Unfortunately, say historians, its portrayal of America’s most revered president is about as accurate as the notion that an ordinary soldier could have recited the Gettysburg Address from memory when the speech only became famous in the 20th century.

Not only, they say, has Spielberg’s lengthy drama grossly exaggerated Lincoln’s role in ending slavery, but it has also glossed over the president’s rather less likeable qualities.

Very definitely a man of his times, say historians, Lincoln was — certainly by today’s standards — a racist who used the N-word liberally, who believed that whites were superior to blacks and who, having jumped on the emancipation bandwagon rather late in the day, wanted to pack the freed slaves off to hard new lives in plantations abroad.

Preserving the Union, he said in a key speech, was far more important than emancipating slaves. 

But his position changed and he hardened in his opposition to slavery, especially after he saw the strategic advantages of freeing the millions of slaves behind enemy lines, many of whom could then come and fight for his Yankee army.

Other historians have taken a much harder line on Lincoln, pointing out his opposition to inter-racial marriage and even to blacks serving as jurors.

 

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