Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
During the period of colonization within the development and making of America, it was difficult to establish a country with the lack of automation for labor. However, automation was made up for with the use of human labor: indentured servitude, and slavery. Abraham Lincoln acknowledged the effects of slavery and understood that it was a way of life in early America, and stressed if African slaves could truly be free after being emancipated, and the effect that would cause on industry in the South. Lincoln truly questioned what it meant to be truly liberated, and that was demonstrated with his policies on the 13th amendment and the recolonization of Africa, sending African Slaves back to Africa in an effort to have a form of “true” liberty. This essay will be on the film, Lincoln, by Steven Spielberg and its purpose is on how liberty and what it meant to be a citizen.
The 2012 movie, Lincoln, by Steven Spielberg has a narrative in which its focus was on Lincoln passing the thirteenth amendment in order to prevent slavery from being established again, due to the returning of the slave trades after the Civil War. The focus is the dynamic that Lincoln had with the South and the movie goes out of its way to demonize the South. According to “Give me Liberty an American History Volume 1” by Eric Foner, “The Reconstruction amendment transformed the Constitution from a document primarily concerned with federal – state relations and the rights of property into a vehicle in which members of vulnerable minorities could stake a claim to freedom and seek protection against misconduct by all levels of government…”. Even after post-Civil War Slaves were not free with just the 13th amendment, as Black slaves did not have the right to vote until then. The 14th amendment and then the 15th would truly free slaves, as the 14th would guarantee them citizenship and the 15th would give them the right to vote. This expands upon the theme of what it really means to truly be a citizen, as it takes more than being human. It takes having equal rights to those around you, as Blacks obviously did not have the same granted liberties that whites had.
What does it truly mean to be free and liberated? Lincoln had many policies concerning that for African/Black slaves, in the form of recolonization efforts, and the push for the 13th amendment. In accordance with The Abraham Lincoln Historical Society, “As the presidential elections were approaching Lincoln felt the need to tie emancipation with colonization to make emancipation more acceptable to conservatives…”. Lincoln understood that it is difficult or nearly impossible to bring Black or Africans in the form of slavery into America, and not have a permanent under-class. This is commonly seen in modern day America; with the gripe many Blacks have with Whites, and single motherhood being higher after the Civil Rights movement than before, within the Black community, and the case becomes was America more racist before the Civil Rights movement or after? Liberty is granted with not just having the same right as everyone else but rather not having the mentality of a victim, it means to be independent.
The beginning of the film, Lincoln, there is a discussion between Lincoln and Corporal Ira Clark in which he states “…They killed a thousand rebel soldiers sir, they were very brave. And making 3 dollars less each month than white soldiers, another 3 dollars subtracted from our pay for our uniforms. Equal pay now but still no commission single officers… Now that white people have accustomed themselves to seeing Negro men with guns fighting on their behalf and tolerate Negro’s getting equal pay…”. The film begins with a heavy hitting conversation that elaborates on how even on the side of the North, there was still discrimination and prejudices against Blacks. Many were payed less than their white counterparts, and treated as fodder for the war. The book, Give Me Liberty! An American History, by Eric Foner insists, “During the summer of 1862, Lincoln concluded that emancipation had become a political and military necessity… many factors contributed to his decision – lack of military success, hope that emancipated slaves might help army’s growing manpower needs, changing northern public opinion, and that the calculation that making slavery a target of the war effort would counter sentiment in Britain for recognition of the Confederacy…”. In other words, Lincoln was just as guilty as the Southerners as he was using slaves in the militia as fodder and to the benefit of his wartime needs. Blacks being able to enter the militia to fight for rights that were not guaranteed, speaks on what it truly means to be a citizen as many were not completely free and were originally denied entry into the militia by Lincoln as he feared to lose the votes of many of the whites in the South. Is freedom a convenience that serves the majority of your constituents, or rather all of them?
Lincoln within the film is seen to be a milk toast fence sitter on the issue of slavery, and to those around him. This is further emphasized with Abraham Lincoln Emancipation Proclamation; “The document did not liberate all the slaves – indeed, on the day it was issued, it applied to a very few…”. The Emancipation Proclamation was intentionally targeting the Southern states that seceded, and made it an issue of slavery so Britain would not recognize the Southern states. However, many would argue that slavery could not be eradicated a one act, and that it takes small steps to eventually achieve. On that issue I agree, and that was a possible reasoning to Lincolns actions, and that liberty at this time for Blacks had to be fought for, even, if that should not be the issue in the first place. Lincoln was careful in his action to not schism the North as it was home to many abolitionists, but not everyone in the North was an abolitionist. So, to keep many of the white voters in the North he had to be a milk toast fence sitter on the issue. As many would bandwagon their movements onto the abolition movement, for example the women suffrage movement rode the coat tails of the abolition movement, which further made the idea or thought more decisive. This implies that not all liberties were desired in the populace for all rather many had to be fought for step by step. As to some the ownership of slaves were a liberty and lifestyle to those in the South for the wealthy plantation owners, and to many in the North slavery was a stripping of liberties for an individual, further emphasizing the fickleness and subjectivizes of morality and liberty.
As Lincoln had to take small steps to almost obtain liberty for Backs in the United States, he was not completely able to. However, his first step laid the ground work in the form of the 13th amendment. The article, “13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery”, “The 13th amendment was passed at the end of the Civil War before the Southern states had been restored to the Union and should have easily passed the Congress. Although the Senate passed it in April 1864, the House did not. At that point, Lincoln took an active role to ensure passage through congress. He insisted that passage of the 13th amendment be added to the Republican Party platform for the upcoming Presidential elections. His efforts met with success when the House passed the bill in January 1865 with a vote of 119–56…” . This moment was the highlight of the film, as cemented Lincolns impact on the abolition movement, as they finally had some gains in the form of the 13th amendment. It was crucial as at the point of passing it reflected the attitudes of many of Lincolns constituents, and was ratified before the joining of the South. Even then the South would still persist with their antics, as slavery was still legal if it the person was convicted of a crime, and so the Black Codes were made to fill that loophole. Slavery still persisted but by a different name, as they targeted Blacks in their way of life and after convicted or charged with the Black Codes they were forced into slave labor in the form of prison labor. Often many on these Black prisoners were leased to mines and cotton fields in the South to do prison labor. Even though many made great strides to inch towards liberty for Blacks, many would still not be liberated and stripped of their liberties. Many would argue this was due to the 14th and 15th amendment not being inherited to Blacks. As could a person be truly liberated, if they are not a citizen, or are they a permanent underclass.
Lincoln’s efforts were not in vein, as he could not truly claim he gave liberty to many Blacks and slaves, but rather laid the foundation for them to gain it. The film emphasized that Lincoln paved the way to liberty but could not truly liberate those around them, however the paved way is what is important is that it made a possibility happen and furthered the idea of true liberation. Blacks were still not citizens and did not have the right to vote, and that created a permanent underclass that persists today with a victimhood mindset, and government dependency. It is often argued on how the maintaining of slavery was prevalent with the strides Lincoln made, but it is commonly stated, “Slave owners were able to maintain their slaves by keeping them dependent”. The issue became if you are not a citizen, you must be dependent, as you are not granted the same inalienable liberties as of those who are citizen rather those who owned you. Slavery persist today in the form of the welfare system, and the incentivization of single motherhood into Black communities, in which has devastated the Black household.
With all the bringing of Blacks and slaves into America in the form in which we did, could we ever have true equality with the creation of a permanent underclass?