Tuesday, May 21, 2013
WASHINGTON – Connecticut Rep. Joe Courtney made news this week when he asked director Steven Spielberg to correct his acclaimed film “Lincoln” to reflect that, contrary to suggestions in the movie, Connecticut’s entire congressional delegation voted to abolish slavery.
So where did Maine’s delegation stand regarding the 13th Amendment?
It turns out that, unlike Connecticut, Maine’s representatives casted votes for and against the amendment, although the tally is decided lopsided.
During the historic Jan. 31, 1865, vote, Maine Rep. Lorenzo De Medici Sweat of Portland voted against the amendment to end slavery. All of Maine’s other House members – Reps. James Blaine, Sidney Perham, John H. Rice and Frederick Pike – voted for the amendment, according to historical vote tallies.
Maine’s Sens. William Fessenden and Lot Morrill had also voted to for the amendment ending slavery in April 1864. (Interestingly, Fessenden was apparently a well-known abolitionist whose speeches and writings influenced other anti-slavery politicians, potentially including Lincoln. He also served as Lincoln's treasury secretary for a spell during the Civil War.)
Sweat’s vote against Lincoln’s 13th Amendment may have had plenty to do with his party politics, Maine state historian Earle Shettleworth said Wednesday.
Sweat was a Democrat while all of Maine’s other representatives in Washington were members of Lincoln’s Republican party. As portrayed in Spielberg’s film, Lincoln and his congressional locked up the Republican votes but needed a number of Democrats to get a two-thirds majority.
Sweat appears to have been the only New Englander to oppose the 13th Amendment. His term in Congress ended a few months later and he subsequently lost an attempt to return to office in Washington.
Many Portland residents and other Mainers have likely been to Sweat’s home without knowing it. Sweat’s wife, writer and member of the “artistic elite” Margaret Jane Mussey Sweat, deeded what is known as the McLellan House or the McLellan-Sweat Mansion to the Portland Society of Art upon her death in 1908.
The society would later be renamed the Portland Museum of Art, according to information on the museum’s website. The house -- along with the adjacent L. D. M. Sweat Memorial Galleries that Margaret Jane Mussey Sweat ordered built in her husband’s memory -- are a major part of the museum today.
Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
Kevin can be reached at 317-6256 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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