Bankground Information re: the Film:

In 1865, as the American Civil War winds inexorably toward conclusion, U.S. president Abraham Lincoln endeavors to achieve passage of the landmark constitutional amendment which will forever ban slavery from the United States. However, his task is a race against time, for peace may come at any time, and if it comes before the amendment is passed, the returning southern states will stop it before it can become law. Lincoln must, by almost any means possible, obtain enough votes from a recalcitrant Congress before peace arrives and it is too late. Yet the president is torn, as an early peace would save thousands of lives. As the nation confronts its conscience over the freedom of its entire population, Lincoln faces his own crisis of conscience — end slavery or end the war.


The movie Lincoln covers the last four months of Abraham Lincoln’s life as the re-elected President continues to strive to lead the Union Army to victory, end the civil war, end slavery and start the healing process.

Adapted from The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln written by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Lincoln is directed and produced by Steven Spielberg. The cast for Lincoln includes Daniel Day-Lewis (as Abraham Lincoln), Sally Field, David Strathairn, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones and John Hawkes.

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Quotation from this Gettysburg Address in the Film:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.  It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Quotations from Lincoln in the Film:

I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.

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Do we choose to be born? Or are we fitted to the times we’re born into?

We begin with equality, that’s the origin isn’t it?  That’s justice.

See we’ve shown that a people can endure awful sacrifice and yet cohere.

I am president of the United States, clothed in immense power, and I expect to you procure those votes.

Abolishing slavery settles the fate for all coming time, not only of the millions in bondage but of unborn millions to come.  Shall we stop this bleeding?  We must cure ourselves of slavery.  This amendment is that cure.  We are stepped out upon the world stage now, with the fate of human dignity in our hands. Blood’s been spilled to afford us this moment!

Now, now, now!

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In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and in eternity.

True north is essential but you also have to navigate the swamps and deserts and chasms along the way – however grubby the journey may be. If you can’t do that, what’s the good of knowing true north?

We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing.

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I must make my decisions, Bob must make his, you yours and bear what we must, hold and carry what we must. What I carry within me, you must allow me to do it, alone, as I must and you alone Mary, you alone may lighten this burden or render it intolerable as you choose.

Euclid’s first common notion is this: Things which are equal to the same things are equal to each other. That’s a rule of mathematical reasoning and its true because it works – has done and always will do. In his book Euclid says this is self evident. You see there it is even in that 2000 year old book of mechanical law it is the self evident truth that things which are equal to the same things are equal to each other.

Slavery, sir, is done.


With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

To Mary:   We must both be more cheerful in the future. Between the war and the loss of our darling Willie we have been very miserable.

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Here is a quote from one of the movie reviews by Jim Castagnera:

He  (Lincoln) completed the great task undertaken by the nation’s founders by saving the Union from disintegration and eradicating the blight of slavery, which for 75 years had mocked the lofty aspirations of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Lincoln was– in the words of a near-great successor, Teddy Roosevelt, “the man who is actually in the arena…, whose face is marred with dust and sweat and blood…, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement.”

For Steven Spielberg, arguably the greatest living filmmaker, Lincoln is a third exploration of America’s struggle with the “race issue.” The Color Purple (1985) and Amistad (1997) are the previous two. Both are fine films. Lincoln is a masterpiece. Its prospects for an Oscar sweep are high. If this prediction proves correct, the director’s attention to every detail will be a major contributing factor.

I said at the start of this review that Day-Lewis is Lincoln. The film is 1865. As rarely as I have witnessed an actor become one with his character, just so rarely have I been drawn into a period piece so deeply that reemerging into the present comes as a bit of a shock. Fellini’s Satyricon (1969) was such a film.  Lincoln lovingly reproduces Civil War Washington: the shadowy realms of candle and gas lighting; the soiled shirts of busy men; the gore of amputations at the army hospital; the mud of a capital city still short on elegance.  The dialog variously amuses, inspires and arouses, without ever seeming stilted, as is so much of the dialog when screenwriters try to put words in the mouths of legendary figures. Utter authenticity is what I believe I saw and heard.

The film appears at an interesting juncture in our history. We are marking the Civil War’s sesquicentennial, a possible motive for Spielberg’s doing it now. The film is, in the last analysis, a meditation on human equality–in the eyes of blind Justice and in the hearts of us all. Opponents of the 13th Amendment expressed fear that African-Americans would win the vote–that they might even serve in Congress. Lincoln and Stevens wanted nothing less. Barack Obama’s election to a second term of residency in the house Mary Todd Lincoln refurbished infuses this meditation with a sense of fulfillment. I for one would have viewed the film very differently had Obama lost.

Leaving the theater and emerging back into the 21st Century, I wondered what is the “worthy cause” in which we should spend ourselves.

Jim Castagnera is the author of nearly 20 books, including Al Qaeda Goes to College; Ned McAdoo and the Molly Maguires ; and the upcoming Counter Terrorism Issues: Case Studies in the Courtroom.

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Photograph of the Lincoln Family in 1861

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Early photo of Lincoln