Tag Archives: Abraham Lincoln

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln — The Epic Struggle to Get the 13th Amendment Passed by Congress

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Abraham Lincoln understood that neither the Emancipation Proclamation nor the end of the Civil War would be enough to abolish slavery; hence, the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution would have to be enacted in order to outlaw the ownership of slaves.

Amendment XIII

Section 1.

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Lincoln believed that ending the Civil War would not guarantee an end of slavery and believed a permanent legal solution would be necessary. Lincoln proposed adding the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but knew there would be political resistance to getting this law approved by Congress. The majority of the movie dealt with Lincoln’s struggle to get the 13th Amendment enacted and passed by the U.S. Congress. Much of the deal making to get enough votes to pass this amendment to the Constitution was well documented in Doris Kern’s book, A Team of Rivals and was incorporated into the script of the movie. What humor there was in this film was based on all the deal making tactics that Lincoln’s surrogates used to get various politicians to vote for the passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Spielberg’s Lincoln tried to show Lincoln as a real man, a realist and as a real politician. In a New York Times’ movie review written by A.O. Scott, the author says that “the legislative process-the linchpin of our system of checks and balances-is often treated with lofty contempt masquerading as populist indignation, an attitude typified by the aw-shucks antipolitics of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”. (N.Y.Times, A.O. Scott, November 8, 2012)

Roger Ebert, the movie critic, gave this movie a 4 star rating and I too would give the movie a high rating because of the excellent script written by Kushner, as well as the terrific cinematography done by Janusz Kaminski and good acting performances given by Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones and Daniel Day-Lewis. The movie is rated PG-13 and lasts for 149 minutes, which could be a little long for some children.  Buy some popcorn and enjoy this legal thriller.

~Jane Fraytet~

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From Law Office to Oval Office

Every four years, Americans go to the polls to elect the individual who will serve as our chief executive officer, commander in chief of the armed forces, head of state, and who, since the Truman administration, is known by the acronym, POTUS – President of the United States.  These individuals have brought numerous skills and diverse experiences to our highest office.  These experiences have included: architect, soldier, diplomat, Secretary of State, governor, postmaster, ordained Minister, school teacher, sheriff, journalist, U.S. Solicitor General, judge and vice president of the United States.

Significantly, of our 44 presidents (if one counts Grover Cleveland twice), there have been 25 individuals who were lawyers before becoming presidents, including William Howard Taft who became Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court after he served as President.  In addition to Taft, who argued before justices he had appointed, seven other lawyer-presidents have appeared before the United States Supreme Court.  The most recent lawyer-president to do so was Richard Nixon when he argued the case of Time v. Hill in 1966.

Some individuals actively practiced law.  John Adams combined a lengthy career as an attorney with major contributions to the founding of a new nation.  His son, John Quincy Adams, successfully argued that the kidnapped and sold-as-slaves Africans should be treated as free men and released in Amistad [Part of our audio/visual collection available on display].   Rutherford Hayes and Benjamin Harrison handled several high profile cases, including sensational murder trials.   Abraham Lincoln was involved in more than 5000 cases, spanning his 25 year career.   He was also a postmaster and a captain in the Black Hawk war.  Lincoln was a skilled draftsman.  He utilized this skill in crafting a legally binding executive order, the Emancipation Proclamation.

Some presidents studied the law to further political aspirations.  Some, such as Lincoln and James Garfield, set their own course of study and read the law before being admitted to the bar.  Garfield is better known as a teacher, college professor and president, soldier, congressman and a Minister of the Disciples of Christ.  Others took the more traditional approach and attended law schools.  President Gerald Ford, in fact, attended three including a summer spent at the University of North Carolina School of Law.  Norman Gross has profiled the men who were both lawyers and president of the United States in his treatise,  America’s Lawyer-Presidents: From Law Office to Oval Office [Available at on display - Call No. KF353 .A46 2004 ]

Test your knowledge of America’s Lawyer-Presidents by taking the quiz sponsored by the American Bar Association.

 - Susan Catterall -

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