Mr. Lincoln Goes to Hollywood





In Lincoln, the Steven Spielberg movie opening this month, President Abraham Lincoln has a talk with U.S. Representative Thaddeus Stevens that should be studied in civics classes today. The scene goes down easy, thanks to the moviemakers’ art, but the point Lincoln makes is tough.

Stevens, as Tommy Lee Jones plays him, is the meanest man in Congress, but also that body’s fiercest opponent of slavery. Because Lincoln’s primary purpose has been to hold the Union together, and he has been approaching abolition in a roundabout, politic way, Stevens by 1865 has come to regard him as “the capitulating compromiser, the dawdler.”

The congressman wore with aplomb, and wears in the movie, a ridiculous black hairpiece—it’s round, so he doesn’t have to worry about which part goes in front. A contemporary said of Stevens and Lincoln that “no two men, perhaps, so entirely different in character, ever threw off more spontaneous jokes.”...

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