The Relationship Between Lincoln and his Sons
In the movie “Lincoln” both Robert and Thomas “Tad” Lincoln play an intricate role in Abraham Lincoln’s life during the time of the Civil War and the push to get the Thirteenth Amendment passed to abolish slavery.
In the film you can tell the difference in relationships Lincoln has with both of his sons.
Robert Lincoln, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is Lincoln’s first-born child, tends not to see eye-to-eye with his father, especially when Robert wants to join the army during the war and leave Harvard Law School.
Lincoln’s youngest son Tad, played by Gulliver Stevens, seems to have a closer relationship with the father. In scenes in the White House, Tad is seen sometimes playing with his Father, war maps or photographs of slaves.
Abraham and his wife Mary Lincoln had two other sons Edward Baker Lincoln, who died in 1850 from tuberculosis when he was only 4 years old, but is not mentioned in the movie.
The Lincoln’s third son, William Wallace Lincoln, who was born in 1850, died in 1862 when he was 11 years old from typhoid fever. Willie is mentioned in the film and his death caused a great deal of emotional grievance to Mary Lincoln, one of the main emotional currents in the film.
Willie’s death and the emotional pain it caused Mary was the reason for Lincoln to prevent his Robert from enlisting in the army for fear that he would be killed, causing more pain to the mother.
Lincoln tries to do what he can to stop his son Robert from enlisting. When Robert comes home to attend his father’s inauguration after he is re-elected, the family ignores him when he talks of leaving school and joining the army.
One of the movie’s most graphic scenes focuses on Robert and the president’s visit to a hospital to comfort wounded victims, a veiled attempt to discourage his son from joining the army. They both meet amputee soldiers, and Robert sees men pushing a tarp-draped cart, he is drawn to a dirt pit where the men callously dump a load of sawed-off limbs.
Although Robert is sickened by what he witnesses he vehemently confronts his father about his need to serve the Union Army. Later, Robert is shown serving as an adjutant to General Grant when Robert E. Lee surrenders the Army of Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865, ending hostilities.
Tad is shown with his father in the film during the time that the House of Representatives voted to pass the Thirteenth Amendment. It is depicted as the last time the two had quality time together before his death.
Neither Robert nor Tad was present when Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theater on April 14.
Although Lincoln’s assassination is not dramatized in the film, one scene shows Tad attending a play at Grover’s Theater. When a man steps onto the stage and announces that the president has been shot, Tad is shown screaming in horror as the crowd erupts in dismay. Both are shown standing around the deathbed when Lincoln is pronounced dead in the early hours of the following morning.
The film shows Lincoln’s care for his sons and how he did his best to protect them.
Although it is documented that Robert and his father did not always get along, they both loved still loved each other dearly and Lincoln was proud of his oldest son.
The father-son relationships serve an important part in humanizing Lincoln the man, showing him struggling with personal grief in having lost Willie as well as attempting to protect Robert.
If Lincoln was able to shepherd the nation through the horrors of the Civil War, it was, in part, because he knew the grief that had visited countless homes across the country.
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