Justin Webb explores the enduring myth of Abraham Lincoln, the president who helped to shape the American Dream. Featuring interviews with Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis.
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Three of his four children failed to make it to adulthood.
He suffered from intense bouts of depression.
He was unhappily married. In 1833 he went bankrupt.
Abraham Lincoln did not live a charmed life,
but that, perhaps, is the point.
# Does anybody here
# See my old friend Abraham?
# Oh, can you tell me
# Where he's gone? #
There's no question that Abraham Lincoln was the greatest
President of the United States. There is no question.
I think that there's not a leader in the world
that can't learn from Lincoln.
Abe Lincoln is not great in spite of his humanity,
he's great because of his humanity.
He saw his own life story as a model
of what America should be for all.
What was at stake was the end of the experiment in democracy,
that's what was at stake, right?
I think he had almost a mystical belief in the Union
and what it might be.
George Washington is considered the father of our country,
and I think many people rightly believe that Lincoln was
the one that saved the country.
Since his assassination, Abraham Lincoln has been a constant
presence in the psyche of the American people.
Almost every President invokes him and none have done it more
than the current inhabitant of the White House.
Barack Obama is only President because of Abraham Lincoln's
achievements and Obama likes to see similarities between them as well.
Both of them, of course, have come to power through the rough
and tumble of Chicago politics.
And Obama as well has done what Lincoln did and bring in
at least one of his chief political rivals into his Cabinet.
Lincoln has been immortalised on screen
since the beginning of motion pictures.
2013 sees Steven Spielberg take up the baton
with his take on Lincoln's greatest achievement, the passage of
the 13th Amendment which abolished slavery from the United States.
Slavery is the only insult to natural law.
Even worthless, unworthy you ought to be treated equally before the law.
Lincoln is one of the world's most revered historical figures. Why?
He is the embodiment of the American Dream.
Other Presidents had been born into privilege,
but Lincoln's own life was the ultimate rags to riches story.
He represents the self-made man in America, that you can grow up
in a cabin in Kentucky and go to the White House in Washington DC.
This appeals to the American character.
And it's all about the land of opportunity.
Lincoln took the reins during the biggest crisis
America had ever faced.
He was the definitive war President, leading a deeply fractured
country through the bloodiest conflict in her history.
The nation in 1860 is profoundly divided.
Economically, socially and politically.
Seven states of the South secede from the Union, declaring
that this is no longer a union that serves the interest of
these seven southern states, and they set up their own Confederacy.
War was inevitable,
but by its end, Lincoln had achieved the impossible -
he had banished slavery from the shores of America.
He was able to use African-American emancipation as
the moral cause for the Civil War. He gave the Civil War purpose.
And it was for human rights.
We had this terrible fight over slavery that divided our country.
He made the courageous decisions to go to war to solve it,
was successful, and he abolished slavery.
The times were extraordinary times, and extraordinary measures
had to be taken by the Commander in Chief,
in order to preserve the Union and abolish slavery.
Lincoln's legend has been cemented by the stirring speeches
he used to rally the nation to the flag
Well, for all that you can learn about him through,
I mean, there are some really wonderful books,
I think you can learn so much more from his own words.
He understood the inherent power of language if used in the right way.
Lincoln was such a beautiful orator, he was a beautiful speaker.
Beautiful use of words. The Gettysburg Address is exquisite.
At the time he said,
"People will not long remember what is said here today"
but in 272 words, that is the most quoted speech in history.
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.
The Union was paramount to Abraham Lincoln
and by the end of the war he had reunited his country.
All of his oratory was about keeping that notion
of the Union together
and one people indivisible under God.
And that was what he was about.
Lincoln said, "The Union is the last best hope of Earth."
He didn't say, "The Union is the last best hope of Americans."
He said, "It's the last best hope of Earth."
It is the future, this is the best future for humankind.
But Lincoln would not get to enjoy his triumph.
His assassination, five days after the end of the war,
created a kind of modern day saint.
It begins at once. He's turned immediately into a Christ figure.
This is not just the death of a President,
this is the martyrdom of a person who has
brought about the transformation of the American nation.
I think one minute after he died, I think his foreign secretary said,
"He belongs to the ages." And it's true. He does.
Today the 16th President's face can be found everywhere
you look in the USA.
Even the youngest children learn about Lincoln at school.
Abraham Lincoln stopped slavery
and also he used to be the President of America.
He's on the penny.
He has a tall hat that's black.
Abraham Lincoln is the 16th President and he wears top hats.
He was assassinated, he was a Republican too.
He died April 15th. He got married to Mary Todd.
He was 28. Yeah, that's basically all I know.
ALL: One nation under God, indivisible,
with liberty and justice for all.
Lincoln is a constant source of fascination
to film-makers and audiences.
He has been portrayed by everyone from Walter Houston
in DW Griffith's 1930 biopic,
to the seminal performance by Henry Fonda in Young Mr Lincoln.
Fonda claimed that playing Lincoln was like playing Jesus.
Gentlemen, and fellow citizens.
I presume you all know who I am.
I'm plain Abraham Lincoln.
The most recent incarnation of the Great Emancipator is
Daniel Day-Lewis, who takes on the role
in Steven Spielberg's historical drama Lincoln.
I am the President of the United States, clothed in immense power.
You will procure me these votes.
For many years, I got a kind of attitude.
-How dare you?
-..Almost like, who do you think you are?
Who do you think you are to tell the story,
to dare to tell the story of the greatest,
arguably the greatest President in history, Abraham Lincoln?
And I had other people reminding me that
nobody had made a movie about Lincoln in 72 years,
and there must be a good reason.
Wiser, wiser spirits out there in the world must know something
that you don't know.
That's why there's been this huge, desert of...this absence of,
leave him on the mountain, leave him in the monuments,
leave him on the money, you know, that kind of thing.
And that really did the opposite, it had the opposite effect on me.
It just fired me up. I went, oh, that's good.
Nobody's done anything like this in so many years, that's good.
Maybe it...maybe his time has come, maybe it's time for us
to bring him back, in a way.
I didn't want to find myself, working on this thing
and not able to serve Steven in what he was trying to do.
Or serve the story. I could feel that sort of involuntary tug
that you get from time to time, where you're being,
almost in spite of yourself, drawn into the orbit of another life,
and another world.
And I...and the first thing I normally do as a knee jerk reaction
is to resist that sensation. Please not...not again.
But I really understood the enormity of the task.
So many books have been written and they're broadly positive.
So many films have been done and they're broadly positive.
And that's kind of how reputation works.
And what you forget, or what the world forgets,
is all that went into that.
Abraham Lincoln's formative years are the key to unlocking
the mystery of the man behind the monument.
He wrote a short autobiography
for Presidential election purposes in 1860,
where he said that there was little to write about his early life
because it was really a life of poverty.
Lincoln is born in a log cabin on February 12th 1809,
the son of a poor Kentucky frontiersman.
Life is hard from the outset.
Before he reaches his tenth birthday,
both his brother Thomas and his mother die.
The young Abraham works the land with his father
but his desire to escape the farm is a constant motivator.
He's an avid reader when he can get books.
But books are hard to come by, and if there are stories
about his childhood that stick in the public consciousness, it is
the story of the man who walks many miles to get hold of books to read.
He apparently walked several miles to get hold of Kirkham's Grammar,
to learn about the structure of sentences.
This passion for self-improvement continues throughout his youth.
Lincoln even teaches himself law
as a way to advance his growing ambition.
By the time he reaches his 20s,
he is already taking an active interest in local politics.
When Lincoln first ran for office in 1832,
23 years old, he has no qualifications.
He has virtually no education,
he said, by his own calculation, his formal education,
bits and pieces throughout his life, amounted to no more than a year.
So he's self-taught, self-educated, but he runs for office in
his local community in New Salem in central Illinois.
And he saw politics as a way of being recognised,
of establishing himself and of forging a career for himself.
But that career is not a foregone conclusion.
Many of his attempts to climb the political ladder end in defeat
and an early business venture sees him file for bankruptcy.
In 1835 his first great love,
a local Kentucky girl called Ann Rutledge, dies suddenly.
Ann's death leads to a crippling nervous breakdown which highlights
a melancholic disposition that haunts Lincoln throughout his life.
There probably is something in the American people that likes to think
of their great leaders as being great, out there, always positive,
always upbeat, always trying to give everything a lift.
Whereas, clearly there was this other side to Lincoln and to his wife
that I think today we probably would define as depression.
He sometimes did find the whole kind of human intercourse thing
very, very difficult.
Some of the greatest figures in history - Churchill, Lincoln, Darwin,
Marie Curie, Florence Nightingale - all had what
I think today, if you were studying them,
you'd define as mental health problems.
Black Dog, Churchill, that was his phrase for his depressions.
Abraham Lincoln develops ways to cope with his recurring depression.
Throughout his life he keeps busy,
immersing himself in his work as a form of distraction.
There are statues, there are lithographs,
and one assumes that they all capture something about him.
And they do tend, insofar as if there's one thing that they capture,
it does tend to be that rather sad, melancholy, not hurt but just pained,
there's a pained look about him in a lot of the pictures
and a lot of the statues.
And one assumes that to have been real, because otherwise,
given he was such a huge figure and he has been so studied,
why would that have come down through history?
Lincoln enters the White House almost 30 years
after his first foray into politics.
During these years, he hones skills that will serve him well
when the Union falls apart.
Above all, and before all,
the Union must be preserved.
Lincoln was known for his great gift of oratory from
when he was a lawyer, but also running for office in politics.
He spent the time reading the great books
and also instilling that in his personality.
He read the Bible.
Lincoln was a Bible reader and Americans love oratory.
They are a Christian, evangelical nation
so a preacher is very important to an American.
The ability to do that. And Lincoln was able to do it.
Let us have faith that right makes might.
And in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty,
as we understand it.
In 1860, Lincoln's sights are set on the presidency.
But in order to win the Republican nomination,
he will have to take on and defeat the
three leading political heavyweights of the day, William Seward,
Salmon P Chase and Edward Bates.
When the Republicans were looking for a candidate to oppose
the Democrats in the 1860 election, there were several people who were
far more prominent, been in the Party earlier,
had held higher office than Lincoln.
Of course, one of the fascinating aspects of Lincoln's rise
to the presidency is, it was not an easy journey.
He always understood that anybody that he met,
anybody that he wrote to, he was building a network,
he was building a team.
And he, I think, was somebody who understood that
not just to become President, but to sustain yourself as President,
you have to have this phenomenal array of different relationships
operating at different levels, and he had an instinct for that.
Lincoln's political savvy takes his rivals by surprise.
He plays the long game,
coming from behind to defeat the favourite, Seward.
He wins the nomination and the presidency.
The prairie lawyer from Kentucky, by way of snowy Chicago,
has made it to the White House
at the most dramatic moment in American history.
Lincoln is extremely skilled in the arts of political management.
It's often said, rightly, that Lincoln had no executive experience
before he reached the White House.
The only thing he'd done was to run a law practice,
and that not terribly efficiently.
But he had run a Party, he had known about how you operate a Party
and throughout his presidency, he is a supreme politico.
Lincoln is quick to realise the potential of his former rivals.
He brings all three into his inner most circle of government,
making Seward his Secretary of State,
Chase his Secretary of the Treasury and Bates his Attorney General.
He managed to get a lot of these opponents within his own party
to work with him in the cabinet and several of them,
when they entered the cabinet, Bates, Seward in particular,
thought they would just control this guy.
This guy from Illinois, who's a frontiersman.
They'll control him and they will run the country the way they want
and use him as a figurehead.
We agreed that our President must be firmly guided by us.
We must make every effort to control his inexperience and judgement.
And he soon dispelled that notion.
And he and Seward, Seward was the most brilliant man in his cabinet,
he and Seward ended up having the most amazing relationship.
They worked very well together.
-Good morning, Mr President.
He used all of his former rivals to inform his decisions and to
help either support his decisions or play the devil's advocate
and allow him to think more deeply about what he might be doing next.
Who wouldn't, you know, bear a little grudge in those situations?
Or wish at least to kind of keep someone at bay that
had been a thorn in their side.
But he was able to see beyond that and recognise the value
of those individuals.
You just have to look at what they achieved together
to see that it was a fantastic decision.
I think that he did it partly for his own political reasons,
but also out of an understanding of the need to get
all the best people and all the best talents.
And I think, having been in direct competition with them,
he saw what strengths they had.
And he saw how they complemented his strengths
and maybe helped him address some of his perceived weaknesses.
War is drawing closer every day.
Lincoln needs that team around him if he is to keep his nation intact.
In 1861, the Union is made up of slave labour states in the
agricultural South and free states in the more industrialised North.
Tension begins to mount with the possibility of opening
the western frontier to expansion.
The North wants to keep the new territories slave free.
the South wants to be able to expand west,
bringing the institution of slavery with it.
This fundamental question of whether the West should be slave free
would ultimately lead to war.
The Republican Party oppose the spread of slavery.
As soon as Lincoln is elected, seven states secede from the Union
and the South fires the first shots of the Civil War.
We know why the Confederates wanted to fight.
They were fighting for a way of life that was based on
an institution of slavery, which they understood to be under direct attack.
It's quite clear that they are fighting for that way of life.
But what about the North, why are northerners fighting?
The war after all is not initially a war to end slavery.
Northerners rally to the flag in April of 1861, in massive numbers,
in order to defend the Union.
So what is this Union that they're prepared to fight for?
The United States has a form of government
which is unique in human history.
American democracy is a source of great pride for the young Republic.
It has endured since the Revolution
and is seen as the guiding light for the rest of the world.
If the Confederacy is allowed to destroy the Union,
mankind will have taken a huge step backwards.
America was the beacon of hope. Democracy was the great experiment.
That's why we called...that's why all the historians called it
the greatest experiment, democracy,
because every nation in the world was watching this.
And he...I mean, it's interesting because Lincoln was really,
you know, part of what he was fighting for was
the protection of the constitution.
It was the constitution that caused the Civil War, to some extent.
In as far as the founding fathers, in coming together to present
a united front in opposition to the British,
had to put aside the question of slavery
because many of them were slavers.
You know, the founding fathers, you know, formed a more perfect union.
They really did.
But the political football, the issue of slavery,
to kick that football down the road
for other generations to confront and resolve,
was the fatal flaw in our constitution,
which caused 750,000 lives to be lost between 1860 and 1865.
More than every other American war combined, still to this day.
Today we tend to think of the Civil War as being fought
in order to end slavery. It wasn't.
In fact, emancipation wasn't really on the cards
when the first shot was fired on April 12th.
And what of Lincoln's own views about race?
He has been accused by some of himself being a white supremacist.
Lincoln was a conservative, he was not an abolitionist.
In fact, again and again in public,
he makes it clear he does not believe in racial equality.
At one stage, he even supports those who want to create colonies
outside the United States for African Americans.
The danger, of course,
is in seeing Lincoln's views from our own modern perspective.
Lincoln was born in 1809 in a slave state in Kentucky.
His family was a dirty poor family,
his father's a bit shiftless, in fact.
And they moved across the river, across the Ohio,
into what was the North, into Indiana, which was a free state.
And one of the reasons, not the only reason, one of the reasons,
was because his father, who was a poor farmer,
didn't like having to compete with plantation owners with slave labour.
Living along the Ohio River, Lincoln would have, on a regular basis,
seen slaves being brought across the river to work there.
Sometimes they were living in free states and being brought across.
He'd see them being transported up and down.
As a small child, while still in Kentucky, he would have seen them
being marched along the roads, chained together,
as a slave seller was carrying them from one property to another.
So he would be utterly familiar with slavery.
I don't think Lincoln was moved as much by the cruelties of slavery
as many of the so called abolitionists.
Lincoln was not an abolitionist in the sense that he did not
expect slavery to die out immediately.
He did not believe that you could make an immediate assault on slavery,
as the constitution protected the interests
of the Southern slave owners.
But he did believe that slavery was wrong,
and that it is a profoundly unjust institution.
Why should some people benefit from the labour of others?
Why should Southern slave owners be able to sit in the shade,
as he put it, with gloves on their hands, watching,
what he called the slave Sambo, working to earn the bread
that he is then denied, and which feeds the slave owner?
But Lincoln's conviction that slavery is wrong does not
automatically lead to a belief that African Americans are equal.
In 1858 he says, "I am not, nor ever have been, in favour of
"bringing about in any way the social and political equality
"of the white and black races."
In order to keep the border states from fleeing south,
and ending the Union, there would have been no Civil War
because there would have been two countries at that point,
Lincoln had to say what needed to be said
to keep those border states from fleeing.
It was very easy, even for certain...you know,
historians today to label Lincoln a racist.
He was a political artist, and he had an immense sense of the people,
and sense of, you know, timing. What was the right time?
And he also would never have been elected President
had he run on the abolitionist ticket.
There are very, very few white Americans in Lincoln's time
who see the African-American and the white as social equals.
He's being attacked by racists who say -
You want to end slavery,
that is going to mean full equality for the blacks.
And Lincoln knows that anyone who stands up and says that
what he wants in the United States is for social and political
equality for blacks has no political future.
It's not a tenable political position.
One way of avoiding the problem of equality
is the idea of colonisation.
This is very controversial, a lot of people cite
this as evidence of his racism, that he went along with this
idea of getting blacks out of our country.
But one has again to see it in the context that
there was a lot of racism.
Most countries in the world did not have mixed races in them
at that time, ours happened to.
He didn't want African Americans to
live on the soil of the United States because he thought
it would cause more trouble if they, you know, if we stayed.
So he wasn't, you know, completely a person,
when I was growing up, you know, we just saw him as an abolitionist.
He's much more complex than that.
Later on, a lot of people who'd earlier been colonisationists
turned against it. They thought, we shouldn't be doing this.
We should be not treating these Africans, who are no longer Africans,
many of them had lived here for generations, we should not
be treating them as people who have to be sent out of here.
We should treat them as fellow human beings and fellow citizens.
Treat them equally.
Freedom was just around the corner for some Southern slaves
but when the Emancipation Proclamation is published in 1863
it is not a move to end slavery.
It is a war measure and, some might say,
a cynical use of Lincoln's Presidential powers.
I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States
by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief
of the Army and Navy of the United States,
in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority
and government of the United States,
and as a fit and necessary war measure....
He believed that he could act against slavery by Presidential edict,
as an act of war, as a military measure,
in order to preserve the Union.
He had consistently said, from the outset of the war,
that he would do what was necessary to secure the Union,
and ensure the defeat of the Confederacy.
I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said
designated States, and parts of States, are,
and henceforward shall be free.
And that the Executive government of the United States,
including the military and naval authorities...
He came to the view, as did many others,
that the South had to be attacked where it hurt.
It needed...the Union forces would need to make an assault on
the South's infrastructure, its economic and social infrastructure.
The fact is, as some critics said, it freed no-one.
He was only declaring free those slaves who were in areas
he didn't control, where nobody was listening to him.
He wasn't going to free them in any area that wasn't in rebellion
and indeed, in some areas like New Orleans and some of the coast
of North Caroline, which they already conquered,
where they'd conquered,
he wasn't going to free the slaves there either.
It was only in areas where they were in rebellion.
And the thinking here was that, in theory, those states could preserve
their slavery by coming back into the Union
before this went into effect.
I don't think he believed they would do that.
But it was worth a try.
But Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation does bring
change for the Southern slaves
He knew that if you freed the workers from an agrarian society,
you have dismantled their society, and that's what he did.
He had the soldiers go in, and every soldier was obliged,
after the Emancipation Proclamation,
to liberate the African Americans on the plantation.
That was their job, it wasn't to kill anybody,
it was to get those people out of there.
So he broke the economy, he knew he was going to break it.
He knew he was going to reduce the South to rubble,
and that's what he did.
And Southerners still remember that.
So he was the first total war politician.
First total war President. Nobody was spared, nobody.
Lincoln's all-out assault on the South frees countless slaves.
And nearly 200,000 of these freed men are recruited
to Union Army ranks.
He instantly becomes the Great Emancipator
but does he now believe in racial equality?
By the end of the war, Lincoln has moved significantly
from the position that he held in the 1850s.
And in his language, in his political language, public language,
during the Civil War, it doesn't take much perspicuity to see that
this is the language of someone who genuinely esteems
what the black race is doing for the United States.
And what leading black figures are able to bring
to securing the future of the Union.
He had more and more experience throughout his life
of meeting blacks and especially during the war
when blacks were serving in the army and fought so brilliantly.
Lincoln was very moved by this and he let people know about that
He has heroic moments.
For instance, when he has an African American troop of soldiers
lead him into Florida.
He comes into Florida as President of the United States
and at his head is this huge troop of African American soldiers.
He was very adamant about having African American soldiers
in his retinue.
Those kind of things are things that make him a hero, I think,
for many Americans because he breached the impossible,
what was considered impossible at the time.
The first black person to enter the White House,
not to come and cook and clean, but as a guest,
was invited by Lincoln.
The most prominent black at the time was Frederick Douglass
and he was a frequent guest at the White House.
He himself testified how Lincoln always treated him
with great respect, as an equal.
Lincoln is a man of the people,
but as Commander in Chief, he stands alone.
When you're dealing with contentious issues,
you're going to find yourself, finally having to make
those decisions on your own and that's the responsibility you take.
And then that's why we see Presidents ageing in front of us.
-..When you see those extraordinary
photographs documented from the early part of his life as a lawyer
in Illinois, right through to the last photographs taken
and you see that man has utterly spent himself.
Lincoln was in constant grieving.
Not only for his own family and the death of Willie
and the death of his first son, you know, before he was President.
But he was grieving for every bayonet, for every bullet,
for every piece of canon fire that killed, you know,
boys on both sides.
Not just in the North. And he grieved the entire war.
He was in constant great grief, he was in constant mourning.
# When Johnny comes marching home again
# Hurrah! Hurrah!
# We'll give him a hearty welcome then
# Hurrah! Hurrah!
# The men will cheer and the boys will shout
# The ladies, they will all turn out
# And we'll all feel gay when Johnny comes marching home... #
After three long years of war Lincoln is re-elected.
He is now anxious to abolish slavery before the war is over.
Lincoln is concerned that the Emancipation Proclamation
will not have force in time of peace, which is why
he wants an amendment to the constitution which will ensure
that slavery shall never hereafter have any purchase on American soil.
The Thirteenth Amendment to the constitution is
the legislation that will eradicate slavery from the country.
It is not a popular bill and requires Lincoln to use all
his powers of persuasion
to get it through the House of Representatives.
After his victory in the November election,
he begins to put pressure on those, Democrats who previously,
before the election several months ago, had worked
successfully to block an amendment, going through Congress.
Lincoln knew about the way in which you operate to put
the right kind of pressure in the right kind of places
to secure the vote.
These votes must be procured.
Congressmen come cheap - a few thousand bucks would buy all you need.
-We can't buy the votes.
-Let me see what you can do.
The idea that a President can just sit back and hope that Congress does
what the President wants them to do isn't true today or in yesteryear.
And so the fact that Lincoln rolled up his sleeves to fight for
every single vote was absolutely critical in keeping the Union together.
Even somebody like Abraham Lincoln who has this kind of...
..pedestal image now, and yet did have to get down and dirty
and did have to cajole and maybe make different people
think different things about the same thing that he was trying
to do, because that sometimes is the business of politics.
Lincoln is not afraid to get his hands dirty
when it comes to politics. But is it true that he prolongs the war
to get the Thirteenth Amendment passed?
I believe the chronology would not support that interpretation.
I think there is not a serious peace effort being made
that he was rejecting.
I don't think he expected the South to make a serious effort at giving up,
to surrender without preserving slavery and he wasn't going
to have it on those terms. He would want that war to end as soon as possible
and yet he can't end it if slavery is going to remain in tact.
Lincoln signs the Thirteenth Amendment on February 1st 1865.
The war ends two months later
when the leader of the Confederate Army surrenders.
And on April 11th, Lincoln is making
a speech about reconstruction in which he alludes to
the idea of giving the vote to black soldiers.
This speech is the final straw for John Wilkes Booth,
a Southern supporter in the audience.
Booth shoots the president in Ford's Theatre on April 14th.
Lincoln dies the next day.
His Secretary of War, Edwin M Stanton, utters the prophetic words,
"Now he belongs to the ages."
He was famous from the moment he was murdered.
Absolutely from the moment.
And he's grown and grown and grown in stature.
At the moment of his greatest triumph, he's shot down.
He's martyred. And he's shot on Good Friday.
He's turned immediately into a Christ figure.
This is not just the death of a President, this is,
a meaningful calamity, the martyrdom of a person who has
redeemed the nation and it's very difficult, as one newspaper man
said at the time, after Lincoln's assassination,
"It will become impossible to speak the truth of Abraham Lincoln hereafter."
# It's been a long
# A long time coming but I know
# A change gonna come... #
The story of Lincoln is a story that meets so many different needs.
He is sanctified by, the African-American population,
right through into the 1930s,
those generations who see Lincoln as Father Abraham,
as the Moses figure who has lead his people to freedom.
# A song will lift
# As the mainsail shifts
# And the boat drifts onto the shoreline
# And the sun will respect every face on the deck
# The hour that the ship comes in... #
By the 1960s, not everyone sees Abraham Lincoln as a national hero.
But 100 years later.
The Negro still is not free.
He's demonised by a generation of blacks,
who see the story of a man who wanted to remove, as they see it,
remove blacks from North America, who was not an abolitionist.
I was brought up and my father was brought up before me,
my mother, to see Lincoln as the liberator of the enslaved.
If you're born in the '70s and '80s after that, you saw him as,
well, that was just a deal that he had to do to get what he wanted,
and be much more cynical.
Well, reconstruction isn't finished.
But, there were two huge pillars of reconstruction, the first was,
Abraham Lincoln and his work, in his life and times,
and the second was Martin Luther King.
And, and along with Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy
and John F Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.
We're still reconstructing. It's not over. There's a lot of work to be done.
I don't think his legacy is squandered.
I think it's becoming more complex.
It's becoming more...
If you look at American society now, nobody would say anything about
the fact that we've had two African-American Foreign Secretaries.
That we have an African-American as Attorney General.
The equivalent of the Chief Justice.
Nobody would say anything that we have
African-Americans as mayors, as governors.
This is all accepted now.
So in a sense his legacy hasn't been squandered.
It was picked up by Martin Luther King and others,
and taken to its logical conclusion.
I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear...
That conclusion came in 2009
when Barack Obama entered the White House.
Of the many presidents who came before, Lincoln stands out.
He is Obama's hero. The parallels are obvious.
But can the 44th President really emulate Lincoln's political success?
-So help you God?
-So help me God.
Congratulations, Mr President.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
When you see Barack Obama, just the fact that he is not white,
that he's mixed race, that would not, and could not have happened
without the progress that Abraham Lincoln made as a political leader,
in the face of some extraordinary and well-organised opposition.
That link alone, does give, if you like, gives Barack Obama
the right, the authority, the permission to, to invoke Lincoln.
I think he matters to President Obama -
it's the emotional connection.
He freed, he freed African-Americans, and, you know,
people can sort of go on, yeah, yeah, but what he really..,
No, no. He did it.
I think that appeals and would to the first African-America President.
# And the home
# Of the brave... #
I think what Obama saw in Lincoln is a President who operated,
on the basis of calmness, coolness, rationality,
intellectual analysis of the problems.
What we've seen in the Obama presidency,
the way in which he ponders issues, reflects on them,
seeks to bring about some, degree of consensus.
I think he sees in Lincoln exactly those qualities.
I totally understand why President Obama would want to invoke
Lincoln's memory, would want to learn from the skills that he had,
and would want to take some of the lessons of that,
not just for his own politics but also for the country.
But it is way way too early to say
whether Barack Obama has any of those qualities that will endure.
It's not a bad thing that anyone,
holding that office, makes a close study of his life,
and his work but it would be a terrible thing for a human being
-to even try to assess themselves in comparison to him.
I think Lincoln's message to Obama down the ages would be this.
"Well done, but make your speeches shorter and get out more, go to the diner."
When Lincoln passed the Thirteenth Amendment
he had to bribe people, when Lincoln passed the Thirteenth Amendment
he had to cajole people, he had to go out late at night
and talk to people of whom he didn't necessarily approve.
Barack Obama doesn't do that.
Famously, or infamously, he doesn't even make his own phone calls.
Lincoln, as well, had vaulting ambition.
Would he have settled for Guantanamo Bay still being open?
Would he have come so late to gun control?
Barack Obama is an ambitious man
but does he have the gut ambition that Lincoln had.
Some of his own keenest supporters fear that he doesn't.
Lincoln said, essentially, the federal government is supreme,
it is not the state, and if we have to go to war to do that then
that's what we're going to do.
President Obama went to war in order to effect what
he believed was the greater good, which was to enable people to
have some sort of modicum of healthcare in the country.
I would say that at the present time,
the main peril is the fact that, just like Lincoln, he is constantly
being attacked from both extremes and finding a great difficulty
to get enough support for some compromise position.
I think Obama can learn a lot from studying Lincoln's patience
and his method of leading by trying to slowly bring public opinion with you
and, in a sense, use the people over the heads of your fellow politicians.
Obama, may be better advised to explore Lincoln the party politician,
rather than Lincoln the man who appears to be
operating through a broad coalition,
but who nonetheless uses the party to achieve his ends.
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.
Since you are sending my son into the war,
woe unto you if you fail to pass the amendment.
Seward doesn't want me leaving big, muddy footprints all over town.
No-one has ever lived who knows better than you
the proper placement of footfalls on treacherous paths.
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.
I didn't want to make a movie that lied about the fact that it
wasn't squeaky clean because the times were extraordinary times,
and what was at issue, what was at stake, was the end
of the experiment in democracy.
That's what was at stake.
Steven Spielberg's film focuses on the first month of 1865
and the intense political manoeuvring that is required to get
the Thirteenth Amendment passed before the end of the Civil War.
We'll win the war, sir. It's inevitable, isn't it?
It ain't won yet.
You'll begin your second term a semi-divine statue.
Imagine the possibilities peace will bring.
Why tarnish your invaluable lustre with a battle in the House?
It's a rat's nest in there.
It's the same gang of talentless hicks and hacks
who rejected the amendment ten months ago.
I like our chances now.
There was a 50-page section of the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment
and it was flashing, lights for me, off and on.
And that was the most compelling, part of the entire script,
up to that point.
You could have imagined, beforehand that
the only way you could discover, that man was by...
was through telling a story that would include so many of the,
the formative years and the years in office.
Whereas in fact I think, it became clear that,
that as you narrow the focus, as in this case, the Thirteenth Amendment,
and you allow yourself to see him at work on something
that was not just important but, but crucial, in that moment,
that that somehow, allows you to see him in a far more profound way.
Think of all the boys who'll die, if you don't make peace.
I can't end this war until we cure ourselves of slavery.
This amendment is that cure!
The whole purpose of this approach to telling
a story about Abraham Lincoln, is let the audience feel that they're,
in those rooms with Lincoln, his family and all of the Cabinet.
The details in the sets were... You sort of lined up with
the nuanced approach that Daniel and I took to telling this story.
You could pick up any piece of paper and it would be, a letter,
facsimile letter, either to one of the generals or from, a member
of the Cabinet at that time, it could be an inventory of things
that had been ordered from, from a manufacturer during the war.
Each single piece of paper,
was something that belonged to that place from that time.
It was like a museum. It was like going to work in a museum
every day, you know, it just... We had created a time machine...
-Better than a museum.
-Better than a museum, you're right.
We had created a time machine that
took us all back in time, and not just the actors but the entire crew.
Euclid's first common notion is this...
"Things which are equal to the same thing,
"are equal to each other."
That's a rule of mathematical reasoning.
It's true because it works.
Has done and always will do.
Bringing the man himself to life was a much more personal process.
At a certain moment, if I'm lucky and it tends to happen this way,
is that I begin to hear a voice, in my inner ear which,
I live with for a while and if I'm still pleased
with it, after I've lived with it for a bit, then I try and reproduce it
and then, God help anyone that tries to... But then I'm more or less
stuck with it because it feels something that's already
very familiar to me and I sent a couple of recordings to Steven
during that time. I use a prehistoric micro recorder.
I'd be so excited that I'd be afraid
to press play cos I wanted to love what I was about to listen to.
I'd finally get the courage to press play and on the second tape
that Daniel sent me - he sent me two - I heard Abraham Lincoln
talking to me, and I felt it was a very privileged moment, I felt
how lucky, I don't think anybody's heard his voice since his death.
Film-makers put the meat on the bones of history,
breathing life into figures that have become
almost two dimensional to a modern audience.
It's a devastatingly important responsibility.
It's a blessing and a curse.
You can take liberties through any interpretation you take,
you take liberties with the facts.
But that's part of... That's part of what you have to do.
There's no choice but to do that.
Therefore, with that comes the responsibility of...
..at least understanding where it is that you are bending things a bit
and knowing beforehand
deciding beforehand whether or not
..will bear inspection.
You drafted half the men in Boston.
What do you think their families think about me?
The only reason they don't throw things and spit on me
is because you're so popular.
I can't concentrate on British mercantile law.
I don't care about British mercantile law.
I might not even want to be a lawyer.
It's a sturdy profession.
And a useful one.
And I want to be useful but NOW, not afterwards.
I ain't wearing them things, Mr Slade, they never fit right.
The missus will have you wear them...
You're delaying. That's your favourite tactic.
You won't tell me no but the war will be over in a month.
Everyone has their own Lincoln, whether it's the great emancipator,
the prairie lawyer, or the political artist.
Despite all the books, all the films,
no-one can know the real man behind the monument on Mount Rushmore.
Assessing Lincoln is a work forever in progress.
Lincoln was president during the greatest calamity that
the United States has ever faced.
Lincoln brought together, in his Cabinet, disparate agents,
people, in order to effect the bringing together of the Union,
because it had been broken apart.
So to evoke Lincoln is to talk about the United States,
it's to talk about being an American.
Another great quality was a sense of his own humility,
a belief that even when he became, as it were,
the leader, that he didn't assume that he knew everything,
that he had all the skills that he needed, and he understood
that anything, but particularly politics, is a team game.
He was a real person with flaws
and was a bit ungainly and tall, six foot four, and he was a real person.
And the fact that a real person can accomplish
and solve the problems of a nation is very inspiring.
# Glory, glory, hallelujah!
# Glory, glory, hallelujah!
# Glory, glory, hallelujah!
# His truth is marching
# On... #
Abraham Lincoln is one of the most iconic figures in American history. Justin Webb, the BBC's former North American editor, explores the enduring myth of the president who helped to shape the American Dream. Featuring interviews with Steven Spielberg, Daniel Day-Lewis and Alastair Campbell, Justin examines the hold Lincoln continues to have and why people still believe America is the Land of the Free.