Lincoln Movie Factual Flaw In Slavery Vote

HARTFORD, Conn. (CTNow) – Congressman Joe Courtney says Steven Spielberg owes Connecticut a correction.

In a letter sent Tuesday, Courtney takes issue with the pivotal scene in Spielberg’s award-winning movie “Lincoln,” where the House of Representatives votes on the 13th Amendment, which when passed would abolish slavery.

Courtney’s issue with the film? Connecticut House members are shown voting against the amendment.

“In many movies, including your own ‘E.T.’ and ‘Gremlins,’ for example, suspending disbelief is part of the cinematic experience and is critical to enjoying the film,” Courtney wrote in a letter dated Tuesday and sent to Spielberg’s office at DreamWorks in Universal City, Calif.

“But in a movie based on significant real-life events — particularly a movie about a seminal moment in American history so closely associated with Doris Kearns Goodwin and her book, ‘Team of Rivals’ — accuracy is paramount,” he wrote.

A representative from DreamWorks was not immediately available for comment.

Courtney and his wife saw the movie at the Bow Tie Cinemas on New Park Avenue in Hartford on Saturday. In the roll call for the vote in the House, the movie has two of Connecticut’s three House members voting against the amendment. “I could not believe my own eyes and ears,” Courtney wrote to Spielberg.

“How could Congressmen from Connecticut — a state that supported President Lincoln and lost thousands of her sons fighting against slavery on the Union side of the Civil War — have been on the wrong side of history?” his letter asked.

Courtney went home after the evening showing and spent a few hours on the Internet searching for whether the state’s delegates voted as shown in the movie. He soon found it was difficult to find congressional roll call records from the 38th Congress.

After a while, though, he found the information he sought. The four — not three — Connecticut members of the House of Representatives voted for the amendment rather than against it.

Back in Washington this week, Courtney pulled more confirmation from the Congressional Record from Jan. 31., 1865, showing how Reps. Augustus Brandegee of New London, James English of New Haven, Henry Deming of Colchester and John Henry Hubbard of Salisbury voted to abolish slavery.

According to the Congressional Record, the resolution read: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

The state’s senators — James Dixon and Lafayette Foster — also supported the amendment, though the Senate vote isn’t shown in the movie.

Courtney wrote that “placing the State of Connecticut on the wrong side of the historic and divisive fight over slavery is a distortion of easily verifiable facts.”

He said that he’d like to see acknowledgement of the error that sets the historical record straight. “Who knows, maybe when they do a DVD of the movie there will be some notation of the clear mistake.”

Other than the vote scene, Courtney recommends the movie and says he enjoyed it. “The portrayal of Lincoln and Thaddeus Stevens is brilliant, and to the extent that people maybe are thinking about how members voted, that’s a healthy thing for our culture to be focused on — our history — as opposed to the other content in movies,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday.

“It’s important that people be aware who saw this movie that we were a state that lost soldiers, were staunch supporters of Lincoln in both elections, and in the case of the Democrat from New Haven, actually voted against his party in support of the amendment,” Courtney said. “The state’s good name, I personally feel, was tarnished a bit.”

By BRIAN DOWLING/CTNow


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