in favor of the 13th Amendment in 1865. He is urging Spielberg to correct that error before the movie is released as a DVD. Courtney majored in history at Tufts. Good to know this Republican is for historical accuracy.
My favorite scene is Lincoln in the White House late at night with two telegraphers. Reciting Euclid’s first principle, that things equal to the same thing are equal to one another, he recasts the telegram he is about to send and instructs the army to keep the Confederate peace delegation in place and ready, but away from Washington. He can then report to the House that, despite rumors to the contrary, there are no Confederate delegates in the city. Not only is it wonderful that Lincoln has taught himself geometry by reading Euclid, but he is also tech-savvy for his time. The first practical telegraph was invented just 20 years before. By 1865, there were 83,000 miles of telegraph wire in the US. As the scene ends, he clasps the shoulders of the young engineers sending his message. He had a gift for teamwork.
In early December 2011, while visiting the Capitol in Richmond, I happened on a film shoot of this movie. The filmmakers used this building, designed by Thomas Jefferson, as a stand-in for the US Capitol. It was a beautiful day for outdoor scenes, but I couldn’t get close enough to see any action. Scores of covered wagons were on the grounds, but none of them made it into the movie. Still, just that lavish excess of props made me realize the depth of Spielberg’s planning and preparedness. Amazing that the movie came out less than a year later.