"Abolishing slavery settles the fate for all coming time," Lincoln tells his cabinet, "not only of the millions in bondage, but of the unborn millions to come. Shall we stop this bleeding?"
We see Lincoln as a man for the times, certain in his convictions, but also deeply contemplative as he listens to the "team of rivals" in his cabinet. (The movie is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's book of the same name.)
His opponents underestimate his intellect at their own peril, as Lincoln, with his practiced legal mind, outthinks and outmaneuvers them as he leads the Congress to passage of the amendment and the North to victory in the Civil War.
But we're also witness to a deeply personal side of Lincoln, as he struggles under the weight of the war; the fight over the amendment; the death of his young son, Willie; and the debilitating grief of his wife, Mary.
Lincoln, portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis, grows increasingly worn and weary before our eyes.
Ultimately, however, "Lincoln" is about leadership at the highest level, the lonely path open to only a few who have the courage, strength and political acumen to succeed at causes that define a nation.
"Lincoln was both a really good man and a great politician," says Goodwin, "and at a time when people are so cynical about politics, that's a great lesson to learn."
Perhaps they should have a showing of "Lincoln" on Capitol Hill for members of Congress and the president. They could see what the country is learning about effective government just by going to the movies.
Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. The show can be heard locally on WCHS 580 AM.