As expected, Day-Lewis breathes life into Abraham Lincoln. And, as expected, he’s fantastic to watch, even if this isn’t a “call the Academy Award race for Best Actor over!” performance. From his work alone, Day-Lewis gives a humility and humanity to the ex-President that the script by Tony Kushner simply cannot achieve.
The determination to end slavery may not have figured initially as a Union war aim for most of the young men in Blue who did the fighting and dying. But Masur quotes from numerous soldier letters and diaries to prove that many Union troops were horrified by the conditions that they found in the south, particularly the enslavement of children fathered by their own “masters.”
This collection of the Times‘ news coverage during the war is a must-have for Civil War enthusiasts and other American history buffs. It contains the power to astonish modern readers with its lofty rhetoric, constant editorializing in news stories and decisions on what was important to its audience. Those decisions are, in many cases, not what a modern newspaper would choose.
Never perhaps has there been such a masterful account of the man’s failures—and successes—in this country’s most taxing job. Look what Burlingame says he did in just his first hundred days in office: “…he raised and supplied an army, sent it into battle, held the Border States in the Union, helped thwart Confederate attempts to win European diplomatic recognition, declared a blockade, asserted leadership over his cabinet, dealt effectively with Congress, averted a potential crisis with Great Britain, and eloquently articulated the nature and purpose of the war.”
Lincoln came to the Presidency without any real military experience. He had been an Illinois militia captain in the Black Hawk War of 1832 but as he said in self-deprecation to his fellow Members of Congress in 1848, his combat record amounted to “charges upon the wild onions” and “a good many struggles with the musketoes.”
What is heartening is that, as Professor Michael Vorenberg stresses in his essay, Lincoln’s thinking about race did evolve, especially during the war.