What was equally enjoyable to watch were the relatively unknown aspects of Lincoln’s character being shown: his ability to get angry and his mastery of the game of politics.
Abraham Lincoln today is a secular god, a monolithic figure almost too great to seem real, and so many people have trouble accepting the truth that he was, beneath all of his greatness, still just a man. People doubted and ridiculed him; people questioned his judgments; his children died and his wife caused him immense grief as well as joy.
Lincoln was an inveterate politician beginning in his early 20s when he was a simple postmaster in the village of New Salem and ran for the state legislature. By the time of his presidency, he was master of the game. And as the movie showed so well in its microcosm of four months, throughout his entire term in the White House Lincoln outmaneuvered all of the best politicians of the day.
Lincoln also could get angry at people, as was also evinced in the movie. He was not perfect and magnanimous and equal-tempered his entire life. We know he lost his temper with numerous people in Washington, in Springfield, and of course, with his wife for her vagaries.
One of the best examinations of these little-known facets of Lincoln’s character — his political acumen, his anger and cruelty, his depression, the origins of his hatred for slavery and the state of his marriage — can be found in separate essays in a book by Michael Burlingame titled “The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln.” The book was revolutionary and controversial when it was published in 1994, and Burlingame is one of the most meticulous Lincolns scholars out there. So I highly recommend it for anyone interested.
But back to Lincoln’s anger. The one scene in the movie I have been asked about multiple times, and was somewhat prepared for when I actually saw it, was when Lincoln slapped his oldest son Robert across the face in the midst of an argument over Robert’s demand to join the Union army. “Did that really happen?” I’ve been asked over and over.