Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: John Logan, Paul Webb, Tony Kushner, Doris Kearns Goodwin (biography)
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis (Abraham Lincoln), Sally Field (Mary Todd Lincoln), David Straithairn (William Seward), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Robert Todd Lincoln), James Spader (W.N. Bilbo), Hal Holbrook (Francis Preston Blair), Tommy Lee Jones (Thaddeus Stevens), John Hawkes (Robert Latham), Jackie Earle Haley (Alexander Stephens), Bruce McGill (Edwin Stanton), Tim Blake Nelson (Richard Schell), Joseph Cross (John Hay), Jared Harris (Ulysses S. Grant), Lee Pace (Fernando Wood)
Genres: Biography, Drama, History, War
Released: November 9, 2012 (USA)
Running time: 150 minutes
MPAA: PG-13 — an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage, brief strong language
A revealing drama that focuses on the 16th President’s tumultuous final months in office. In a nation divided by war and the strong winds of change, Lincoln pursues a course of action designed to end the war, unite the country and abolish slavery. With the moral courage and fierce determination to succeed, his choices during this critical moment will change the fate of generations to come.
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• John Logan and playwrite Paul Webb contributed in the writer process in earlier scripts before Tony Kushner was hired. Steven Spielberg was reportedly impressed with his work on Munich to which lead to Kushner’s hiring.
• Liam Neeson, who was attached to play the role of Abraham Lincoln since the project’s beginning development decided to step down from the role after the several years of waiting on the project to be finally green lighted. According to Neeson, he felt he was too old to play part after waiting so many years for the project to get the go-ahead. Neeson’s leaving would lead to Spielberg re-casting the role of Abraham Lincoln. Daniel Day-Lewis was cast as the replacement.
• Harrison Ford was rumored to appear in the film in a role as V.P. Andrew Johnson at one point during the development of the film but has since become completely unsubstantiated after all the delays & turnarounds on the film’s development over the years.
• Abraham Lincoln’s “Bixby Letter” was an indirect plot device in an earlier Steven Spielberg film, Saving Private Ryan. Additionally, his “Gettysburg Address” is recited by a schoolboy in the opening scene of another Spielberg film, Minority Report.
• Hal Holbrook, who plays Francis Preston Blair, won an Emmy for playing Abraham Lincoln in the 1974 TV mini-series, “Lincoln.” He also played Lincoln in the “North and South” mini-series, and in an appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
• Once Daniel Day-Lewis decided on the voice that he would use to portray Lincoln, he sent an audiotape of it to director Steven Spielberg in a box with a skull & crossbones on it so no one but he would hear it first.
• Steven Spielberg spent 12 years researching the film. He recreated Lincoln’s Executive Mansion office precisely, with the same wallpaper and books Lincoln used. The ticking of Lincoln’s watch in the film is the sound of Lincoln’s actual pocket watch. Lincoln’s watch is housed in the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort, Kentucky (not the Lincoln Presidential Library.) It is the watch he carried the day of his assassination.
• During the three and a half months of filming, Steven Spielberg addressed his actors in character: he called Daniel Day-Lewis “Mr. President,” and Sally Field “Mrs. Lincoln” or “Molly.” Additionally, he wore a suit every day on set: “I think I wanted to get into the role, more than anything else, of being part of that experience – because we were recreating a piece of history. And so I didn’t want to look like the schlubby, baseball cap wearing 21st century guy; I wanted to be like the cast.” On a related note, the part of Abraham Lincoln is listed on the call sheet as being played by Abraham Lincoln, not Daniel Day-Lewis, during production.
• According to Steven Spielberg, it was actor James Spader’s idea to have his character seen as indulging in hand-carving a wooden duck, a preoccupation that Spader’s personal research revealed to be one of the major hobbies of Civil War-era America.
• Steven Spielberg has explained that during the movie’s climactic scene in which the names of House of Representative members are being called to vote on the 13th Amendment, the names of many of the men who voted ‘No’ – for various reasons – were actually changed in the film so as not to embarrass the living descendants of these men whose reputations might have been stained by their negative vote-casting.
• While giving a fiery speech against Lincoln, Fernando Wood calls him “King Abraham Africanus Lincoln.” This epithet is based on a real pamphlet from 1864 titled “Abraham Africanus I: his secret life, revealed under the mesmeric influence; mysteries of the White House.” This pamphlet, printed by the “Copperheads” (a group of Democrats from outside the Confederacy who were nonetheless sympathetic to the Confederate cause and opposed to Lincoln), claimed that Lincoln had signed a contract with Satan to enable him to seize the US presidency for life and to “subvert the liberties of the American people and debauch their civic aspirations; to impose upon them in every imaginable form of low cunning, and cheat them with words of double meaning and with false promises, until by these, and kindred means, that end is accomplished, and his dynasty firmly established.” The real Fernando Wood was a Copperhead.
• Although some viewers were surprised by the usage of the word “fuck” in the movie, the Oxford English Dictionary dates the word back to (at least) the early 1500s, around 350 years before the American Civil War and Lincoln’s presidency. In the movie, the word is used only twice, both times by the vulgar and rough Bilbo character as a way of demonstrating his uncouthness. Viewers who thought they also heard Lincoln using the term to describe “Tammany Hall hucksters” during a monologue actually misheard the then-common word “pettifogging.”
• The film was nominated for Best Picture at the 85th Annual Academy Awards. Although it ultimately lost to Argo, Lincoln did pick up two awards: Production Design and Best Actor for Daniel Day-Lewis.
• Daniel Day-Lewis became the first actor to receive an Oscar for working with Steven Spielberg, the first actor to win three Oscars for Best Actor in a Leading Role (presented to him by Meryl Streep, which holds the same record for Best Actress), the first actor to receive an Oscar for playing Lincoln, but the second to receive a nomination for playing him. Previously, Raymond Massey was nominated for the role in Abe Lincoln in Illinois.
Mary Todd Lincoln: No one is loved as much as you by the people. Don’t waste that power.
Abraham Lincoln: I could write shorter sermons but when I get started I’m too lazy to stop.
Abraham Lincoln: [on General Grant] My trust in him is marrow deep.
Thaddeus Stevens: [responding to a knock at the door] It opens!
Thaddeus Stevens: Trust? Gentlemen, you seem to have forgotten that our chosen career is politics.
vAbraham Lincoln: 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.
Edwin Stanton: [seeing Lincoln begin to address the room as news comes in from Wilmington] You’re going to tell one of your stories! I can’t stand to hear another one of your stories!
Abraham Lincoln: Don’t spend too much money on the flub dubs.
Mary Todd Lincoln: Seward can’t do it; you must. Because if you fail to acquire the necessary votes, woe unto you, sir. You will answer to me.
Mary Todd Lincoln: You think I’m ignorant of what you’re up to because you haven’t discussed this scheme with me as you ought to have done? When have I ever been so easily bamboozled? I believe you when you insist that amending the Constitution and abolishing slavery will end this war. And since you’re sending my son into the war, woe to you if you fail to pass the amendment.
Mary Todd Lincoln: No one has ever lived who knows better than you the proper placement of footfalls on treacherous paths.
Abraham Lincoln: [to Ulysses S. Grant] Each of us has made it possible for the other to do terrible things.
Abraham Lincoln: 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.
Abraham Lincoln: Do you think we choose the times into which we are born? Or do we fit the times we are born into?
Abraham Lincoln: I wish He had chosen an instrument more wieldy than the House of Representatives.
Abraham Lincoln: It was right after the revolution, right after peace had been concluded. And Ethan Allen went to London to help our new country conduct its business with the king. The English sneered at how rough we are and rude and simple-minded and on like that, everywhere he went. ‘Til one day he was invited to the townhouse of a great English lord. Dinner was served, beverages imbibed, time passed as happens and Mr. Allen found he needed the privy. He was grateful to be directed to this. Relieved, you might say. Mr. Allen discovered on entering the water closet that the only decoration therein was a portrait of George Washington. Ethan Allen done what he came to do and returned to the drawing room. His host and the others were disappointed when he didn’t mention Washington’s portrait. And finally his lordship couldn’t resist and asked Mr. Allen had he noticed it. The picture of Washington. He had. Well what did he think of its placement? Did it seem appropriately located to Mr. Allen? And Mr. Allen said it did. The host was astounded. “Appropriate? George Washington’s likeness in a water closet?” “Yes,” said Mr. Allen, “where it will do good service. The world knows nothing will make an Englishman shit quicker than the sight of George Washington.” I love that story.
Thaddeus Stevens: Retain, even in opposition, your capacity for astonishment.
Abraham Lincoln: Back when I rode the legal circuit in Illinois, I defended a woman from Metmora named Melissa Goings, 77 years-old. They said she murdered her husband, he was 83. He was choking her and she grabbed a-hold of a stick of firewood and fractured his skull and he died. In his will he wrote: ‘I suspect she has killed me. If I get over it, I will have revenge.’ No one was keen to see her convicted, he was that kind of husband. I asked the prosecuting attorney if I might have a short conference with my client. And she and I went into a room in the courthouse, but I alone emerged. The window in the room was found to be wide open. It was believed the old lady may have climbed out of it. I told the bailiff right before. I left her in the room she asked me where she could get a good drink of water, and I told her Tennessee. Mrs. Goings was seen no more in Metamora. Enough justice had been done; they even forgave the bondsman her bail.
John Usher: I’m afraid I don’t see…
Abraham Lincoln: I decided that the Constitution gives me war powers, but no one knows just exactly what those powers are. Some say they don’t exist. I don’t know. I decided I needed them to exist to uphold my oath to protect the Constitution, which I decided meant that I could take the rebel’s slaves from them as property confiscated in war. That might recommend to suspicion that I agree with the rebs that their slaves are property in the first place. Of course I don’t, never have, I’m glad to see any man free, and if calling a man property, or war contraband, does the trick… Why I caught at the opportunity. Now here’s where it gets truly slippery. I use the law allowing for the seizure of property in a war knowing it applies only to the property of governments and citizens of belligerent nations. But the South ain’t a nation, that’s why I can’t negotiate with’em. If in fact the Negroes are property according to law, have I the right to take the rebels’ property from ‘em, if I insist they’re rebels only, and not citizens of a belligerent country? And slipperier still: I maintain it ain’t our actual Southern states in rebellion but only the rebels living in those states, the laws of which states remain in force. The laws of which states remain in force. That means, that since it’s states’ laws that determine whether Negroes can be sold as slaves, as property – the Federal government doesn’t have a say in that, least not yet then Negroes in those states are slaves, hence property, hence my war powers allow me to confiscate’em as such. So I confiscated ‘em. But if I’m a respecter of states’ laws, how then can I legally free’em with my Proclamation, as I done, unless I’m canceling states’ laws? I felt the war demanded it; my oath demanded it; I felt right with myself; and I hoped it was legal to do it, I’m hoping still. Two years ago I proclaimed these people emancipated – “then, hence forward and forever free.”But let’s say the courts decide I had no authority to do it. They might well decide that. Say there’s no amendment abolishing slavery. Say it’s after the war, and I can no longer use my war powers to just ignore the courts’ decisions, like I sometimes felt I had to do. Might those people I freed be ordered back into slavery? That’s why I’d like to get the Thirteenth Amendment through the House, and on its way to ratification by the states, wrap the whole slavery thing up, forever and aye. As soon as I’m able. Now. End of this month. And I’d like you to stand behind me. Like my cabinet’s most always done.
Thaddeus Stevens: You are a democrat. What’s the matter with you? Are you wicked?
Abraham Lincoln: [pounds his hand on a table as his cabinet squabbles] I can’t listen to this anymore. I can’t accomplish a goddamn thing of any worth until we cure ourselves of slavery and end this pestilential war! I wonder if any of you or anyone else knows it. I know! I need this! This amendment is that cure! We’ve stepped out upon the world stage now. Now! With the fate of human dignity in our hands. Blood’s been spilled to afford us this moment now! Now! Now! And you grouse so and heckle and dodge about like pettifogging Tammany Hall hucksters!
Abraham Lincoln: Abolishing slavery by constitutional provisions settles the fate for all coming time. Not only of the millions now in bondage, but of unborn millions to come. Two votes stand in its way. These votes must be procured.
William Seward: We need two yeses. Three abstentions. Four yeses and one more abstention and the amendment will pass.
Abraham Lincoln: You’ve got a night and a day and a night; several perfectly good hours! Now get the hell out of here and get them!
James Ashley: Yes. But how?
Abraham Lincoln: Buzzard’s guts, man! I am the President of the United States of America! Clothed in immense power! You will procure me these votes.
Clerk – Edward McPherson: Roll call concludes. Voting is completed. Now…
Schuyler Colfax: Mr. clerk? Please call my name. I want to cast a vote.
George Pendleton: I object! The Speaker doesn’t vote.
Clerk – Edward McPherson: The Speaker may vote if he so chooses.
George Pendleton: It is highly unusual, sir.
Schuyler Colfax: This isn’t usual, Mr. Pendleton. This is history.
[last lines, from Second Inaugural speech]
Abraham Lincoln: Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” 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.
Abraham Lincoln: [giving a speech at a dedication raising the flag] The part assigned to me is to raise the flag which, if there be no fault in the machinery, I will do. And, when up, it shall be for the people to keep it up. That’s my speech.
Abraham Lincoln: [greeting a pair of visitors from Jefferson City] I heard tell once of a Jefferson City lawyer who had a parrot that would wake him each morning crying out ‘today’s the day the world shall end as scripture has foretold’. And one day, the lawyer shot him for the sake of peace and quiet I presume, thus fulfilling, for the bird at least, his prophecy.
[the guests don't laugh]
Thaddeus Stevens: I don’t hold with equality in all things, just equality before the law, nothing more.
Thaddeus Stevens: White people cannot bear the thought of sharing this country’s infinite abundance with Negroes.
Thaddeus Stevens: This is the face of someone who has fought long and hard for the good of the people without caring much for any of ‘em. And I look a lot worse without the wig.
Tad Lincoln: When you were a slave, Mr. Slade, did they beat you?
William Slade: I was born a free man. Nobody beat me except I beat them right back.
[Mrs. Keckley enters]
William Slade: Mrs. Keckley was a slave. Ask her if she was beaten.
Elizabeth Keckley: I was beaten with a fire shovel when I was younger than you.
Thaddeus Stevens: I haven’t noticed you. I’m a Republican, and you, Coughdrop, are a Democrat?
Fernando Wood: Estimable colleagues, two bloody years ago this month, his Highness, King Abraham Africanus the First, our Great Usurping Caesar, violator of habeas corpus and freedom of the press, abuser of states’ rights.
Abraham Lincoln: Liberality all around. No punishment, I don’t want that. And the leaders – Jeff and the rest of ‘em – if they escape, leave the country while my back’s turned, that wouldn’t upset me none. When peace comes it mustn’t just be hangings.
Clerk – Edward McPherson: And Mr. George Yeaman, how say you?
George Yeaman: [indistinguishable mutter]
Clerk – Edward McPherson: Sorry Mr. Yeaman, I didn’t hear your vote.
George Yeaman: I said aye, Mr. McPherson. AYYYYYYEEEEEE!
Montgomery Blair: They’ll vote for this rash and dangerous amendment only if every other possibility is exhausted.
Thaddeus Stevens: Lincoln the inveterate dawdler, Lincoln the Southerner, Lincoln the capitulating compromiser, our adversary, and leader of the God forsaken Republican Party, our party.
Ulysses S. Grant: If you want to discuss peace with President Lincoln, consider revisions.
Alexander Stephens: If we’re not to discuss a truce between warring nations, what in heaven’s name can we discuss?
Ulysses S. Grant: Terms of surrender.
Mary Todd Lincoln: Smile, Senator Wade.
Senator Bluff Wade: I believe I am smiling, Mrs. Lincoln.
Abraham Lincoln: Thunder forth, God of War!
Abraham Lincoln: Old Neptune! Shake thy hoary locks!
Senator Bluff Wade: Whalers?
James Ashley: That’s what he said.
Senator Bluff Wade: The man’s never been near a whale ship in his life!
Abraham Lincoln: A compass I learnt when I was surveying, it’ll… it’ll point you true north from where your standing, but it’s got no advice about the swamps, deserts and chasms that you’ll encounter along the way. If in pursuit of your destination, you plunge ahead heedless of obstacles, and achieve nothing more than to sink in a swamp, what’s the use of knowing true north?
George Pendleton: I appeal to my fellow Democrats, to all Republican representatives who give a fig for peace!
[Lincoln's late-night cabinet meeting is interrupted by a call to drive with Mary to Ford's Theater]
Abraham Lincoln: It’s time for me to go. But I would rather stay.