Is 'Lincoln' Historically Accurate? Why It May Need a Revision


While watching Lincoln, Connecticut Congressman Joe Courtney (D) questioned the historical accuracy of the film. One scene depicted two Connecticut congressmen voting against the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery. The problem is, this didn't happen. With just a quick Google search, Courtney discovered that all four Connecticut congressmen (and its two senators) backed the amendment. 

I have yet to see the highly regarded and 12-time Oscar nominated Lincoln. After reading reviews and listening to friend's critiques, I wasn't that interested in seeing a film that was being touted as history lesson filled with drama and great acting. The news that the history may not be quite as accurate as advertised is a little disheartening, but it wont change my opinion on whether I will see the movie or not. A movie does not need to be accurate in every way to be well made and worth watching.

Most reviews of Lincoln touch on the historical nature of the film. "Lincoln preserves the union between drama and history lesson," was the subtitle accompanying David Edelstein's review. The urges to check the accuracy of the movie are well warranted, and errors were found. One exhaustive Atlantic piece notes that Daniel Day Lewis' portrayal of President Lincoln seemed accurate; it's his advisers that may have been embellished. 

Josh Zeitz, the article's author, seems to understand that some inaccuracies are unavoidable:

"How, then, can we access his mind, 150 years after the fact, when those closest to him found Lincoln so impenetrable in his own time? Relative to other presidents, he wrote comparatively few letters, and virtually none of a personal nature. We have no diaries with which to work, and obviously no film footage or recordings. Much is left to context, and invariably, to imagination."

It is unsettling, however, that there would be an error in counting Connecticut's votes. Having not seen the movie, I don't know whether or not two dissenting votes from Connecticut added any drama or helped develop the story. I don't imagine that it did. The movie misrepresented a fact that didn't advance the story or heighten the theatrics, this was a vote on the abolition of slavery, the stakes were already sky high. 

Courtney is asking that the film correct its mistake before the DVD release. He doesn't think that artistic license should put Connecticut on the wrong side of history. His point of view makes sense; he is trying to protect the state he represents. Whether or not the changes are made, Lincoln will still be highly-regarded for the history and the drama.