Recorded history is a subjective matter, beholden to the dialectic of ego-maniacal conquerors and the unrepentant recipients of their abuse who refuse to be victimized; but somewhere amidst the conflation of the resulting fact and fiction, our fondest hope is for some objective standard by which to look upon those who, amongst our brothers and sisters, stood tallest, indelibly pressing their vision "like a desert prophet."1
Abraham Lincoln was such a person. I say this not simply as one raised in the "Land of Lincoln"—Illinois—nor one of many who attended a school named after the great man, but as one who has studied greatness, for its magnanimous ability to instill in us some small measure of its power and provide a means of sharing this blessing with others.
Stephan Spielberg, Tony Kushner, Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Fields, Hal Holbrook, and a host of others, including some noted current and past bright lights from the Denver Center Theatre Company, have done something very special here. Granted, it is not the definitive history of the end of the U.S. Civil War, nor the definitive big picture of Lincoln's work on this planet, but it will undoubtedly be a long time, if ever, before we see a truer portrait of the man.
Day-Lewis (Lincoln), a genius method actor, channels a kindred form of genius—a self-taught country lawyer and philosopher who, in the end, refused to bow to short-term pressures and instead set a standard to which no "elected" federal or state official since has measured up.
as Abraham Lincoln
We say this not in anger, but in sadness. As T.S. Eliot, said, "... I had not thought death had undone so many."2
It's not as if selling out for a few shekels is anything new; the Judas archetype recurs with regularity in the gene pool, deflecting its hosts from following their impulse to be free:
"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you. May your chains set lightly upon you; and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." —Samuel Adams
Lincoln never flinched in the "contest for freedom." We see his inner flame in Lincoln, a superbly directed and understated film (the words of Lincoln need no adornment) that captures the last four months of the 16th President's life, including the passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—banning slavery and indentured servitude, except as punishment for a crime—the end of the Civil War, his relationship with his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Fields), and his two surviving sons. as well as his assassination, admirably handled as the Greeks preferred, with the tragic climax offstage, for us to imagine a horror greater than any stage or screen can produce.
These landmark national and personal events in Lincoln's life, monumental as they were, are but a backdrop to Day-Lewis' heart-lifting recreation of the wit, wisdom, and temerity of one of the world's most original thinkers and fearless leaders. Day-Lewis treats us to a surfeit of intimate moments, many of which capture Lincoln's fondness for storytelling, particularly as a means of illustrating a point. Lincoln understood the power of metaphor, an appreciation he picked up from the two books with which he spent the most time (growing up poor)—the works of Shakespeare and the Christian bible. Day-Lewis finds the through line to Lincoln's soul, and thus every emotional conveyance—humor, anger, humility, love—rings true.
And Mary Todd gets no short shrift. Fields leaves in the dust all the psychological histrionics that we've been led to associate with the First Lady; instead, integrating all the contradictions into one natural arc that subsumes her genteel aversion to the backwater capital in the District of Columbia, her monumental grief over the death of the second of her three sons to die during her lifetime (this one while she was in the White House), and her politesse (she was well educated [fluent in French] and refined), which most certainly were big factors in Abe's admiration for her. In the film, Mary's personal empowerment comes to the fore most brightly in her chidings of "radical Republican" (abolitionist) Thaddeus Stevens, (an absolutely stirring performance by Tommy Lee Jones).
|Mary Todd Lincoln|
It was nice to see Hal Holbrook in a cameo as a Republican kingpin. Denver Center Theatre Company stalwart John Hutton makes a sparkling impression in his brief appearance. Jamie Horton slipped by me; but then again, in disguise he is always elusive (e.g., as King Basilio in Life is a Dream [DCTC, 1998]).
So, how does the history presented here stack up? Anyone who is not familiar with the story of the passage of the 13th amendment will likely be shocked: 1) to learn how close it came to defeat; and 2) to witness all the political horse trading and bribes that went into squeezing out the necessary votes. Nothing new in this, but it illustrates how one man's moral campaign is another man's profiteering opportunity.
|Lincoln at Antietam|
Given the limited timeframe and scope of the story, it's understandable how much is necessarily left out; nevertheless, it's disconcerting that the connection between the biggest factors in the South's ability to go to war (financed by the European banks), the North's difficulty in raising money in a timely manner to fund the Union Army (Wall Street told Lincoln that they would lend him the money at 24 to 36% interest), as well as Lincoln's assassination itself (a direct result of Lincoln printing real U.S. dollars [Greenbacks])—are ignored. Underlying all of these events are the European bankers who feared that a consolidated U.S.A., armed with a sovereign currency, would, in time, put them, the usurping usurers, out of business (see G.G. McGeer quote below). Instead, for all its magnificent acting, direction, and setting, Lincoln is limited by its Hollywood pedigree, which guarantees that mythology will be substituted for actual events, whenever the truth would offend Tinseltown's masters. Additionally, this oversight reveals Kushner's ignorance of the economic underpinnings of politics: for as great a writer as he is, and as great an advocate for equality as he is, his political analysis falls short, glaringly in Homebody/Kabul and glaringly here.
By the same token, when the U.S. and worldwide bank holding companies' corporation-owned media makes a fuss over something, as it has over Lincoln, it usually means there are ulterior motives; in this case, the motives are the same as their vassal cousins in Hollywood—refusing to bite the hand that feeds them. This leaves the door open for expedient mythologies to be heaped upon Lincoln and those connected with him; for example, many liberals would like to see Barack Obama as the ultimate proof of the success of the 13th Amendment and as the heir to Lincoln's vision; but, sadly, he is hardly that. Oh, yes, the so-called "Democrats" (left-wing of the bank party) have cornered the political market on "... all men are created equal," with certain "inalienable rights." But those rights no longer include freedom, for Obama works for the banks, while Lincoln opposed them. Big difference! Big, big difference!
And that, my friends, is what sets apart Lincoln and a few other Presidents—including Andrew Jackson (whose portrait appears in Lincoln's office in the film), James Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy (all assassinated, except Jackson [the pistols failed])—their willingness to challenge the banks over the cornerstone of sovereignty, i.e., the right of a nation to control money creation and credit regulation.
100 years ago, that right was emphatically usurped by five men, who met in secrecy at Jekyll Island, Georgia, to outline the Federal Reserve Act, which made privately owned bank notes (Federal Reserve Notes [FRNs]) legal tender. Thirty-one years after that, at Bretton Woods, FRNs became the world's reserve currency, allowing the financiers who control the Fed to buy up the world.
Lincoln clearly understood what money is and is not:
"Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration." —Abraham Lincoln, Annual Address to Congress, Dec. 3, 1861.3
What would Lincoln have done if he had lived? Canadian populist senator and money reformer Gerry McGeer says this:
To orthodox finance, Lincoln became at once "a dangerous tyrant." If he were permitted to put his ideas into practice he would destroy the sovereignty of Money Power.
Lincoln, released from the problems of the Civil War, following his second election, proceeded at once to free mankind from the burden of unpayable, interest-bearing debt claims. He lost no time in commencing his campaign to free the American people from the slavery of mass usury.
The oligarchy of high finance saw in the successful Lincoln a statesman enjoying the unchallengeable power of exalted leadership which is the privilege of superior achievement. He was the one man in the world who was willing and able to meet and to overthrow the control over the government which organized finance was seeking to perfect. With the problems of the rebellion out of the way, the bankers knew that Lincoln would devote his undivided attention to developing the monetary system he had proposed to Congress. If Lincoln were allowed to carry out his ideas, the hope that international financiers had of establishing world sovereignty for Money Power would be impossible of fulfillment.4
With Lincoln out of the way, the bankers continued their march toward world domination, eliminating "free silver," fostering the illusion of gold as a legitimate commodity with which to back money, and, as we noted, establishing their own private bank from which to control the money supply, regulate credit, and steal the world's assets from those whose labor created them.
Underlying Lincoln's piercing intellect and bravery was a boundless passion for freedom. At the beginning of the film, Kushner finds a novel way of introducing us to Lincoln's most famous words, those written for and spoken on the afternoon of Thursday, November 19, 1863, at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Here it is in its entirety, which took about two minutes to deliver:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
That we should wake up and manifest this vision, a reiteration of the principles for which the founders put their lives on the line by signing the Declaration of Independence, is our sacred duty.
1 Sylvia Plath, The Hanging Man:
By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me.
I sizzled in his blue volts like a desert prophet.
The nights snapped out of sight like a lizard's eyelid:
A world of bald white days in a shadeless socket.
A vulturous boredom pinned me in this tree.
If he were I, he would do what I did.
2 T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland, lines 60-76
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying "Stetson!
You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!
That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
Oh keep the Dog far hence, that's friend to men,
Or with his nails he'll dig it up again!
You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!"
3 Selections from the Letters, Speeches, and State Papers of Abraham Lincoln, by Abraham Lincoln, edited by Ida Minerva Tarbell, Ginn & Company, 1911, p. 77.
4 G.G. McGeer, The Conquest of Poverty, or Money, Humanity and Christianity, "Chapter 5 – Lincoln, Practical Economist," Garden City Press, Quebec, 1935.