LincolnTonight we at last got around to seeing Stephen Spielberg’s 2012 historical drama, Lincoln, with Daniel Day-Lewis turning in another towering performance as the great man. The story focuses on Lincoln’s January 1865 efforts to get the 13th amendment through Congress, thus formally, constitutionally, abolishing slavery. Lincoln was aware that his 1863 Emancipation Proclamation was made under his authority as Commander-in-Chief. It was not a law passed in Congress, it didn’t apply to the five slave states that were not in rebellion and, once war was over, it risked being discarded by the Courts. At the same time, if the war was over and the slave states returned to the Union, the amendment would not pass. Therefore, Lincoln concluded, the issue of slavery had to be settled before the end of the war and to do that Lincoln needed the votes of Democratic congressmen – and he got them. We see Lincoln (and William Seward, played by David Strathairn) juggling low politics for high ideals, and both encouraging (for Francis Preston Blair) and hiding (for the Radical Republicans) exploratory peace talks, whilst Thaddeus Stevens (brilliantly played by Tommy Lee Jones) finally moderates his language about racial equality in favour of the greater goal. Lincoln’s later assassination is thrown in to tug our heartstrings and remind us that he paid the highest price. The power of this portrayal of Lincoln is its gritty plausibility, including the stresses in the Lincoln household (Sally Field turns in a strong performance as the long-suffering Mary Todd Lincoln), but also Lincoln’s inner sense of destiny. In a European Voice editorial, Tim King has compared the way a potentially shameful and horribly bloody civil war was transformed, via a collective memory of history, into a redemptive narrative, whereas Europeans have been unable to turn the Second World War into a single generally agreed myth (despite the ultimate redemption of the Nobel Peace Prize). American politicians can, and do, plug into such a shared narrative but, King concludes,  “Anyone who wishes to do the same on the European stage must struggle with the conundrum that if there is a shared European identity, it is not accompanied by a shared European memory.”