The Lincoln accuracy issue about Connecticut’s 13th Amendment voting was first raised by Connecticut Rep. Joe Courtney on Tuesday, 2.5. I ran my first riff on 2.6 and summarized Lincoln screenwriter Tony Kushner‘s response on Friday, 2.8. Today N.Y. Times columnist Maureen Dowd threw in her two cents, and she’s pretty much in Courtney’s corner.
She also includes an account of the script-editing process in which Kushner says — naturally, no surprise — that it was Spielberg who decided to “leave the scene [in which two Connecticut reps vote nay on the 13th Amendment] unchanged.” And she quotes Kushner as saying that the Connecticut mistake won’t be corrected on the Lincoln Bluray/DVD. Don’t like it? Tough.
A key concern of Spielberg and Kushner was to convey that the vote for the 13th Amendment, which happened in the House of Representatives chamber on January 31, 1865, was a very close one. A nail-biter. And yet, As Dowd reminds, history “shows that the first two votes cast were ‘Nays’ by Democratic congressmen from Illinois, Lincoln’s own state. Wasn’t that enough to show the tension?”
“Harold Holzer, a Lincoln historian attached to the film, pointed out the mistake to Spielberg and Kushner, telling them that voting in those days was done alphabetically by lawmaker.
“But Kushner said the director left the scene unchanged because it gave the audience ‘place holders,’ and it was ‘a rhythmic device‘ that was easier to follow than ‘a sea of names.’ They gave fake names to the Connecticut legislators, who were, he said, ‘not significant players.’
“Yet The Wall Street Journal noted, ‘The actual Connecticut representatives at the time braved political attacks and personal hardships to support the 13th Amendment.” One, the New London Republican Augustus Brandegee, was a respected abolitionist and a friend of Lincoln. The other, the New Haven Democrat James English, considered slavery ‘a monstrous injustice’ and left his ill wife to vote. When he said ‘Aye,’ applause began and the tide turned.
“I’m a princess-and-the-pea on this issue,” Dowd writes, “but I think Spielberg should refilm the scene or dub in ‘Illinois’ for ‘Connecticut’ before he sends out his DVDs and leaves students everywhere thinking the Nutmeg State is nutty.
“Kushner says that won’t happen, because this is a ‘made-up issue’ and a matter of ‘principle.’ But as Congressman Courtney notes: ‘It was Lincoln who said [that] truth is generally the best vindication against slander.'”