The Lincoln Movie, and Washington Too

Okay, so I am a history professor, and I just saw the new Lincoln movie (the one that doesn’t have vampires in it). A few people have asked me if I had seen it, did I want to see it, what did I think about it, etc. So, here are some reflections.

First of all, I’m not a Lincoln historian. I’ve read a little about him, but not a ton. I know a lot more about Richard Nixon, William the Conqueror, Martin Luther, and Billy Graham (which is an odd quartet, I’ll grant you, but stop judging me).

Anyway, based on my somewhat limited exposure to Abraham Lincoln, here’s what I liked about the movie: 1. They did a good job of capturing Lincoln’s humor: frequently present, a little quirky, kind of homespun, and occasionally crude. 2. I thought they also nailed Lincoln’s long-suffering humility–he didn’t demand that people respect him because of his office. 3. In real life, Lincoln’s wife was quite troubled mentally/emotionally, and it was at least in part due to the death of her son–all of which the movie portrayed well. 4. The movie effectively communicated the complex legal, political, moral, racial, and economic realities ending slavery in this country. 5. Finally, I wondered if the celebration scene in the city near the end of the movie was unrealistic, given how divided public opinion was (but this is just something that I wonder, I can’t speak definitively on it). However, the scene inside the House of Representatives struck me as realistic because of how the vote went. And it was moving.

Why am I adding something about Washington here? Partially because he’s another old and popular President; partially because I’ve been reading about him recently. Washington hated political parties. The two that existed in his day were the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans. Washington tended to share the philosophies of the Feds, but he tried to keep both parties in his Cabinet. When his Dem-Rep. Secretary of State resigned, Washington’s first choice to replace him was another Dem-Republican. When Washington published his Farewell Address, he had both a Fed. and a Dem-Rep. contribute to the writing. George Washington wasn’t partisan because he believed that he was the President of all Americans, not just one party. He tried to hold people together.

Neither Lincoln nor Washington was perfect, but they were special. Today we, and our leaders, could learn from them.

What do you think of Lincoln (the movie or the man), dear reader?

What do you think of Washington?