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"Lincoln" Screenwriter Concedes Inaccuracy

A congressman who pointed out the flaw said that he was pleased screenwriter Tony Kushner acknowledged that Connecticut congressmen did not vote against a constitutional amendment outlawing slavery, as depicted in the film.

By Michael Melia
|  Friday, Feb 15, 2013  |  Updated 4:45 PM EDT
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Daniel Day-Lewis stars in director Steven Spielberg's film about the Great Emancipator's backdoor maneuvering to bring about the end of slavery and the Civil War.

Daniel Day-Lewis stars in director Steven Spielberg's film about the Great Emancipator's backdoor maneuvering to bring about the end of slavery and the Civil War.

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The screenwriter for the movie "Lincoln" has conceded taking some liberties in its portrayal of a 19th century vote on slavery, but he said his changes adhered to widely accepted standards for the creation of historical drama.

A congressman who pointed out the flaw, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, said Friday that he was pleased screenwriter Tony Kushner acknowledged that Connecticut congressmen did not vote against a constitutional amendment outlawing slavery, as depicted in the film. He said he hopes a correction can be made before the film is released on DVD.

"My effort from the beginning has been to set the record straight on this vote, so people do not leave the theater believing Connecticut's representatives in the 38th Congress were on the wrong side of history," Courtney said.

After watching the movie over the weekend, Courtney praised the artistry of the film about President Abraham Lincoln's political struggle to abolish slavery, but he took issue with a scene that shows two Connecticut congressmen vote against the 13th amendment. He asked the Congressional Research Service to investigate, and it reported that all four Connecticut congressmen backed the amendment in a January 1865 vote.

In a letter to the film's director, Steven Spielberg, the four-term Democratic congressman includes a tally of the 1865 vote by the state's congressional delegation and a passionate defense of the state's role in emancipating millions.

A spokeswoman for Disney, which distributed the DreamWorks film, had no comment on whether any changes will be made to the film either theatrically or in DVD form.

Kushner, the screenwriter, said in a statement Thursday that the film changed two of the delegation's votes to clarify the historical reality that the 13th Amendment passed by a very narrow margin. He said the film made up new names for the men casting the votes so as not to ascribe actions to real people who did not perform them.

"In making changes to the voting sequence, we adhered to time-honored and completely legitimate standards for the creation of historical drama, which is what 'Lincoln' is. I hope nobody is shocked to learn that I also made up dialogue and imagined encounters and invented characters," Kushner said.

Kushner said he disagreed with Courtney's contention that accuracy is "paramount" in historical drama and said Connecticut should not feel as though it is defamed in the film. He also said Courtney was incorrect in saying Connecticut was "solidly" pro-Lincoln, saying he received 51.4 percent of the state's vote in the 1864 election.

Courtney, who represents eastern Connecticut, said there was some local opposition to Lincoln but also noted the state lost more than 4,000 soldiers on the side of the Union in the Civil War.

"Their sacrifice emphatically demonstrates Connecticut's fidelity to the struggle to preserve the Union and end slavery, which is represented in 'Lincoln' dramatically by the House's vote on the 13th Amendment. The four members of Connecticut's delegation reflected that commitment on January 31, 1865, and they deserved a better legacy than the screenplay portrayed," Courtney said.

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