Abe Lincoln in Illinois traces the personal and political life of the 16th President of the United States, beginning when he is a 22-year-old on his parent’s farm in frontier Illinois and ending with him pulling away from Illinois on a train to Washington on the day of his inauguration. This film not only gives the high points of Lincoln’s life up to that point that we have all learned in grade school, but it also presents him in a way we don’t often see him, as a husband, father, and friend. We see a more human side of Lincoln, a man with a love for learning, a passion for what is right, and an aversion to politics -- although he cannot help but be sucked into it by his ambitious wife and do-gooder friends.
The film begins with young Abe on the Illinois family farm about to embark on a new job. This employment takes him to the town of New Salem, where he soon finds himself fighting the town bullies and falling in love with Ann Rutledge. Abe quickly moves up the ranks in the town, from shopkeeper to postmaster, earning the respect of the townspeople, until he is running for a seat in the state legislature. Unfortunately, tragedy overshadows Abe’s success when Ann dies. After his tenure in the legislature, Abe moves to Springfield to become a lawyer, where he begins an on-again off-again courtship with Mary Todd, a wealthy and ambitious socialite. Abe marries Mary and begins his family. The film fast forwards in Abe’s life to the time when he is caught in an epic race for the senate seat for Illinois with the illustrious Stephen Douglas. This election sets the stage for a debate and a speech that will put him on the national political map. Abe is soon considered by his party for the nomination for the Presidency. But Abe is hesitant -- South Carolina is already threatening to secede from the Union if he is elected, and the rest of the Confederacy promises to follow. Mary’s deteriorating mental state leads to angst between the pair, but Abe wins the election. As he makes one final speech to the people of Springfield, the train to Washington pulls away to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and the rest is left up to history.