Rep. Courtney To Spielberg: "Lincoln" Needs Correction On Connecticut

Congressman asks director to rectify votes of the state's delegation, including a New London congressman

In a visit to New London last year, Rep. Joe Courtney commented that he didn't consider himself a film critic; but a certain scene in Steven Spielberg's 2012 picture Lincoln has him asking for a correction for Connecticut's sake.

The focal point of the movie is Lincoln's effort to have Congress support the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery. In one of the movie's final scenes, a roll call vote is taken and two of the three members of Connecticut's House of Representatives delegation oppose the amendment. The measure passes in a 119-56 vote, narrowly meeting the two-thirds majority needed to send it to the states for ratification.

Courtney, a Vernon resident, said he enjoyed the film but was surprised by its portrayal of Connecticut representatives voting against the 13th Amendment. He said he looked into the Congressional Record for the Jan. 31, 1865 vote and found that the entire Connecticut delegation favored the measure. He claims the portrayal of the vote puts the state "on the wrong side of the historic and divisive fight over slavery [and] is a distortion of easily verifiable facts."

In Courtney's letter to Spielberg and Dreamworks Studios, he asks them to acknowledge the inaccuracy and correct it if possible before Lincoln is released to home media.

"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 writes. "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."

Connecticut's two senators—Republicans James Dixon of Hartford and Lafayette S. Foster of Norwich—were among those supporting the 13th Amendment in a 38-6 vote on April 8, 1864. Rep. James E. English, a New Haven Democrat, joined three Republicans—Reps. Augustus Brandegee of New London, Henry Deming of Colchester, and John Henry Hubbard of Salisbury—in supporting the amendment in the Jan. 31, 1865 vote in the House.

"Even in a delegation that included both Democrats and Republicans, Connecticut provided a unified front against slavery," says Courtney.

The Atlantic ran an article on the accuracy of the film in November. Included in their "smaller quibbles" is the fact that the names of several Democratic opponents of the amendment were changed.

"That fact alone is problematic, but one of the pseudonyms assigned to a proslavery congressman, if I heard it right, is 'Washburn.' There were actually four Washburn brothers who served in Congress before, during and after the war, and they all opposed slavery," the article states. "Their mother would be very upset."

Lincoln has been nominated for 12 Academy Awards, and the awards ceremony will take place on Feb. 24. The Blu-Ray and DVD release of the film is will take place two days later.

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