Review: Team Of Rivals - The House Of Representatives During The Lincoln Administration

US Capitol Building, Home Of the House Of Representatives

The US Capitol, under construction in 1860. President Lincoln insisted it be completed during the American Civil War, without a work stoppage.
The US Capitol, under construction in 1860. President Lincoln insisted it be completed during the American Civil War, without a work stoppage. | Source

Film and Book Rating : "Lincoln" and "Team of Rivals"

5 stars for Lincoln/Team Of Rivals

Team of Rivals By Doris Kearns Goodwin

The film Lincoln (2012; PG-13), based on the book, stars Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln and Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln. Day-Lewis stayed in character 24/7 for months to ensure that this role was done correctly. It worked, because no one on the set could be moved to call him anything other than "Mr. President."

The only addition that might enhance this film in any way is the group of Civil War re-enactors that acted and advised in Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (2012). Steven Spielberg's Lincoln also stars David Straithairn, Tommy Lee Jones, Hall Holbrook, Joseph Gordon Levitt, James Spader, and dozens of others in outstanding performances.

Author of Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin, won the Pulitzer Prize in history for No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II.

She also wrote The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys: An American Saga; and Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream. Spielberg's Lincoln is based on her book, Team of Rivals.

Academy Awards for 2013 - Daniel Day-Lewis won Best Actor for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln.

The House Of Representatives Was a Barroom Brawl

In the 1850s and 1860s, today's upscale suburb of Dublin, Ohio was the Wild West - full of saloons and gunfights with blood flowing in the muddy streets. Little did I know that the same era's House of Representatives in Washington DC was much the same (see video below).

If you have the chance, read Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team Of Rivals and see the all-star cast in Stephen Spielberg's Lincoln (2012). One or the other should be required in American History Classes in every high school and home school study course in the nation. If there is a rival to Cecil B. DeMilles' spectacular movie extravaganzas like The Ten Commandments, Spielberg's film is it. Over a decade of research by the book's author to gain an accurate story and by Daniel-Day Lewis to recreate Abraham Lincoln make this so.

Ohio's Interesting Contribution to Amendment XIII

Ohio Representatives initially opposed the abolition of slavery - although slaves were not the usual properties found in Ohio - for political reasons.

During the 36th Congress of 1859 to 1861, Representative Thomas Corwin (R-OH) offered his Corwin Amendment against abolition on 3/2/1861 in order to appease the South and prevent them from leaving the Union. William H. Seward, then the Republican from New York in the US Senate had proposed a similar bill.

The Corwin Amendment:

No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State (References: Ohio Historical Society; Ohio State Capitol Museum).

 Lincoln's last formal portrait sitting, Feb. 5, 1865, in Washington, D.C.
Lincoln's last formal portrait sitting, Feb. 5, 1865, in Washington, D.C. | Source

Scant Acceptance

Only three states ratified the Corwin Amendment: Ohio (5/13/1861), Maryland (1/1862), and Illinois (1862); but then Ohio revoked its ratification.

The Amendment is still up for ratification at this writing, however, and in 1963, Henry Stollenwecrk (R-Texas) introduced legislation to the Texas House of Representatives to ratify the Corwin Amendment! This was during the Civil Rights Era (in the year that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated) and the proposal to ratify was handed to a Committee on Constitutional Amendments and ignored. Any possibility of re-instituting slavery in America during the racial turmoil and riots of the sixties would likely have been deadly.

War ensued after the Southern States left the Union, in spite of the proposed bills to maintain slavery. However, President Lincoln fought consistently for the passage of a proposal and ratification for Amendment XIII to outlaw slavery. He added this effort to his re-election platform in 1865, feeling that the amendment would end the Civil War. Gaining enough votes in the House of Representatives to approve Amendment XIII was a long battle, however. Every additional vote gained was a major triumph resulting from major efforts in persuasion and promises.

Abolitionest Amendment

An abolitionist amendment was first proposed to the US House of Representatives in 1839 by John Quincy Adams (Whig-MA), our former 6th President. Nothing came of this proposal and another was not given until December 14, 1863. This was given by Ohio's Representative James Ashley (R-OH). Representative James Wilson (R-IA) proposed a similar amendment.

Several other proposals to abolish slavery came forward, resulting in much discussion and loud arguments among the House of Representatives and within the general public. Newspaper reporters awaited events in the gallery of the House and fanned the flames of controversy in their articles, just as much as reporters do today. Even without the Internet, these Civil War Era reporters kept people arguing in the streets.

In the US Senate during the 38th Congress of 1864 - 1865, an abolitionist proposal was passed, based upon drafts submitted by Ashley, Wilson, and John Henderson (Unionist-MO) on 04/08/1864. The House of Representative members argued and did not pass the proposal. In fact, their arguments deteriorated into name calling, shouting, and fist shaking, which the press must have enjoyed. The bill was introduced to the House of Representatives by the Ashley of Ohio.

Source
A publication of the era, criticizing the President.
A publication of the era, criticizing the President. | Source

House Brawl

In scenes from Steven Spielberg's film Lincoln (2012), the sessions of the US House of Representatives quite heated behaviors among the Congressmen. Several factions among Democrats, Republicans and other parties in the House held strong and vocal beliefs for and against the abolition of slavery.

Anger was a large part of congressional sessions, apparently. In 1865, Representatives were smoking cigars and drinking wine and hard liquor at their seats, rolling cigarettes, whittling wood, taking snuff, chewing tobacco (and using spittoons at their chairs). Name calling, cursing, and shouting were the norm in heated arguments over proposed bills. Atop that, Lincoln was called a dictator by quite a few Congressmen and one named him King Abraham Africanis I (which showed up in political cartoons of the day). Outside of the House Chamber, disagreements between Representatives sometimes led to gunfire, if not a fist fight or a drink thrown in the face.

Thaddeus Stevens (Radical Republican-PA) played a major role in speaking for Amendment XIII in the House of Representatives. He was a member of the Underground Railroad system of advocates who helped slaves escape to Canada and an entrance to the system of escape routes was found under his office in Lancaster PA in Amish Country. He wielded strong control in the House, because he managed the finances of the Civil War on the Ways and Means Committee. Using this power, he advocated for freeing slaves and for recognizing the rights of women, the Chinese (laboring on railroad construction), Native Americans, Mormons, Jews, Muslims, the homeless, and other groups.

In the film Lincoln, Tommy Lee Jones plays the part of Thaddeus Stevens and as with most of the actors, very much resembles the actual Stevens. David Costabile admirably plays Ohio's James Ashley.

Thaddeus Stevens shouts down George Pendelton (R-OH, 38th Congress)

Republican Gentleman George Pendleton from Ohio

"Gentleman George" Pendelton (R-OH; 38th Congress) was a Democrat in favor of slavery who served four terms in the US House of Representatives after a period in the Ohio Senate. Other US Representatives considered him a bit of a dandy and snobbish.

He was President of the Kentucky Central Railroad for a decade, but quit to join the US Senate when elected in 1879. Pendleton had run for several additional offices and failed over the years, including a spot as Vice President with George McClellan in the 1864 national election against Abraham Lincoln/Andrew Johnson.

A Saloon Fight Over the Military Draft

A saloon fight over the Civil War military draft.
A saloon fight over the Civil War military draft. | Source

James Ashley (R-OH)

US Representative James Ashley (R-OH).
US Representative James Ashley (R-OH). | Source
George Pendleton
George Pendleton | Source

Ohio Representives In the 39th Congress, March 1865 - March 1867

Working toward Reconstruction in the South, many of these men also served during the Civil War in the 38th Congress. George Pendelton, who voted against Amendment XIII was not re-elected.

1. Benjamin Eggleston (R) - Also served in the Ohio Senate twice.
2. Rutherford B. Hayes (R) - A future President of the United States.
3. Robert C. Schenck (R) - A former Union General, he studied law under Thomas Corwin.
4. William Lawrence (R) - A former reporter and editor.
5. Francis C. Le Blond (D) - Speaker of the House in 1854 - 1855.
6. Reader W. Clarke (R) - Former Whig newspaper publisher and lawyer.
7. Samuel Shellabarger (R) - Introduced a bill to eliminate the KKK, the Civil Rights Act of 1871.
8. James R. Hubbell (R) - Teacher and lawyer, Speaker of the Ohio House in 1863.
9. Ralph P. Buckland (R) - Union General and later a leader of the Union Pacific Railroad.
10. James M. Ashley (R) - Introduced bills for Amendment XIII and became Governor of the Montana Territory and President of the Ann Arbor Railroad.
11. Hezekiah S. Bundy (R) - Farmer, lawyer, and iron industry investor.
12. William E. Finck (D) - A former state senator and lawyer.
13. Columbus Delano (R) - Secretary of the Interior from 1870 - 1875. Supported the slaughter of the American Bison and cultural assimilation of Indigenous Peoples. Was related to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
14. Martin Welker (R) - Lawyer, judge, and 4th Lt. Governor of Ohio.
15. Tobias A. Plants (R) - Lawyer and newspaper publisher.
16. John A. Bingham (R) - Judge Advocate of the Union Army and a prosecutor. Radical Republican. Served as Judge Advocate at the Lincoln Assassination Trial.
17. Ephraim R. Eckley (R) - Colonel in the Union Army, teacher, and lawyer.
18. Rufus P. Spalding (R) - Lawyer and judge, including the Ohio Supreme Court.
19. James A. Garfield (R) - A future President of the United States.

(Sources: Ohio Historical Society and Library Of Congress.)

The February 18, 1865 issue of Harper’s Weekly showed the House Chamber after the  passage of Amendment XIII.
The February 18, 1865 issue of Harper’s Weekly showed the House Chamber after the passage of Amendment XIII. | Source

Amendment XIII

Section 1.

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

January 31, 1865

On this date, the US House of Representatives passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery in the United States. The vote was 119 to 56. The portrayal of this role call vote in Spielberg's Lincoln is exciting and entertaining.

Final Days

President Lincoln gave the whole of his life during his last four months in office to reuniting the South with the Union and ending the War Between the States. He stood by his convictions, pushing through arguments with his staff, his generals, his family, delegations from the Confederacy, and the Congressmen of the House of Representatives. He could shout with power equal to any of them and often did so.

Lincoln aged to such an extent in the final months of the war, sleeping and eating little, that he appeared very unwell. He endured nightmares of riding on an empty ship toward an unknown shore during the night. Some sources indicated that he had a vision of his own death. Had he not died by assassination, his declining health might have taken his life around the same time.

Lincoln's hearse passes under the 12th Street Arch in Chicago, Illinois.
Lincoln's hearse passes under the 12th Street Arch in Chicago, Illinois. | Source

"As the funeral car passed under a magnificent arch, thirty-six young women in white placed wreaths upon the coffin or car." -- Report in Harper's Weekly (reference and article: here).

© 2012 Patty Inglish

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Comments 5 comments

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 3 years ago from New York

Wow! You sure did your homework on both the movie and history. I'm embarrassed to say I had no idea Congress was such a mess. "Representatives were smoking cigars and drinking wine and hard liquor at their seats, rolling cigarettes, whittling wood, taking snuff, chewing tobacco (and using spittoons at their chairs). Name calling, cursing, and shouting were the norm in heated arguments over proposed bills." ... and we think things are bad today?

I can't believe they've left the Corwin Amendment hanging out there!

This was a truly educational hub and I agree with you that the movie "Lincoln" or the book "Team of Rivals" should be put in the classroom. (Though I haven't read it I am taking your word for it!)

Voted this hub up, useful, awesome, and interesting...this one needs an educational button as well!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America Author

The video of Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens is a good picture of the House during the Civil War. I'm glad they did not have campaign ads and TV, aren't you?!


kelleyward 3 years ago

I can't wait to see the film. Thanks for sharing this fantastic hub. Voted up and awesome! Kelley


ImKarn23 profile image

ImKarn23 3 years ago

WHAT a hub! What a review! What a woman! lol

Awesome write, Patty - even if it did take me half an hour to read..lol

A President with gumption, goals - and balls!

Just what we need today!

I am soooo hoping that president obama grows a large pair for his second term!

I have a good feeling - if he isn't assassiniated - that is!

Sigh..

i'm afraid...


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America Author

Great comment, ImKarn23! It's too bad we cannot dig up Lincoln and reanimate him!

Kellyward - I love this movie and hope you do as well.

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