‘Lincoln’ screenwriter admits taking liberties on Conn. vote

“Lincoln” director Steven Spielberg (left) and writer Tony Kushner at the AFI Awards last month in Los Angeles.
Kevin Whier/Getty Images
“Lincoln” director Steven Spielberg (left) and writer Tony Kushner at the AFI Awards last month in Los Angeles.

HARTFORD — 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 creation of historical drama.

A congressman who pointed out the flaw, US Representative Joe Courtney, said Friday that he was pleased that 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.

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

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 of blacks.

A studio spokeswoman said 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,’’ Kushner said. “I hope nobody is shocked to learn that I also made up dialogue and imagined encounters and invented characters.”

Kushner said he disagreed with Courtney’s contention that accuracy is paramount in historical drama and said that 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 he also noted that the state lost more than 4,000 soldiers on the side of the Union in the Civil War.