Monday, February 18, 2013
In a particularly effective scene in a movie with many more of them, President Abraham Lincoln holds aloft a pen for emphasis and forcefully declares his intent to soon sign the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery. The problem is that presidents do not sign constitutional amendments. Abraham Lincoln, the best lawyer to ever serve as the nation's chief executive, undoubtedly knew this. He would not have declared his intention to sign an amendment that was not his to sign.
But Zelinsky's willing to cut screenplay author Tony Kushner some slack:
Mr. Kushner's liberties with the details of the Constitution served a legitimate artistic mission by graphically portraying Lincoln's personal commitment to the abolition of slavery. As the movie makes clear, the abolition of slavery via the 13th Amednment was not inevitable. Lincoln's commitment was decisive.
As Zelinsky points out, the alternative--in which Lincoln might have said "something along the lines of wanting Congress to promptly send the 13th Amednment to the states"--is "not the stuff on which Oscar nominations are made." Good point.
(Zelinsky also references another error: the movie's portrayal of Connecticut congressman as voting against the Thirteenth Amendment. In fact, Connecticut's representatives voted for it.)
But if the film committed errors, it also helped correct them--or at least one of them. According to The Atlantic Wire, a recent immigrant from India, Dr. Ranjan Batra, after seeing the movie, researched and determined that Mississippi never ratified the Thirteenth Amendment. Last week it did.