Stephen Spielberg's movie, Lincoln, is a masterpiece among modern historical movies. Lincoln is set in the final year of the American Civil War and the main conflict is Abraham Lincolns attempt to push the 13th amendment through the House before the end of the war. Although Lincolns main goal is to end the war and finish off the Confederacy he is adamant about passing a law completely abolish slavery and involuntary servitude. Throughout the movie there is strong opposition from the Democrats. They advocate to wait for a delegation from the South to come and negotiate ending the war rather than passing the amendment. However, Lincoln knows that this is his chance to kill two birds with one stone. If he can get the 13th Amendment through the house, when the South is forced to surrender they will have to accept the terms of a slavery free nation. That is the main storyline of the movie, which is accompanied by a sad ending that gives a visual of the brutality of the war, as well as, very briefly, the events following Lincolns death.
In the movie Daniel Day-Lewis plays Lincoln. He does an amazing job of portraying Lincolns inner struggles with slavery between what is right and what is popular for the time. Although Lincoln knows throughout the movie that there is a possibility of winning the Civil War without abolishing slavery he wants to end this evil institution. First and foremost Lincolns goals are to win the war and restore the Union, but as the movie is set in the final year of the war the viewer sees his feeling increasing urgency to pass the 13th Amendment. Members of his cabinet and Democrats alike who advocate for taking the surrender terms of the soon approaching Confederate often criticize Lincolns decisions throughout the movie.
Another important character in the movie is Thaddeus Stevens who is portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones. Powerful Republican congressman Thaddeus Stevens was born and raised in the free state of Vermont to a poor family. His humble upbringings that turned into success as a Pennsylvanian lawyer and eventually House Representative shaped his views on slavery. Stevens has the biggest push of all the Republican house members, and is almost complimentary to Lincolns efforts. Stevens is the main workhorse in the effort to get enough votes to pass the amendment before the Confederates diplomatic party arrived in DC. There is one particular scene at the end of the movie that depicts Stevens and his black housekeeper going to bed together, and ending the movie with a kiss goodnight. The director included this scene to come full circle with Stevens character. Although it is common knowledge that he is anti-slavery in the political ring this scene shows why it is such a pressing issue for him to pass the 13th Amendment, and shows a more personal reason as to why he is truly against slavery. The reason the director includes this scene was to show that even a white congressman has humanity when it comes to loving another person, and that the color of her skin does not affect his feelings for her as a person.
One specific US AP History theme that this movie presented was the idea of continuity and change over time. The movie takes place at the end of the Civil War and focuses mainly on the issue of trying to change a major part of the countrys history: slavery. The movie examines the changing times of American society and how citizens react to this idea of moving towards abolition. In one particular scene one of Lincolns advisors brings in a seemingly simple lower/middle class family to explain a problem they are having regarding property claim disputes. The real reason that Lincolns advisor brings this family in is to ask them a simple question in front of Lincoln. He asks them, If the war could end without passing the 13th Amendment, would you be in favor of this action?. The movie had already explained how the 13th Amendment is common knowledge of the people in the Union, and that many are in favor because they think it will end the fighting. The easy answer for this family was that they would much rather end the fighting without abolishing slavery if it were possible. This scene shows how people in the North were starting to come around to the idea, but still had racism ingrained in their minds simply because of the time period they lived in. The entire movie progressively moves closer towards changing the times as more congressmen promise to vote in favor of the amendment. Slavery is historically rooted in this countrys history, and changing one of the largest and longest running social norms was bound to cause a large amount of controversy, but the Lincoln does an amazing job of portraying the countrys slow, but progressively positive, move towards abolition by the end of the Civil War.