The Edmond Sun

Opinion

December 17, 2012

Lincoln film repairs reputation of Thaddeus Stevens

OKLA. CITY — “Law are like sausages in that you should not watch them being made,” the German leader Otto von Bismarck observed in the 19th Century. And the truth of that observation is evident in the Steven Spielberg film “ Lincoln” in which the measures that Lincoln had to use to get the U.S. House of Representatives to approve what became the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That amendment abolished slavery in the United States.

Lincoln previously had issued the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves in the states that had seceded from the Union, but did not address the status of the slaves that were held in border states that had not joined the Confederacy. In addition, Lincoln worried that his proclamation could be subject to legal challenge on the grounds that he lacked the legal authority to issue it.

The film details how Lincoln and his Secretary of State William Seward assembled a team of political operatives to ensure that a majority of the House voted for the amendment. Those operatives used means that included cash payments to undecided members of Congress as well as the promise of federal jobs for some of them who were leaving Congress at the end of the legislative session. Pressure also was put on congressmen who showed signs of wavering in their support for the measure.

And the president’s main ally in Congress, Republican Thaddeus Stevens, was an abolitionist from Pennsylvania whose passionate commitment to racial equality is made clear in scenes that showed the emotional debates that occurred on the floor of the House of Representatives regarding the amendment. Bitter personal attacks were made by representatives against their opponents that make some of today’s political exchanges seem tame in comparison. When a Democratic Congressman asked Stevens if the thought that all men were created equal, Stevens replied that the person who had put that question to him was such a worthless individual that he was living proof that not all men are equal.

Opponents of the measure said its adoption eventually would result in freed male slaves having the right to vote, and warned that that possible precedent would result in women having the right to vote as well.  

Stevens had a clubfoot, and limped as a result. When the 13th Amendment is passed by the House of Representatives, Stevens in shown walking to the home that he shared with his African American housekeeper and presenting her with the tally of the vote that showed that the Amendment had been approved. In his list of greatest American movies critic Roger Ebert included the film “Birth of a Nation” that was released in 1915 and purported to be a historical account of the Civil War and its immediate  aftermath in the South. While Ebert deplored the  racism and historical inaccuracies that were contained in that movie, he pointed out that it contained lifelike battle scenes and included the first use of the close up and cutaway scenes in film.

The latter half of that movie told a tale of how whites in South Carolina were mistreated during the Reconstruction era until the Klu Klux Klan was formed to protect their rights. A character based on Stevens named Austin Stoneman appeared in that film, and is shown to be a naïve and vindictive man who uses his power in Congress to unfairly punish the South.  

The nation may a debt of gratitude to Steven Spielberg for providing a portrait of Thaddeus Stevens that shows him to be a man of vision who courageously fought for the rights of African Americans.

WILLIAM F. O’BRIEN is an Oklahoma City attorney.

1
Text Only
Opinion
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Why poverty across the world matters to Americans

    A child starving in South Sudan should matter to Americans. That was the message delivered last week by Nancy Lindborg, whose job at the U.S. Agency for International Development is to lead a federal bureau spreading democracy and humanitarian assistance across the world.
    That world has reached a critical danger zone, with three high-level crises combining military conflict with humanitarian catastrophes affecting millions of innocents in Syria, the South Sudan and the Central African Republic.
    But back to that child.

    April 18, 2014

  • Government leadership complicit in overfilling prisons

    One of the thorniest problems facing any society is the question of what to do with transgressors. Obviously, the more complicated a culture becomes, the more factors come into play in trying to figure out what to do with those who choose not to “play by the rules.”

    April 18, 2014

  • My best days are ones normal people take for granted

    It is a weekend for working around the house. My fiancee, Erin, and I have the baby’s room to paint and some IKEA furniture to assemble. I roll out of bed early — 10:30 — and get into my wheelchair. Erin is already making coffee in the kitchen.
    “I started the first wall,” she says. “I love that gray.” Erin never bugs me about sleeping late. For a few months after I was injured in the Boston Marathon bombings, I often slept 15 hours a day. The doctors said my body needed to heal. It must still be healing because I hardly ever see 8 a.m. anymore.

    April 18, 2014

  • Instead of mothballing Navy ships, give them to our allies

    A bitter debate has raged in the Pentagon for several months about the wisdom of taking the nuclear aircraft carrier George Washington out of service to save money. The Washington, at 24 years old a relatively young vessel, is due for a costly refit, a routine procedure that all of the 11 large carriers in service undergo regularly.

    April 18, 2014

  • The pessimist’s guide to grizzly bears and Earth Day

    This coming Friday, to “celebrate Earth Day,” the Walt Disney Co. will release one of those cutesy, fun-for-all-ages, nature documentaries. “Bears” is about grizzly bears.
    The trailer says, “From DisneyNature comes a story that all parents share. About the love, the joy, the struggle and the strength it takes to raise a family.”
    Talk about your misguided “Hollywood values.” I previously have acknowledged a morbid, unreasonable fear of grizzly bears, stemming from a youth misspent reading grisly grizzly-attack articles in Readers Digest. This fear is only morbid and unreasonable because I live about 1,500 miles from the nearest wild grizzly bear. Still. ...

    April 16, 2014

  • Digging out of the CIA-Senate quagmire

    Last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., voted to declassify parts of its report on the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program. The White House, the CIA and the Senate still have to negotiate which portions of the report will be redacted before it is made public. But this is an important step in resolving the ugly dispute that has erupted between the intelligence committee and the intelligence agency.
    The dispute presents two very serious questions. Was the program consistent with American values and did it produce valuable intelligence? And is effective congressional oversight of secret activities possible in our democracy?

    April 15, 2014

  • Los Angeles Times: Congress extend jobless benefits again

    How’s this for irony: Having allowed federal unemployment benefits to run out in December, some lawmakers are balking at a bill to renew them retroactively because it might be hard to figure out who should receive them. Congress made this task far harder than it should have been, but the technical challenges aren’t insurmountable. Lawmakers should restore the benefits now and leave them in place until the unemployment rate reaches a more reasonable level.

    April 14, 2014

  • Many nations invested in Israel

    Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Yoram Ettinger recently spoke to a gathering at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life and Learning in Oklahoma City. The event began with a presentation by Rabbi Ovadia Goldman, who told the attendee that the  upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover was an occasion for them to embrace the children of God, which is all of humanity.

    April 14, 2014

  • Coming soon: More ways to get to know your doctor

    Last week, the federal government released a massive database capable of providing patients with much more information about their doctors.
    The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the government agency that runs Medicare, is posting on its website detailed information about how many visits and procedures individual health professionals billed the program for in 2012, and how much they were paid.
    This new trove of data, which covers 880,000 health professionals, adds to a growing body of information available to patients who don’t want to leave choosing a doctor to chance. But to put that information to good use, consumers need to be aware of what is available, what’s missing and how to interpret it.

    April 14, 2014

  • HEY HINK: Hateful bullies attempt to muffle free speech

    Hopefully we agree it should be a fundamental right to voice criticism of any religion you wish. And you should have the right to sing the praises of any religion you choose. If criticism of religion is unjust, feel free to make your best argument to prove it. If criticism is just, don’t be afraid to acknowledge and embrace it. If songs of praise are merited, feel free to join in. If not, feel free to ignore them. But no American should participate in curbing free speech just because expression of religious views makes someone uncomfortable.

    April 11, 2014

Poll

Do you agree with a state budget proposal that takes some funds away from road and bridge projects to ramp up education funding by $29.85 million per year until schools are receiving $600 million more a year than they are now? In years in which 1 percent revenue growth does not occur in the general fund, the transfer would not take place.

Agree
Disagree
Undecided
     View Results