If you know me, then you are keenly aware that Abraham Lincoln is a hero of mine and my favorite US president. My personal passion for all things Abe began during a family trip to Springfield, Illinois when I was 8 years old. I was immediately awed by him and the experience. Seeing and touching the very things that Lincoln had seen and touched in his day was life changing. Even though Lincoln had been gone for more than 100 years, I felt transported back to the 1840’s, defying any true understanding for an eight-year old.
Fast forward 35 years and that brings us to the recently opened, sweeing epic, Lincoln. First, if you have not had a chance to see it…well, stop reading this article, put down the paper and proceed immediately to the closest theatre. I promise, Lincoln will inspire you.
Steven Spielberg has captured beautifully the war-ravaged time of Lincoln and the improbable story of the waning days of the Civil War and the 16th president’s life. With hundreds of thousands of Americans already killed in action, it is clear to all Union leaders that the war cannot continue into another Spring. It must end, and at the same time, Lincoln believes, so must the scourge of slavery.
The passage of the 13th Amendment hangs in the balance as a lame-duck Congress considers its approval. While secretly negotiating a peaceful surrender with emissaries from the South, Lincoln uses some colorful characters, shepherded by Secretary of State Seward, to encourage, cajole and down-right bribe members of the Democratic Party to switch allegiances and join the Republicans in ending slavery.
Interestingly enough, Lincoln also had to worry about defectors in the most conservative ranks of his party with breaking away and voting “no.” Sound familiar? Yet, they hang tough, with backroom antics of patronage and promises, and secure enough abstentions and “yes” votes that the 13th Amendment ultimately passes by a margin of two votes.
Much like the movie Titanic, we all know how this story ends…in tremendous triumph and then, terrible tragedy. But what we do not know, Spielberg tells us in great detail, sparing nothing. He even recorded the sound of Lincoln’s actual pocket watch and incorporated it into the movie’s soundtrack.
For me, the one thing that struck me was the ordinary life of Lincoln: from his open access to everyday citizens, stoking his own fire to telling jokes to the telegraph operators in the war department. He was the quintessential “man of the people” president. Cloaked in a shawl for most of the movie and hunched over from the might of his 6’4” frame, Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal of Lincoln is both mesmerizing and brilliant. You do not see the actor – you see the man, the president, the hero that is Lincoln.
The Academy can engrave Day-Lewis’ name on the Best Actor Oscar today and just send it off via FedEx. No one will best him this year, not even if Abraham Lincoln himself rose from the dead to reclaim his own body. The truest part of this film is the characters we know less about, but now sense that much of their greatness in history (Seward, Stanton and Stephens) is a direct result of their association and partnership with Lincoln. He made them enduring historical figures. He ensured their names are known more than 150 years later. Their contributions may be eclipsed by the shadow of President Lincoln, but their legacy is not obscured by it.
There are far greater lessons in Lincoln. In a time when we need to come together, this movie reminds us that it is possible to find common ground. It happened in 1865 upon the death of the beloved president with Reconstruction, the expectation of Lincoln’s own desire to see malice toward none and charity for all.
Go see Lincoln. Trust me, it will remind you once again what makes our country great.