That statement made by President Abraham Lincoln to Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, an ardent pro-abolitionist and antagonist to the President is one of the most profound moments in the film, "Lincoln", directed by Steve Spielberg and written by Tony Kushner who adapted part of Doris Kearns Goodwin's magnificent book, "Team of Rivals". The statement exemplifies the paths that men of principle must often take in order to accomplish something significant.
The movie is lush and long, with a running time of about two and a half hours. Spielberg did, as he described in his own words "didn't want to make a film about a monument", craft a movie that is at once visually arresting and an interesting story. It's probably not a surprise that at the end of the day, the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery is passed, and yes, the Union defeats the Confederate Army and ends the Civil War at the Appomattox Courthouse on April 9th, 1865. But, the movie does a wonderful job of building up the tension to a point you are anxious about the outcome. Spielberg and Kushner have put together a film that will most likely be an Oscar Contender, and it well should be. This is the great story of our country's most difficult time and a period of the most radical change it had experienced in its short life.
The movie is about the internal workings of getting legislation passed. That sounds enormously boring, and is often referred to by those who perform the craft as "sausage making" because of the metaphorically ugly way the final product is manufactured. However, given the subject matter, and the stakes to both Lincoln personally and the country at large, we are engaged almost immediately from the start. The cabinet meetings, where Lincoln has internal opponents to what he is attempting to do are examples of the serious debate and in-fighting that can result when complex issues are being worked on. There are no easy answers. Secretary of State Williams Seward, brilliantly played by David Straitharn tells Lincoln in one scene "You can have the 13th amendment or you can have peace with the Confederacy, but you cannot have both". The country is a war, it is 1865, four years after the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Hundreds of thousand of people have been killed. This is no discussion on the debate ceiling or the "fiscal cliff". This is serious, life deciding stuff, and Lincoln has to navigate half the country who are at war with him as well as half of the Congress who do not want to see the 13th Amendment passed. Lincoln knows, or at least suspects that the Emancipation Proclamation he issued in 1863 may not stand up to a legal challenge, so he needs the revocation of slavery to be passed into law. His team launches into a multi-pronged effort to whip congress towards his objective and to hold off those who want to wait for and end of the war to take up the measure. Lincoln, for all his folksiness and homespun wisdom, was a master politician, and knew that he had to get the Amendment passed before the war ended or he may not achieve the objective of once and for all ending slavery.