Welcome to Perspectives, a blog of thoughts, commentary and observations ranging from autistic adolescents to intimate portraits of urban communities.

 

Stevens

Abraham Lincoln isn’t even in the pivotal scene in Lincoln, Steven Spielberg’s tribute to the 16th president and his Herculean efforts to pass the 13th Amendment. That scene belongs to Thaddeus Stevens, the iron-hard Congressman from Pennsylvania who led the radical Republicans in the House. When his Congressional opponents demand to know whether Stevens supports, not just emancipation, but racial equality, the hall falls silent as he struggles to answer. He had waged a long and lonely battle for both, and he had, as everyone there undoubtedly knew, a black common-law wife. In the gallery Mary Lincoln’s African-American maid sits expectantly beside the first lady. When Stevens declares that he speaks only for legal emancipation, a tear runs down her cheek, as pandemonium breaks out below: the most uncompromising man in America has publicly denied his most fundamental belief to save the amendment to which he had devoted his political life. In one short scene, Spielberg (and Tommy Lee Jones) resurrect and humanize a man whom history maligned and then forgot. After the war, Stevens pushed for equality for the ex-slaves and led impeachment proceedings against President Andrew Johnson. But his unbending opposition to racism, and his contempt for those who abetted it, did not sit well with a nation that wanted its most destructive war to be gone with the wind. Stevens became the fanatic with a clubfoot and a cold heart, the foil to Lincoln, the generous martyr. But Lincoln was dead, and the price the nation paid for vilifying Stevens and the radical Republicans was 100 more years of black oppression.

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