Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Abraham Lincoln Articles

Lincoln To The Rescue
(By David Von Drehle, Time Magazine, Oct. 25, 2012)

 Of all the words a proud, ambitious man might use to describe himself, perhaps only Abraham Lincoln would choose strange. Yet there it is. In one of his earliest wisps of autobiography, Lincoln wrote that he was “a strange, friendless, uneducated, penniless boy” when he emerged from the backwoods in his early 20s to make his way in the world. Editors of Lincoln’s Collected Works found the word so perplexing that they added an r to transform him into a mere stranger. But the late David Herbert Donald, one of Lincoln’s most admired biographers, astutely recognized that the man meant what he said.

Strange can mean odd or quirky, and Lincoln was certainly that. His foes nicknamed him the Gorilla, which captures his long-armed, shambling animal strength. His hands and feet were enormous, and his brow was simian. Yet when he spoke, a high and reedy voice twanged forth incongruously. At one moment, he might be braying loudly over one of his own salty jokes, and at the next, lost in catatonic silence.
Strange can also mean unfamiliar, alien. This too is Lincoln, who never quite fit in. The youthful Lincoln was a rawboned genius on an uncomprehending frontier. As President, he was a self-taught rustic surrounded by the polished burghers of Eastern society. Magnetic, keenly sensitive, often able to understand others better than they understood themselves, Lincoln was nevertheless profoundly isolated. Perhaps the early deaths of his mother and sister steeped him in sorrow so thoroughly that he learned to prefer loneliness to intimacy. He “never had a confidant,” his law partner William Herndon wrote. “He was the most reticent and mostly secretive man that ever existed.”

Despite interviewing dozens of Lincoln’s associates in the months after his death, J.G. Holland, an early biographer, found himself stumped. “There are not two who agree in their estimate of him,” he wrote. One would say “he was a very ambitious man”; another would assert “that he was without a particle of ambition.” People said that “he was one of the saddest men that ever lived, and that he was one of the jolliest men that ever lived … that he was a man of indomitable will, and that he was a man almost without a will; that he was a tyrant, and that he was the softest-hearted, most brotherly man that ever lived.” The real Lincoln, Holland concluded, was the sum of his contradictions.
This shape-shifting quality has allowed writers and politicians of every stripe to claim or reject Lincoln. He has been extolled as the Great Emancipator and criticized as a racist, praised as the hero of free labor and denounced as a tool of industrialists. Lionized as a man of peace and lambasted as a warmonger, beloved for his “new birth of freedom” and berated for his offenses against civil liberties and small government. Today he is philosophical soulmate to Presidents from both ends of the spectrum: George W. Bush quoted him last year on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, while Barack Obama name-checked him as recently as the first debate.

But his strange contradictions were essential to his political success. Though he once declared that he “was a party man and did not believe in any man who was not,” Lincoln was, in important ways, always a party of one. He had an unusual ability to look at things through the eyes of his critics as well as his friends. He was willing to turn the same cold gaze on himself, to appreciate the limits of his popularity, which he studied closely because popularity is the wellspring of power. Once, an angry critic of the confounding George McClellan demanded to know why Lincoln tolerated the Union general’s insubordinate behavior. Lincoln coolly replied that McClellan was “a majority general,” while he was but “a minority President.” That makes all the difference in a government of, by and for the people.
It is tempting in times of great political strife and division—like Lincoln’s and our own—to pine for leaders who transcend politics. But the success of the 16th President teaches that hard times are precisely when political dexterity is needed most. Politics is the machinery by which we meet tough challenges. Lincoln drilled this idea into his closest aides so thoroughly that they could channel his philosophy after he was gone. “Every war is begun, dominated and ended by political considerations,” explained John Nicolay and John Hay, Lincoln’s faithful secretaries. “War and politics, campaign and statecraft, are Siamese twins, inseparable and interdependent.”

Americans of Lincoln’s day certainly pined for something more than his seemingly small-minded attention to politics. In the midst of the greatest crisis the nation had ever faced, Lincoln spent dozens of hours each week painstakingly distributing the rapidly growing number of federal jobs at his disposal. “He seems to me to be fonder of … patronage, and personal questions, than of the weightier matters of empire,” complained the celebrated author and attorney Richard Henry Dana. In August 1862, as the failure of McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign was bringing the Union’s military fortunes to their darkest pass, Lincoln nevertheless devoted huge blocks of time to selecting tax collectors authorized by the first internal-revenue act.
Why? Because he realized that by giving plums to exactly the right members of the opposition Democrats, the right Irish immigrants, the right Methodists—even the friends of influential newspaper editors—he could bind them more tightly to his shaky Union coalition. Politics today is often a matter of energizing a President’s base, but for Lincoln, success was a matter of adding new supporters: if he could collect enough, the Union could be restored. As Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles came to appreciate, time spent by Lincoln on favor seekers was every bit as important to the war effort as time spent poring over military maps: “Never under any Administration were greater care and deliberation required” in dispensing presidential favors, for Lincoln was shoring up “a demoralized government and a crumbling Union.” America’s next President will face a version of this challenge as he tries to build a coalition to tackle such divisive issues as debt, taxes and immigration.

Lincoln as political strategist is front and center in Steven Spielberg’s new film. He trades votes, dangles patronage, hedges principles and tiptoes on the brink of deceit. He pleads, cajoles and threatens. He seems always to be at least two moves ahead of everyone else on the Washington chessboard. And he has to be, because what he is attempting—the passage of a constitutional amendment to end slavery, over the determined opposition of Copperhead Democrats—is both difficult and critically important. Lincoln makes glorious the earthy art of grubbing for votes.
Well before that showdown in the waning days of the war, Lincoln relied on his political acumen to survive and even thrive through the most perilous year in American history, 1862. It was the year in which the Civil War became a cataclysm, the federal government became a colossus and the Confederacy came nearest to winning its independence. In 1862, Lincoln rang the death knell for slavery with his Emancipation Proclamation. He established himself firmly as Commander in Chief and held the North together while unimagined carnage in battles like Shiloh and Antietam forged the military leaders who would eventually win the war—men like Grant, Sherman, Sheridan and Farragut. Under a constant cloud of a possible military coup, he fended off uprisings in Congress and among members of his Cabinet. He signed the visionary bills that created the transcontinental railroad, the modern fiscal system, the homesteading movement and the nation’s land-grant universities.

“Never has there been a moment in history when so much was all compressed into a little time,” one U.S. Senator observed. And never since the founding of the country had so much depended on the political skills of one man. As Obama and Mitt Romney reach the final hours of their race for the heavy prize of leading a polarized America through its next four years of challenges, they—and we—could learn a lot from the Lincoln of 1862.

 A.L. Confidential
(By Doris Kearns Goodwin, Time Magazine, Oct. 25, 2012)

For four decades, I have lived with dead presidents. I’ve woken up with them in the morning and thought about them when I went to bed at night. I’ve imagined them in their youth, with their families and friends; I’ve thought about the cadence of their speech, their posture and stride. From LBJ and JFK to my current subjects, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, I’ve sought to understand the person behind the public figure.

I spent 10 years writing Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln—on which Steven Spielberg’s film Lincoln is partly based—and every day I imagined Lincoln’s world. I had never seen it realized, however, until I visited the movie’s set, housed in an old pinball-machine factory in Richmond, Va. When production designer Rick Carter opened a door and led me into his rendering of the Lincoln White House, I felt as if I had been transported back in time. Every detail was so lovingly re-created, from the cubbyholes in Lincoln’s desk to the portrait of Andrew Jackson on the office wall, from the carpets to the clocks and candelabras. Here are some of the features to look for in the movie, the elements that lend an unparalleled authenticity to the production.

His Office. Lincoln’s office, which doubled as the Cabinet Room, is at the center of the film. Lincoln would sometimes write little fragments of speeches and tuck them away in the drawers and cubbyholes of his desk. People thought he wrote his speeches at the last minute, but he mulled over themes and sentences for weeks. The desk is also where he kept what he called his “hot letters,” which he would write in moments of anger or frustration and then wait for his emotions to settle, hoping he would never need to send them. The first-edition books atop the desk in Lincoln are books he would have read—The Poetical Works of John Milton and The Biglow Papers. The maps on the wall are those he would have been studying.

His Stride. Lincoln’s singular way of walking, contemporaries observed, gave the impression that his long, gaunt frame needed oiling. He would plod forward in an awkward manner, his hands hanging at his sides or folded behind his back. His step had no spring, his law partner William Herndon recalled. He lifted his whole foot at once and then thrust it down on the ground rather than landing on his heel. “His legs,” another observer noted, “seemed to drag from the knees down, like those of a laborer going home after a hard day’s work.”

His Voice. Although Lincoln’s voice was “thin” and “high pitched,” reporter Horace White recalled, it had “much carrying power” and “could be heard a long distance in spite of the bustle and tumult of the crowd.” While he seemed awkward at first, when he “hit his stride,” White observed, he grew “very impassioned” and “seemed transfigured” by the strength of his words.

His Sense of Humor. Those who knew Lincoln described him as an extraordinarily funny man. Humor was an essential aspect of his temperament. He laughed, he explained, so he did not weep. His “eyes would sparkle with fun,” one old-timer remembered, “and when he had reached the point in his narrative which invariably evoked the laughter of the crowd, nobody’s enjoyment was greater than his.” His ability to counter criticism with humor was legendary. When told that he was two-faced, he instantly responded, “If I had two faces, do you think I’d be wearing this face?”

His Ability to Connect. The White House then was so much more open than it is today. People wanting government jobs would line up by the hundreds outside Lincoln’s office, each with a story to tell: a reason his family needed a clerkship or a job in a post office in order to survive. Lincoln’s secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay, told him he didn’t have time for these ordinary people. You are wrong, he responded. These are my “public-opinion baths.” They “serve to renew in me a clearer and more vivid image of that great popular assemblage out of which I have sprung.”

Daniel Day-Lewis: How the Greatest Living Actor Became Lincoln

(By Jessica WinterOct. 25, 2012)

In the summer of 2011, the actress Sally Field began receiving text messages from Abraham Lincoln.  “I’d hear that twinkle-twinkle on my phone, and he would have sent me some ridiculous limerick,” says Field, who plays the 16th President’s wife Mary Todd in the new film Lincoln. “He’d sign it, ‘Yours, A.’ I would text back as Mary, criticizing him for the waste of his time when he might have been pursuing something more productive.”

In May of the same year, the director of Lincoln, Steven Spielberg, received a Pearlcorder tape machine in the mail. “I turned it on, and it was Shakespeare and the Second Inaugural in this voice,” Spielberg says. The voice was Lincoln’s. Not the stentorian tone that generations of schoolchildren have inferred from Lincoln’s gloomy portraits, but the one described by contemporary observers: a gentle tenor, reedy and slightly cracked, the accent a frontier blend of Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky. “A beautiful voice. I wanted that voice to read me a book. It came with a letter that said, ‘After you listen to this, would you ring me up and we’ll have a natter?’ I immediately got on the telephone and said, ‘Who is this?’”
This is Daniel Day-Lewis, star of Lincoln (opening Nov. 9), who faced the paradoxical challenge of portraying a man whom everyone and no one knows at once. Lincoln is near enough that we can look at the light that fell upon him—he was the first U.S. President to be photographed extensively—but not so near that we can hear his voice or see his odd, flat-footed walk. He is ubiquitous but unknowable, frozen in marble or granite, flattened into currency. Try making him talk or move and you risk creating “an animatronic character at Epcot Center,” as Spielberg puts it. “That’s exactly what we didn’t want.”

 “It didn’t occur to me that it was possible to breathe life into Abraham Lincoln,” says Day-Lewis in an interview with Time at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York City a few weeks before the film’s release. “I felt so shy around him.” Day-Lewis is a bit shy and soft-spoken in person too—-endearingly so—but warm and affable and exquisitely courteous. Shorn of his Lincoln beard, his hair chopped short into a silvery brush, the actor cuts a lean, youthful figure in his peacoat and khakis; at 55, he could easily be 10 years younger. The main quality he shares with his onscreen Lincoln is a thoughtful charisma.

Day-Lewis’ initial misgivings fell away once he began to research the part, finding his way toward Lincoln as a scholar would. “The minute you begin to approach him—and there are vast corridors that have been carved that lead you to an understanding of that man’s life, both through the great riches of his own writing and all the contemporary accounts and biographies—he feels immediately and surprisingly accessible. He draws you closer to him.”
And Day-Lewis draws us closer to Lincoln, investing him with an avuncular gentleness, a sly wit and an immovable will. The actor himself, as is his habit, disappears from sight—and slips out of earshot. Off duty, Day-Lewis speaks in a melodic, hybrid lilt: English in its shape and tone, Irish in its rhythms and occasionally its vowels. Unlike Lincoln’s, it’s a rich, sonorous voice, a custom-built delivery device for the soliloquies from Hamlet and Macbeth that the Great Emancipator so loved. Plenty of performers can change their accent, posture or waistline to suit the part. Day-Lewis alone seems capable of remolding his larynx and vocal cords.

He already looked the part, according to Lincoln screenwriter Tony Kushner, author of the Pulitzer-winning play Angels in America. Before Day-Lewis accepted the role, Spielberg and Kushner—who based his script in part on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals—visited the British-born actor at his home at the foot of the Wicklow Mountains outside Dublin, where he lives with his family. “On the first day, we went to a little pub,” Kushner recalls. “Daniel and I were talking by a window, and Steven, I think surreptitiously, snapped Daniel’s photo with his iPhone and e-mailed it to me. Steven said that his earliest memory of Lincoln was a cardboard cutout of his silhouette for Presidents’ Day. This silhouette of Daniel against the window—you would absolutely think you were looking at young Abe Lincoln.”
If Lincoln seems given over to legend, so does Day-Lewis’ totalizing methodology of acting, honed over a quarter-century. It comes with its own boilerplate of mythos and anecdote: How he stayed in character throughout My Left Foot (1989), in which he portrayed the profoundly disabled Irish writer and painter Christy Brown, to the point that cast and crew members fed him at lunch breaks and carried him over equipment between setups. How he lived in the manner of an 18th century American Indian in preparation to play the noble warrior Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans (1992), surviving for days on a 3,000-acre (1,200 hectare) expanse of Alabama wilderness. (“If he didn’t shoot it,” Mohicans director Michael Mann says, “he didn’t eat it.”) How he stayed up for three nights straight before a nightmarish interrogation scene as a man wrongly accused of an IRA bombing for In the Name of the Father (1993). How he sharpened knives between takes as the terrifying proto-mobster Bill “The -Butcher” Cutting on the set of Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002).

Given his modus operandi—which Day-Lewis mostly declines to discuss—is it intimidating for other actors to perform opposite Day-Lewis? Not on Lincoln, Spielberg says with a grin, “because he wasn’t Bill the Butcher.” Field calls the set “hushed and reverent,” with little chatter between takes. “There’s no small talk,” says Jared Harris, who plays Ulysses S. Grant in Lincoln. “You don’t say to him, ‘Hey, did you see the referees blow that call during the Packers game?’ But you can talk about your own life, personal things. We talked about our dads at one point, memories of our fathers.” (Like Day-Lewis, son of a poet laureate of Britain, Harris had a famous father, the late actor Richard Harris.) “He stays in character in terms of the accent. The English people on the film were asked not to use their English accents on the set because it might start to pull him off. But you’re not sitting there talking about the Vicksburg campaign.  “His attention to detail and commitment is truly impressive,” Harris continues, “but people refer to it as being an imposition or intimidating. It isn’t. Actors do that stuff all the time. He just likes to stay in it, and he asks that you respect that by not talking about bull—-.”
Like Harris, Daniel Michael Blake Day-Lewis, born in Greenwich in 1957, comes from a rarefied British cultural milieu. His mother was the actress Jill Balcon; his maternal grandfather Sir Michael Balcon headed the great British filmmaking company Ealing Studios and produced Alfred Hitchcock’s first movies. Cecil Day-Lewis’ early books of verse were published by Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press; during weeks off from his role as editorial director at the venerable London publishing house Chatto & Windus, he worked at home. “His study was out of bounds. You had to tiptoe past that room,” says Day-Lewis, whose older sister Tamasin is a cookbook author. “I knew something was going on in there, and it involved writing. Ours was a literary house. It was a house of books more than anything else.”

His Irish-born father took the family to Connemara, in western Ireland, each summer. “It’s a powerful and poetical landscape, virtually treeless, rolling country hills and mountains. For my sister and me, it became a secret garden where anything seemed possible—time out of time. It’s all an illusion, but a beautiful one.”
His father died of pancreatic cancer at age 68 at the home of his close friend Kingsley Amis when Daniel was just 15. The younger Day-Lewis was enrolled at Bedales, a progressive English boarding school, where he discovered both the stage and the woodworking shop. “I became conflicted in my late teens,” he says. “I imagined an alternative life as a furniture maker. For about a year, I just didn’t know what to do. I did laboring jobs, working in the docks, construction sites. When I did make the decision to focus on acting, I think my mother was just relieved for me that I had finally started to focus. She probably feared for me much more than she ever let on, because all I ever got from her, no matter what I was doing, was encouragement—so much so that I think I became quite a harsh judge of myself to try to restore some kind of balance.”

His London stage breakthrough came in 1982 at age 25 in the West End production of the hit drama Another Country. But it was a pair of polar-opposite roles—an ex–National Front gay punk in Stephen Frears’ My Beautiful Laundrette and a priggish Edwardian suitor in the Merchant-Ivory production A Room with a View—that revealed Daniel Day-Lewis, Emerging Young Actor, to be Daniel Day-Lewis, Legend in the Making. The films opened on the same day in New York City in 1986, neatly encapsulating his range and resources. Within a few years he had won his first romantic lead, in the Milan Kundera adaptation The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988), and his first Oscar, for My Left Foot.

At the initial read-through for My Left Foot, Day-Lewis arrived in character as Christy Brown, with director Jim Sheridan pushing his wheelchair. The other actors “were shocked, like, ‘What is this, he shows up playing the part fully formed, and we’re sitting here in our everyday clothes?’” recalls Sheridan, who also worked with Day-Lewis on In the Name of the Father and The Boxer (1997). “The producers were freaking out because they couldn’t understand a word he was saying: ‘Can we make him more understandable?’” (The respective answers to these questions were yes and no.)
“Plenty of people will say it’s facetious to stay in character,” Sheridan says. “People will say it’s pretentious. But Daniel spent weeks with kids who really had cerebral palsy to research the part. How difficult would it have been to act like them for the camera, then jump back after each take like a jack-in-the-box, like nothing had happened? His decision was, I’m staying in character, and so he became the focus of all worries and discontent on the set, which was all for the good of the movie.”  He also became the focus of great concern one night in 1989 at London’s National Theatre, where he was playing Hamlet—an incident he brings up without prompting. “I had a scuffle with Hamlet when I was last in the theater. I left the production”—he laughs incredulously—“halfway through a performance of the play, and that followed me around for quite some time afterward.”

The story went that, like the tortured Dane, Day-Lewis had seen the ghost of his late father, then fled the stage. “I may have said a lot of things in the immediate aftermath,” he says. “And to some extent I probably saw my father’s ghost every night, because of course if you’re working in a play like Hamlet, you explore everything through your own experience. You think you’re traveling a vast distance to understand another life, but it may be that you’re bringing that life toward you at the same time. What allows that work to live is the common experience, the bond between the two of you. It’s utterly delusional to say you become some other person—you don’t. But you do get to know yourself in a different way, through the prism of that other life. That correspondence between father and son, or the son and the father who is no longer alive, played a huge part in that experience. So yes, of course, it was communication with my own dead father.” He laughs again. “But I don’t remember seeing any ghosts of my father on that dreadful night!”
He did not return to Hamlet and has never performed in a play since. Predictably, a storm of British media attention followed the Hamlet episode. “I work in a certain way, and I never really felt the need to explain it or apologize for it, but in England, they thought I was unhinged,” he says. “The press goes after you, and they don’t tend to let go.” A desire for privacy amid his intensifying fame contributed, he says, to his decision in the mid-1990s to move to Ireland, not long before he married Rebecca Miller, a writer and filmmaker who later directed him as a dying eco-warrior in 2005’s The Ballad of Jack and Rose. (Miller, who is the daughter of the late playwright Arthur Miller, and Day-Lewis have two sons, ages 14 and 10; Day-Lewis also has a 17-year-old son from a previous relationship with French actress Isabelle Adjani.)

Day-Lewis doesn’t necessarily explain his process to his fellow actors, either, and he does little if any rehearsal. The 28-year-old actor Paul Dano has played his antagonist twice: as a love interest for his character’s daughter in The Ballad of Jack and Rose and as the callow preacher Eli Sunday, who receives one of cinema’s most spectacular comeuppances from Day-Lewis’ ambition-crazed oilman Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood (2007), for which Day-Lewis won his second Oscar. “I tried to show up and be all business because our characters didn’t get along,” Dano says of the Prince Edward Island set of Jack and Rose. “I’m sure that our instincts were not to get chummy. We kept our distance from each other.” And what of the filming of There Will Be Blood, wherein Plainview makes him eat mud, beats him with a bowling pin and—in a moment that launched a thousand Internet memes—drinks his milkshake?  Dano calls the experience “a fever dream.”
Emily Watson, who co-starred with Day-Lewis in The Boxer, is more specific. “I found it very demanding because of the way that he works,” she says of making the film, set in Belfast at the end of the Irish Troubles. “Our characters had been estranged, hadn’t seen each other for 14 years. It was very tense between them. So Daniel and I didn’t really speak—we agreed not to. I found that difficult. I found it quite lonely and isolating and a bit scary. He has a sort of electric force about him, and it’s intimidating—but amazing to watch. It really was as it was in the story. It’s a spare, brutal world where people don’t express themselves.”

  “As I got older and more experienced,” Watson continues, “I could look back and appreciate being able to work with someone who has the most integrity you can possibly have in this job. He has integrity coming out of every pore. I remember asking at the very end, ‘Why do you work like that?’ And he said—it was very sweet—‘Well, I don’t think I’m a good enough actor to be able to not do it this way.’”
Though England is his birthplace and Ireland his adopted home, it’s America that is Day-Lewis’ manifest destiny as an actor. His résumé is dotted with frontiersmen and trailblazers, pilgrims and prospectors, who built America with their own hands—or in Lincoln’s case, held it together. (Lincoln adds intertextual frisson to the Civil War–set Gangs of New York, wherein Bill the Butcher throws a knife at a portrait of Lincoln and throws produce at an actor playing Lincoln in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.)  “I probably do have a greater fascination for the history of this country than I do for my own,” Day-Lewis says. “I date that back to the moment that Michael Mann invited me to do The Last of the Mohicans. I hedged my bets for a long time because I thought, ‘Why?! Why would he want me to do that?’ Eventually I thought, ‘Well, if he’s willing to take that chance, who am I to say no?’”

Mann remembers why. “Hawkeye is pretty close to who Daniel is as a person,” he says. “Daniel is a deeply romantic man with a very strong value system. He’s kind of classic. He’s drawn to see great values in simple things. He’s somebody who eschews celebrity. He and Rebecca have a very strong family, a real literary sensibility.” Day-Lewis also eschews any semblance of workaholic brand management: he has made just six films in the past 15 years (including a rare misfire, 2009’s garish musical Nine). For part of the acting break he took between The Boxer and Gangs of New York, he apprenticed under a cobbler in Florence. “I like taking a long time over things, and I believe that it’s the time spent away from the work that allows me to do the work itself,” Day-Lewis says. “If you’re lurching from one film set or one theater to the other, I’m not sure what your resources would be as a human being.”

Does his grueling, singular process ever get lonely? “I felt tremendously alone for a good part of the last experience,” he says, referring to Lincoln. “But it was an aloneness that I needed, and was tremendously helpful to me.” Characteristically, he pivots away from himself. “I think a lot about what President Obama is going through at this moment. I look to the extent to which he has aged visibly. I feel I aged visibly just playing the President, so to actually have that responsibility is a burden that one can only explore in one’s imagination. Anyone who has that position of authority must necessarily find themselves very, very alone at certain times. I’m not in any way comparing his work to the work that I do as an actor, but it’s a common theme.”

An actor is not like a President, but can an actor be like a historian? Day-Lewis pores over primary sources and artifacts, metabolizing them in an original work that offers us a new way of understanding a familiar person, place and time. Pop-cultural images of history have a way of supplanting actual history; on the level of image, at least, the actor has been retro-actively elected President. The marble has been touched into life.

“Oh, my God!” Day-Lewis exclaims when he’s handed the movie tie-in edition of Team of Rivals, the cover of which shows not Lincoln but rather Day-Lewis as Lincoln. “Wow. I haven’t seen that. I always think there’s something not quite right about putting a film image on the cover of a history book, as if you’re rewriting history or something.” But Day-Lewis is, in a sense, writing history. And reading it to us.  And texting it.

Spielberg Talks About Ambition, Compromise, What To Wear While Filming A President

(By Rick Stengel, Time Magazine, Oct. 25, 2012)

Abraham Lincoln is in many ways the most compelling figure in U.S. history, yet the popular culture around him in terms of movies has been pretty minimal. Why is that?
STEVEN SPIELBERG: It’s one of the big mysteries. They float so many trial balloons with Lincoln’s face every year in the form of advertising, spoofs, parodies, Saturday Night Live sketches, Presidents’ Day commercials. Lincoln has kind of become a caricature. One of the last movies, which I haven’t seen in 15 or 20 years, that was about Abraham Lincoln was in the ’30s, with Henry Fonda—Young Mr. Lincoln. I don’t understand why it’s taken so long for anybody, let alone our group, to bring Lincoln to a movie theater.

You use a fascinating framing device for the movie: the passage of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery.
The 13th Amendment was critical to Lincoln, because he knew that if the war ended, this would never get through. The South couldn’t live without slavery. They might cease hostilities, but Lincoln always believed that unless we abolish slavery before this war ends, the end of this war will just be a momentary pause between this war and the next war. So he knew he had to get this thing done, but he didn’t have the votes. That’s at the heart of our movie, this fight to get the votes, to do the right thing.

There’s an English expression, “Cometh the moment, cometh the man.” How much of it was Lincoln at that moment, or did the moment make him?
Lincoln had the ambition. He had a beautiful vision for America. But I don’t know what kind of progress he would have made without the crisis that fell into his lap. I also don’t know what kind of a President FDR would have become without the Great
Depression and World War II or what Kennedy would ultimately have been remembered for without all of us standing on the brink of nuclear holocaust during the Cuban missile crisis.

Let’s talk about his temperament. His leadership style in many ways seems so alien to what we value today.
Taking all of his traits—of long, deep thought, of staring deeply into the future, taking the broad view, respecting the past, exploring deep into the cold depths of himself while his entire Cabinet sat around waiting for him to make a decision about anything—I’m not sure there’s a mayoral position that would be suitable for him in this kind of adrenaline-fueled era that we all exist in. Even then, the newspapers were going after him.

One of the things that come through in the movie is Lincoln’s relationship with his wife, his relationship with his youngest son. He would get down on the ground all the time. It showed that he wasn’t that statue that was standing up there 20 feet high.
He certainly did everything that he needed to do to hold his family together, not just this country. He had lost [his 11-year-old son] Willie two years ago to typhoid fever. Mary spent years mourning the loss of Willie. In [Doris Kearns Goodwin’s] book Team of Rivals, what precedes our story is two years of Mary shunning the whole family and spending time holding séances and trying to reach out and communicate across the thin veil to Willie. Lincoln had that burden on his shoulders. He was really carrying a lot of weight during that time.

Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance integrates all these different sides of Lincoln in a really extraordinary way. What was that like directing him?
Daniel did something at first that made me sad. He wanted to wait a year. And it was a masterstroke, because he had a year to do research. He had a year to find the character in his own private process. He had a year to discover how Lincoln sounded, and he found the voice. He had Lincoln so embedded in his psyche, in his soul, in his mind, that I would come to work in the morning and Lincoln would sit behind his desk, and we would begin.

I believe you called him Mr. President?
All during the picture I called him Mr. President, but that was my idea. I also wore a suit every day, which I don’t usually do when I’m directing. Everybody was dressed up in their period wardrobe. I did not wear 19th century wardrobe. I wore pretty good clothes from this era. I just wanted to blend in. We knew we were in the 21st century at all times. But once you stepped onto the stages of the White House, everybody really felt that they were making a contribution to remembering this critical moment in our shared history.

The Lincoln Canon: There Are Too Many Lincoln Books. Which Are Indispensable?
(By Fred Kaplan, Washington Post, February 8, 2009)

There's a joke in the publishing world. A writer asks his editor for ideas about a commercially promising topic for a book. "Lincoln's doctor's dog," the editor unhesitatingly responds.   I'm not a Lincoln expert, rather a biographer who has had the pleasure of reading much of what has been written about him from his lifetime to this year of his bicentennial. Some advice: Don't try that unless you have at least five years available. And don't believe the blurbs by well-known Lincoln authors about the brilliance of the books they're puffing; the same names keep reappearing in a circle of self-promotion. A recommendation to scholars: Write only one book about Lincoln; give it your best shot and then move on. A recommendation to enthusiasts: Skim a lot. Words about Lincoln fill a small but ever growing library.

Still, Americans have reason to be proud of their Lincoln literary cadre, especially of scholars like Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, who created the most valuable source of information on Lincoln, Herndon's Informants (1997). It's a painstaking compilation of the work of William Herndon, Lincoln's law partner, who spent 25 years after the president's death interviewing and corresponding with people who had known Lincoln. But it's not a book for the general reader, and not all of the informants' claims are necessarily to be believed.
Neither are some of the approaches to Lincoln over the past 50 years; they change with the times and with what's ideologically fashionable. Of the Freudian genre, my favorite is George B. Forgie's Patricide in the House Divided: A Psychological Interpretation of Lincoln and His Age (1979). It may be wrong-headed, but it's quite compelling. So, too, is Harry V. Jaffa's brilliant and ground-breaking Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates (1959), which has a libertarian flavor and is a favorite of conservative think tanks. C. A. Tripp's The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln (2005) is highly provocative, imputing homosexual experience to Lincoln without evidence for the claim. Like many of the ideological books about Lincoln, maybe it should be read -- but in the same way and for the same reasons one would read books that over the years have claimed Lincoln for Christianity without noticing that he did not believe in miracles, immortality or the divinity of Jesus.

I have a handful of books to recommend to the general reader: Allen C. Guelzo's Abraham Lincoln, Redeemer President (1999) for bringing to our attention Lincoln's intellectual powers; Gabor S. Boritt's Lincoln and the Economics of the American Dream (1978) for its emphasis on Lincoln's economic philosophy, which should be of special interest at the present moment; and Garry Wills's exemplary Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America (1992), which spawned a genre of books focusing on single speeches and remains the most intellectually exhilarating of them. David Herbert Donald's Lincoln (1995) is still the best one-volume biography. Michael Burlingame's recent, two-volume Abraham Lincoln: A Life (2008) deserves mention, if only to explain why I highly recommend his earlier book, The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln (1994). A Life is a 2,000-page compendium that works on the principle that nothing should be left out or condensed. Burlingame's skills as a biographer and a stylist are modest; he's right on target, though, about how terrible Mary Todd Lincoln was and about Lincoln's keen sexual interest in women. Burlingame dealt with these matters more concisely in the earlier book, which is one of my favorites.

Excessive coverage of the war years (to which Burlingame devotes his entire second volume) is an occupational hazard, propelled by the public's fascination with the Civil War. The most prominent living Civil War historian, James McPherson, has contributed substantially to the war literature. His recent Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief (2008) recycles in a slim volume material available in his excellent Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (1988), which remains the best book on the subject. Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (2005) is perhaps the most referenced Lincoln book of the last decade. It makes a tenuous case -- there were, in fact, only two serious rivals appointed to the cabinet and only one who remained so -- at too great a length and in hyperbolic prose. Still, it seems a world-wide favorite, a phenomenon worth thinking about. My favorite and most revelatory Lincoln book of recent decades is Douglas L. Wilson's Honor's Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln (1998). It's a gem: sensible, economical, solidly based on the evidence, the best account of Lincoln's life up to the end of 1842.
The most revealing analysis I've read about the origins and significance of the war seems to be unknown to historians, perhaps because it's by a political theorist of the quantitative school. The book is Richard Franklin Bensel's Yankee Leviathan: The Origins of Central State Authority in America, 1857-1877 (1990). I've read it three times, and each time my admiration increases. It deals incisively with issues that are very much alive today, particularly the tension between the states and the federal government, though I doubt that any current member of any branch of our government has read it.

One day, years ago, while bicycling in Forest Park in the crowded borough of Queens in New York City, I suddenly found myself in the midst of a Union encampment being set up from trailers and station wagons, as if for a movie set. That wasn't the case, nor was any real blood being shed. With all due respect to re-enactors, I consider the Civil War too tragic a subject to make a game of. I bicycled on, somewhat unsteady on my wheels and in my emotions, thinking of Matthew Brady's powerful photographs of the war and the president. For the latter, look at Lincoln, An Illustrated Biography (1992), by Philip B. Kunhardt Jr. et al., and a sequel (but disregard the text, which is simplistic), Looking for Lincoln: The Making of an American Icon (2008). And for the deepest experience of Lincoln, do what our new president does -- read the great man's words, and not just the Gettysburg Address and the two inaugural addresses. For that I recommend the handy, durable, modestly priced, two-volume Library of America edition, Speeches and Writings (1989). Or, if that's a little formidable, then get the one-volume The Portable Abraham Lincoln (1992) from Penguin; it has less, but often -- in life, as in good prose and good storytelling -- less is more.

Our President’s Lincoln Presumption
(By Mona Charen, National Review Online, 22 January 2013)

He swore his oath of office on Abraham Lincoln’s Bible. He has asked to give the State of the Union address on Lincoln’s birthday. He rode to Washington in 2009 on a train route similar to Lincoln’s in 1861. He has compared his critics to Lincoln’s critics. He confides to admirers that he likes to read the handwritten Gettysburg address that hangs in the Lincoln bedroom.  Barack Obama is inviting the world to compare him not just to good presidents but to the greatest in American history.

There can be majesty in invoking past presidents and the Founders. But Obama’s quotations and allusions in his inaugural address served only to highlight the flatness of his own prose. “‘We hold these truths to be self-evident,” he intoned, repeating the echoing words of the Declaration. What followed was “Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing. . . . ” Clunk. “Self-executing” is a word best left to legal documents. It has as much poetry as a filing cabinet. As for “never-ending journey,” it’s a phrase that belongs in the juvenile-fiction section — if there.

Obama’s second inaugural poached lines from Lincoln’s second inaugural. The effect was like inserting snatches of Mozart into a Mariah Carey song. Obama said: “Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free.” He was paraphrasing two Lincoln quotes, one from the Cooper Union speech, and this passage from the Second Inaugural: “Yet, if God wills that it continue until . . . every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”

Obama’s speech also seemed to allude to Lincoln’s message to Congress before signing the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln said: “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.” Obama, able to wring banality from the best material, said: “But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.” Clunk.

Bounding from bromide to platitude, Obama alighted on his true theme — to excoriate his opponents and to deny that choices must be made between providing lavish welfare-state benefits and ensuring the prosperity of future generations. Deploying well-worn campaign themes, he slashed away at straw men: “We do not believe that, in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few.” And, “We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.” Or, “For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.”

In the midst of the worst crisis the United States ever faced, with hundreds of thousands of soldiers already dead, thousands more wounded, and the outcome uncertain, Lincoln found it within himself to be charitable and humble. Of the contending sides in the Civil War, he said: “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.”

Though he could have been excused for a certain moral superiority — he was fighting the slave power, after all — Lincoln instead proclaimed “with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds . . . to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”  Lincoln did not strut. He was too wise. Obama’s attempt to lasso Lincoln’s legacy for his narrow partisan ends reveals that he doesn’t even understand Lincoln’s greatness, far less partake of it.

Discovering And Accepting Lincoln’s Flaws
(By Kevin Nance, Washington Post, July 6, 2012)

As a little boy growing up in Washington, Stephen L. Carter spent many happy hours in a room upstairs, poring over his father’s trove of books about Abraham Lincoln. Of special interest was Carl Sandburg’s massive biography of his fellow Illinoisan, full of stories about the 16th president, his folksy ways and, later, his conduct of the Civil War. Stephen couldn’t read the books at first — he was too young and they too heavy and too long — but he looked at the pictures. In time he began to read seriously about Lincoln, who won the war and ended the enslavement of people who looked (as Stephen, an African American, couldn’t fail to notice) like him.  Lincoln was his hero.

Half a century later, Carter, now a best-selling novelist, nonfiction author and professor at Yale Law School, has his own shelf of books (including the Sandburg tome, which remains a favorite) about Lincoln, whom he still regards as America’s greatest president. This week, that shelf will get a new addition: “The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln” (Knopf, $26.95), an alternate-history legal thriller in which the president survives the attack at Ford’s Theatre only to face reprisals in Congress for what his political enemies describe as high crimes in his handling of the war: suspending habeas corpus (the principle that someone under arrest can’t be held for long without being brought before a judge), shutting down opposition newspapers and, most ominous of all, conspiring to establish a military government in the District of Columbia.
“When I’ve been asked to vote in historians’ polls of presidents, I’ve always ranked Lincoln No. 1, because he faced challenges no other president has faced and met them successfully,” says Carter, 56. “That said, the fact remains that in his prosecution of the war, he did a lot of things that people don’t really talk about, even though there’s a lot of interest in Lincoln these days. But I don’t think we should pretend that because he was heroic, and because we admire him so, nothing he did can be questioned. It’s a fact that he suspended habeas corpus and ignored court orders. It’s a fact that he jailed editors. It’s a fact that he used military force to keep the Maryland legislature from meeting so that it couldn’t vote on secession. Lincoln believed these things were justified as military necessities, and maybe they were. But in my book, some of the characters get the opportunity to argue that point.”

In “The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln,” Carter finds the president encircled not by Confederates — though there are still one or two of those lurking about — but by radicals in his own Republican Party who mount a furious campaign to remove him from office by quasi-legal means, in part because they believe him to be too soft on the conquered South. Behind the scenes, power-hungry politicians and money-grubbing capitalists who want to influence White House policy on tariffs also are pulling strings. Even members of the president’s administration — possibly including the most feared man in Washington, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton — may be conspiring against him. As the Senate impeachment trial looms, one of Lincoln’s lawyers is brutally murdered (“sliced up,” in the picturesque phrase of the police) in the company of an alleged prostitute in the city’s notorious red-light district.

It falls to the sharp-eyed Abigail Canner, a young black Washingtonian who aspires to become the nation’s first female lawyer and is working as a clerk for Lincoln’s legal team, to piece together what’s really going on. Sleuthing her way through a maze of plots and counterplots — some of which may involve the president, whose backcountry accent and penchant for telling homespun stories tend to mask his skills as a master conspirator in his own right — the Oberlin-educated Abigail also provides a window onto the small but growing black middle class in the mid-19th century, which has rarely been treated in fiction.  “I always knew there was a black middle class in America, but I didn’t know how significant it was, even before the Civil War,” says Phyllis Grann, Carter’s veteran editor at Knopf. “Stephen’s research is so impeccable, and he knows so much about the era, that it opens up a whole world that most readers aren’t going to know about.” 

Although Abigail is under no illusions about a president whose racial attitudes were largely typical of a white man born and raised in Kentucky and southern Illinois in his time, she recognizes that his motivations matter a good deal less than his actual accomplishments. He ended slavery in the United States — reason enough, for Abigail, to fight to keep him in the White House. “Why should the one whose yoke is broken,” she tells a questioner, “care whether it was broken out of the proper motive? It would be far worse to wait another generation for a president whose motives are pure.”
Abigail’s pragmatism mirrors Carter’s own. “My admiration for Lincoln is undiminished, in part because I don’t try to judge him by the standards of the 21st century,” Carter says. “He was not above telling the occasional racial joke, and he made it very clear more than once, leading up to the Civil War, that he thought black people were, as a group, inferior to white people. What’s striking about Lincoln isn’t so much that he was originally trapped in the racial attitudes of his day but, rather, that he was able to do so much to transcend those attitudes as time went on. He went on quite an intellectual and, I suppose one could say, moral journey over those years in the White House, and evolved enormously. But the key thing is what he did, not why he did it.”

Did Lincoln conspire to place the city of Washington under military control during the war? Carter admits that of all the charges leveled against the president in the novel, this has the shakiest basis in fact. But as the author notes, there were rumors to that effect in Lincoln’s lifetime, and it was one of the charges in President Andrew Johnson’s real-life impeachment trial in 1868. (In Carter’s novel, Vice President Johnson was assassinated by an accomplice of John Wilkes Booth, leaving that office unoccupied and the president pro tempore of the Senate, Benjamin Wade, first in line of presidential succession.)  Tyrant or not, Lincoln did assume extraordinary executive powers during the war and wielded them, expansively and unilaterally, in ways that presaged the wartime conduct of latter-day presidents from John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon to George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

It’s a subject of particular interest to Carter, a constitutional law expert whose most recent nonfiction book was “The Violence of Peace: America’s Wars in the Age of Obama” (Beast Books, 2011) and who gave a lecture last month on Obama’s much-discussed use of drone bombings against terrorist targets in Pakistan and elsewhere. “You cannot point to a war, at least not a big war, without pointing to a president who’s used the fact of that war to justify various kinds of uses or abuses of executive authority,” Carter says. “I don’t think they do it because they’re power-hungry. They don’t do it because they’re evil. They do it because they see a threat, and they’re trying to figure out to meet it. Nowadays, we tend to threaten impeachment of any president who does things we don’t like. And one of the things we can learn from the Lincoln experience is that the things presidents do today that we get so upset about pale beside things that several presidents — not Lincoln alone — did in the 19th century.”  In real life as in fiction, then, one man’s villain can legitimately be someone else’s hero, even to little boys leafing through history books.

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