Two days ago I saw the movie Lincoln with Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, and Joseph Gordon Levitt. Truth be told it was a well made movie overall. Day-Lewis, Field, and Jones were all brilliant. As usual, Day-Lewis made you believe he was really Lincoln. The movie did however get me thinking about a few things which can very easily be related to the present political and economic climates.
Before proceeding any further I should be upfront and provide my spoiler alert:
1) Slavery gets abolished
2) The Civil War ends
3) Abraham Lincoln dies
With that out of the way we can proceed to discussion without worrying about surprising anyone about plot points.
The first thing which must be acknowledged is how good a job the movie does in portraying the corruption and sleaze of politics. There was a large montage where aides of President Lincoln bribed politicians with money, or higher government positions, in exchange for their vote of “Yay” on the 13th Amendment. Apparently even then, money was equal to free political speech
Delving deeper though, after the Amendment was ratified one has to remember, those same politicians (whose votes were just needed to pass a very worthy amendment) now had even more power than before. As they had this power it would then be future generations left to deal with the effects of the new offices given to politicians who received promotions for the ironically corrupt reason of passing an ethical bill. While this is not a situation anyone is uninformed of, at the same time, it is a very nice (and unfortunate) reality check.
While the Democrats and Republicans were having their disputes in the halls of congress I remember hearing one politician say something to the nature of “Wait, if we give these people this right what’s next? Women having the right to vote?!” As an audience member I fist-pumped at this comment. In the movie however, a great commotion was created amongst all of the white males in congress at the time.
Another historical fact needs to be brought to the surface now. True the two political parties debating this Amendment were the Democrats and the Republicans. However, at the time their conservative (or progressive) interests were the opposite. For instance, Abraham Lincoln was a president who succeeded in an extremely progressive cause: He spearheaded an Amendment to outlaw slavery. The irony, compared to the present day, President Lincoln was a Republican.
Now to discuss the syntax of the 13th Amendment itself:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
A very worthy Amendment and an extremely proud moment in the American history. However, there’s a cute little loophole which is viciously exploited in the present day. “…Except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted…” At face value, and at the time, this was probably quite sound. Slavery was abolished as a result of this bill much to the discontent of the seceding States whose economies had been dependent on the economic practice. Yes, it was abolished; outside of prison. Inside however is a different story. In the present day there has been an exploitation of this loophole known as the Prison Industrial Complex. The laws have also been adjusted as well so as to lead certain groups into the Amendment’s loophole thereby making up for this historical setback to economic prosperity through slavery. Both the Prison Industrial Complex and its supporting laws have earned America the shameful statistic of having the largest number of prisoners per capita in the world.
Another interesting point made in this movie was when President Lincoln explained how the existence of slavery destroyed small businesses and crushed competition. As I recall Lincoln was saying so with respect to his father’s observations of how slavery effected local economies. This perspective really brings an insight into the reasons why some white politicians at the time decided to support the bill. In an extremely racist era, where one may have been shunned by all of their colleagues for showing even moderate sympathy for the plight of black people, the reason many had for supporting the abolition of slavery was purely economic. For many it was still about their wallets and nothing more.
To relate to modern day the issue of slavery’s crushing competition, and its destruction of small business, you need look no further than international trade agreements and monopoly power. International trade agreements are notorious for killing small businesses. A recent case and point is NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) which was signed under President Bill Clinton on January 1, 1994 and it created a trade block between Canada, The United States, and Mexico. NAFTA was a trade agreement which destroyed Mexican business as local farmers could not dream of competing with the economic power of a multinational corporation (often an international monopoly). This effect was not something Clinton had not thought of and accordingly, after signing this agreement, the border between America and Mexico became militarized. NAFTA’s effect on Mexico was the destruction of small business. Its effect on America was the selling-out of the common laborers who elected him to office.
Fyi there is another trade agreement in the works TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) which is essentially NAFTA… on steroids. Here is a report on TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) from Democracy Now.
The movie also included a short over-the-table peace negotiation between President Lincoln and a delegation from the Confederate States. Though it was not mentioned in the movie I couldn’t help but remember a friend of mine from Florida who enlightened me on carpetbaggers. Carpetbaggers were people from the North who went down South to take advantage of a crippled economy during the Post-Civil War re-constructionist era. Though no one calls them this, the term “re-construction capitalist” is certainly applicable here. These carpetbaggers remain one large reason for some of the resentment the Southern States harbor towards Northern States.
Now who wants to think about the Disaster Capitalists which will soon begin to seek to turn a profit from the destruction left in Hurricane Sandy’s wake? I’m sure there are already plenty of Disaster Capitalists who’ve found opportunity in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans as well.
A moment that I found particularly comical in the movie during the peace negotiations was something a disgruntled Confederate delegate said to President Lincoln. It was something to the effect of “So the government will be overrun with republican radicals?!” My thought on this was… “Yeah.”
Okay so this “review” has barely been a review and instead more of a jump-off point to discuss other related issues. The movie was fine but not really anything too special. I disagree with the choice to include any theater scenes at the end. Even though we all know President Lincoln was assassinated, when you have a movie about his spearheading an Amendment to abolish slavery and then you see an announcement of his assassination, it can leave the implication of his death being a retribution for the Amendment. This was not why the President was killed. It was far more complicated.
All things considered the movie was enjoyable and a decent period piece. Once again, Day-Lewis, Field, Jones, and Gordon Levitt were excellent. I do have one final question though…
When, amidst all of the politics of that one Amendment, and the entire Civil War, did President Abraham Lincoln have time to hunt Vampires?
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