Daniel Day-Lewis in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" (2012)

Lincoln (2012) Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay by Tony Kushner. Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln: I decided that the Constitution gives me war powers, but no one knows just exactly what those powers are. Some say they don’t exist. I don’t know. I decided I needed them to exist to uphold my oath to protect the Constitution, which I decided meant that I could take the rebels’ slaves from them as property confiscated in war. That might recommend to suspicion that I agree with the Rebs that their slaves are property in the first place. Of course I don’t. Never have. I’m glad to see any man free and if calling a man property or war contraband does the trick, why I caught at the opportunity.

Now, here’s where it gets truly slippery. I used the law allowing for the seizure of property in a war knowing it only applies to the property of governments and citizens of belligerent nations. Well, the South ain’t a nation. That’s why I can’t negotiate with ’em. So, if in fact the Negroes are property according to the law, have I the right to take the rebels’ property from ’em if I insist they’re rebels only and not citizens of a belligerent country? Slipperier still, I maintain it ain’t our actual Southern states in rebellion, but only the rebels living in those states, the laws of which states remain in force… The laws of which states remain in force… That means that, since it’s states’ laws that determine whether Negroes can be sold as slaves – as property – the federal government doesn’t have a say in that – at least not yet. Then Negroes in those states are slaves, hence property, hence my war powers allow me to confiscate ’em as such, so I confiscated ’em, but if I’m a respecter of states’ laws, how then can I legally free ’em with my proclamation as I done unless I’m cancelling states’ laws? I felt the war demanded it… my oath demanded it… I felt right with myself and I hoped it was legal to do it. I’m hoping still.

Two years ago I proclaimed these people emancipated “then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Well, let’s say the courts decided I had no authority to do it. They might well decide that. Say there’s no amendment abolishing slavery. Say it’s after the war and I can no longer use my war powers to just ignore the court’s decisions, like I sometimes felt I had to do. Might those people I freed be ordered back into slavery? That’s why I’d like to get the Thirteenth Amendment through the House and on its way to ratification by the states; wrap the whole slavery thing up forever and nigh as soon as I am able. NOW! End of this month! And I’d like you to stand behind me like my Cabinet’s most always done.

As the preacher said, I could write shorter sermons, but once I start I get too lazy to stop.

5 Responses to “Lincoln (2012)”

  1. A classic speech of course. And a very great film that is surely among the best of 2012.

    Day-Lewis’ performance?

    Now it belongs to the ages.

  2. It kind of says volumes about where things stand in our popular culture that perhaps the ballsiest thing you could ever do in film today is give the art of articulation its due. Magnificent scene.

  3. There are Spielberg haters out there who refuse to admit this film rules, but even they, I hope, will admit that Tony Kushner’s script is fantastic. It’s non-stop talking, yet it’s so sharp and rich, it takes on the feeling of action to listen to it coming out of the mouths of a group of amazing actors. Transcribing this scene, I had to listen to it over and over and over and there was a new inflection or a new emphasis in Day-Lewis’s delivery every time I listened.

    Love it.

  4. There are Spielberg haters out there who refuse to admit this film rules, but even they, I hope, will admit that Tony Kushner’s script is fantastic.

    He really does have a lot of haters, doesn’t he. Now granted Spielberg’s not perfect and I can point to problematic elements in much of his work. I could even nitpick Lincoln if I really wanted to be a nitpicky nitpicker. But overall I’ve enjoyed his movies and Lincoln is really one of his best. It’s masterful and well-made in every way. I’ve seen it twice and it was even better on the second viewing. I’m sure it will only get better on third and fourth viewings when I’m able to rewatch. And I’m with you on Kushner’s script – it’s amazing and tight and despite it being non-stop talking there isn’t a wasted word.

    But there’s always detractors whenever a movie is widely acclaimed and there are people who are poo-pooing DDL’s magnificent performance too.

  5. Kushner and DDL for the win, damnit.

    I love Spielberg, but yeah he’s not a genius every time. Even Hitchcock had some misfires. I was’t fully on board Lincoln the first time through, but it gets better every time I watch it.

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