Posts Tagged ‘James Edward English’

In Need of a Fix

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

There are times when it’s best to just shut up and do the right thing. Correct a mistake. Make explicit that which is vague. Banish doubt and misunderstanding. Such a time is now and at issue is some extraordinary license taken in the making of the movie “Lincoln.”

Truth in Journalism: I had not been aware of the inaccuracies in this movie until I read Maureen Dowd’s column in last Sunday’s Times.

By now, you probably know the story. Tony Kushner spent seven years writing the Lincoln screenplay, which focuses on the politics in the House of Representatives during debate and voting on passage of the 13th Amendment, the 43-word declaration that slavery was now and forever banned in the United States.

The movie depicts the two Connecticut members of the House voting against the proposed amendment when, in fact, they voted for it. To further confuse matters, just about all characters in the movie are identified by their real names – Lincoln, Seward, Grant, Stanton, et al. – but the two men from Connecticut are assigned pseudonyms.

You can’t libel the dead, but this portrayal of the vote comes close. At best it’s a mistake that needs correcting. At worst, it’s history turned on its head in the name of dramatic license. In any case, it needs fixing.

Dowd reported in her Sunday piece that Kushner was outraged – her word – at the attention three-term Representative Joe Courtney, D-Conn had been receiving after he blew the whistle on the movie’s inaccuracies.

Dowd quoted Kushner as saying that in a movie, it’s all right to “manipulate a small detail in the service of a greater historical truth.”

Kushner goes on to lamely compare his mistaken history of voting on the proposed 13th Amendment with the absurd – and unasked – question of whether Abraham Lincoln wore blue socks or green. Then Kushner declares the matter “ridiculous.”

Socks and the end of slavery. A small detail? A valid comparison?

This is where Kushner stepped over the line. For, Augustus Brandegee and James Edward English were not insignificant back benchers with little to say.

“[Brandegee] zealously supported the anti-slavery movement when its supporters met contumely and contempt,” the Connecticut State Library said. “He rendered signal service to [the] cause of the Union and to the building up of the Nation after the Civil War…. His state counts him among her illustrious sons. His country is the better for his life.”

“He [Brandegee] was a knightly man – hypocrisy, shame, expedients, pretensions – the whole brood of lies and deceits – were his enemies. He fought them all his days and when the end came, passed over God’s threshold with escutcheon unstained and with plume untarnished,” said “A Modern History of New London County, Conn.”

English’s thoughts about slavery were more complicated, according to “A Modern History of New Haven and Eastern New Haven Counties” (1918).

“While as a democrat [sic] he fully recognized the constitutional right of the southern states to the possession of their slaves, he also felt that slavery was a monstrous injustice,” the New Haven County history observed.

That mighty sound like the opening words of a cop-out, but it was no such thing. “Long before the close of the [Civil War] it became evident to all thoughtful observers that the question of general emancipation must be met sooner or later, and Mr. English made up his mind to take the hazard and incur the odium of voting with his political opponents whenever, in his view, it became a political necessity,” the New Haven history continued.

Courtney has called on Steven Spielberg, the director of “Lincoln” to make corrections when the film is released on DVD, but Kushner opposes this because, he told Dowd, he thinks the question of his accuracy is a “made-up issue.”

Maybe, but for Kushner, now’s not the time to worry about a “made-up” issue. Now’s the time to make things right.