Simply put, the film chronicles the machinations involved in the abolition of the institution of slavery in the United states by the passage of the 13th Amendment:
- Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except
as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly
convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
What I found really intriguing were the soul searching and the intricate, sometimes seamy, negotiations over whether or not to state the noticeably missing concept that Negroes were equal to whites. It was quite a lesson in diplomacy and compromise.
All the while, Mr. Lincoln has to balance his responsibility to the nation with the stress of his family life. His wife, Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field), not recovered from the deaths of two sons and on the brink of insanity, is unaware of the silent suffering of her husband. Their elder son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), is determined to do his duty and join the army, which only adds to Mary's stress; while their younger son Tad (Gulliver McGrath) is a fixture at his father's side, sometimes out of place and underfoot.
The stellar cast also includes Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, David Strathairn as William Seward, James Spader as W.N. Bilbo, Hal Holbrook as Preston Blair, and more.
Spielberg and his team succeed brilliantly in bringing the characters in Tony Kushner's screenplay to life, adding humanity and context to two paragraphs of U.S. history.