In the winter of 1864, Abraham Lincoln had just routed the Democrats and been elected for a second term as President of the United States of America. During his first term, facing the rebellion of the Secessionist States of the South, Lincoln had used War Time emergency powers to abolish slavery. Though a committed abolitionist himself, Lincoln’s political argument to war-shy Northerners was that the South would crumble and the war would end quickly if it was deprived of its four million strong enslaved workforce. However, Lincoln also knew that such a unilateral war-time declaration might not hold up legally after the war was ended. And thus he determined that the only way to ensure that slavery would never return was to call for an Amendment to the Constitution of the United States – it’s Thirteenth – which would abolish slavery once and for all.

The problem for Lincoln was two-fold. Firstly, the war with rebels in the South had recently turned in favour of the North, and with their people starving and their military supplies running out, moves were afoot by the Confederates to sue for peace and re-join the Union. If that happened before the Amendment passed, Lincoln knew popular support for an amendment would fall away entirely. And secondly, while Northerners had no love for slavery as an institution, there was by no means any common agreement that black folks should be considered equal with white folks. Abolition of the slavery was seen as the “slippery slope” harbinger of things considered abhorrent; mixed marriages, universal suffrage, equality.

And that, then, is the marvellous trifecta of Spielberg’s Lincoln movie Continue reading “Lincoln”

Virginia prepares for Lincoln-related tourism

PETERSBURG – The area will soon be promoting a new part of the region’s history that is tied to the upcoming release of the major motion picture “Lincoln,” which was filmed in Petersburg and the Richmond area.

Recently, the state awarded a tourism grant that will help promote President Abraham Lincoln’s final days in the Petersburg area. The Virginia Tourism Corp. awarded Petersburg Area Regional Tourism a $25,000 grant from its Marketing Leverage Grant Fund program for the “Walk in Lincoln’s Final Footsteps” initiative….

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John Adams

You know that pop art picture where Bogie and Marilyn and James Dean are hanging out at Phillie’s night diner? Elvis is the bar-keep? That one.

I was (bizarrely) reminded of that picture in the first few episodes of the award-winning HBO mini-series John Adams; just about everyone you’ve ever read about in connection with America’s finest hour keeps popping up in incongruous places. Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Hancock, Adams himself; it was oddly thrilling to get to see these assorted delegates to the Continental Congress in the same room. Who knew?!

Anyway, having been raised on a diet of prestigious BBC period dramas, John Adams is actually pretty good – Laura Linney is (again) particularly magnificent and neither is Paul Giamatti playing for laughs. What an odious, self-righteous, cantankerous little man John Adams was! I must admit though, I ran out of steam once the protagonists moved to France – perhaps because America’s foreign policy has sucked pretty much ever since.

The first few episodes were filmed in Colonial Willamsburg in Virginia – a place that’s (surprisingly) close to my heart. I spent one very leisurely sun-drenched holiday in that part of the world, cruising between the old British colonies of the East Coast in an open-top car. The Cuffs’ have been coming to the Americas since the early 1600s with admittedly somewhat ambivalent results. One of the first, my namesake Martin Cuff, emigrated to Virginia in 1622 and died there not even a year later at Elizabeth Cittie. Plague, I think. John Cuff was Cape Merchant of Bermuda at about the same time, the ship that was to take him on the America sank; I gather he went home…..

So I pilgrimaged of sorts to Roanoke Island, to Jamestown and to magnificent, Georgian Williamsburg (actually a living history “theme park” that the Yanks, surprisingly, do rather well.) Several of the town’s finest buildings appear in the series.