Having seen the movie for a second time and noticed certain aspects for the first time, one question that occurred to me was just how accurate were the debates in the House of Representatives on the proposed 13th Amendment? There has been considerable debate among historians about the degree to which the movie has historical authenticity throughout. A trip into the Congressional Globe turns up very little of the repartee shown in the film, but in one significant aspect there is substantial truth in Spielberg's Lincoln.
That truth comes at the final vote on January 31. For one thing, Speaker Schuyler Colfax does request to be shown as voting in favor. But even more truth comes in the way the voting is reported. At the end of debate, the question is called and the vote is reported, with 119 in favor, 56 opposed, and 8 not voting. Those 8 abstentions were critical, for after the tally (in which Michigan's members all voted "yes": Republicans Fernando C. Beaman, Charles Upson, John W. Longyear, Francis W. Kellogg, and John F. Driggs and Democrat Augustus C. Baldwin) is this simple statement: "So, the two thirds required by the Constitution of the United States having voted in favor thereof, the joint resolution was passed."
Added color to the vote comes in a few more lines on the same Globe page. There is this: "During the roll-call, on Mr. English [James E., D-Conn.] and Mr. Ganson [John, D-NY] voting 'ay,' there was considerable applause on the Republican side of the House." And: "The Speaker called repeatedly to order, and asked that members should set a better example to spectators in the gallery." And: "Democratic members remarked that the applause came, not from the spectators in the gallery, but from members on the floor." And upon the Colfax vote: "[This incident was greeted with renewed applause.]"
Then the Speaker announced the vote: "The constitutional majority of two thirds having voted in the affirmative, the joint resolution is passed." And then is recorded this:
"[The announcement was received by the House and by the spectators with an outburst of enthusiasm. The members on the Republican side of the House instantly sprang to their feet, and, regardless of parliamentary rules, applauded with cheers and clapping of hands. The example was followed by male spectators in the galleries, which were crowded to excess, who waved their hats and cheered loud and long, while the ladies, hundreds of whom were present, rose in their seats and waved their handkerchiefs, participating in and adding to the general excitement and intense interest of the scene. This lasted for several minutes.]"
Not all. Upon a motion to adjourn at that point "in honor of this immortal and sublime event" (Mr. Ingersoll), "The Speaker declared the motion carried, and again the cheering and demonstrations of applause were renewed." [Congressional Globe, 38th Congress, 2nd Session, p. 531]
In this respect, at least, and regardless of the outcome of the Academy Awards, one can with confidence see at this point in the film that it is an appropriate and timely approximation of real events, happily debuting during this great Sesquicentennial of the Civil War.