The death of Lincoln prevented him from ruling over America in peace. He was exclusively a war president, losing half his country as he was preparing for his first inauguration. His understanding of governing in peace must be taken from his war measures, above all which stands the Emancipation Proclamation.
Spielberg shows very little of the war, & only in the beginning & the end. Why is the most war-torn presidency not more warlike? Lincoln’s rule was such that it kept war at bay; the limits set on war are the conditions of peace. The 13th Amendment was designed as such a limit. It would fulfill the conditions set for peace in the Declaration of Independence: It would make the Proclamation permanent & thus remove the cause of war; proclaim the victory of the Union; & show the American political system designed under the federal Constitution at work. We do not see more war because war did not destroy America; similarly, we do not see more of the negotiations with the Confederacy because the Confederacy was defeated. Above all, victory must be affirmed, the good & noble remembered.
Lincoln tells all sorts of comic stories to those who would listen, as though poetic justice were an education. But when they no longer listen to stories, he gives them arguments. The most lawyerly argument he makes concerns the relation between president & country, between his Proclamation & his 13th Amendment.
Lincoln notices his difficulty in denying that the rebels had authority over their states & that they were constituted politically. We disagree with him: We call his war the American Civil War. Lincoln points again & again to how he construed laws & Constitution to do what was necessary. He is not a free man, he is bound by the war; by his oath; by the chain of causes he describes.
What are the President’s War Powers? The powers necessary to withstand necessity. What being has such powers? The president, created by the Constitution to defend the laws. The laws are no more immortal than the president, else they would not need him. Lincoln returned these powers to the laws, because only God is truly wise.
Spielberg also brings to our attention Lincoln’s rule over his family. His wife, who may have been brilliant before going mad, is very interested in his political career; she is alive to the unprecedented power Lincoln wields & is anxious to preserve his rule, even by the work of justice. She would rather have other boys than her own die in her husband’s name. Lincoln is himself unenthusiastic about losing him: But the boy’s shame & sense of honor love war more than filial piety.