The screenplay for Abe Lincoln in Illinois was written by Robert Sherwood. Sherwood originally wrote the play for the stage, and it was adapted for the screen shortly after. Sherwood fought in World War I for Canada and, after he returned, was highly anti-war. This value can be seen in his work both as a film critic and in his own works, such as The Road to Rome and Idiot’s Delight. At the dawn of World War II, Sherwood became a propagandist and a speech writer for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well as the Director for the Office of War Information. Abe Lincoln in Illinois was written around the same time as the war was beginning to take shape in Europe and reflects the idea that what is right and just must be done no matter the cost, as we can see in Lincoln’s debates about slavery. Here, we can begin to see Sherwood’s politics change to be more interventionist in nature. After the war, Sherwood continued to write, and wrote films such as The Best Years of Our Lives about the effect of the war on returning servicemen, for which he won an award for Best Screenplay.
The film Abe Lincoln in Illinois is based on the play of the same name, both written by Sherwood. The film stays true to the book, beginning at the beginning of Lincoln’s life in Illinois and ending as he is about to be inaugurated as the sixteenth President. It focuses on Lincoln as a character and the road that led him to the Presidency, including his love for Anne Rutledge, his marriage to Mary Todd, and his friendships and law practice in Springfield, Illinois. Both works show the Lincoln vs. Douglas rivalry, including one of their debates, and their battles for both the Legislature, the Senate, and the Presidency. Although the film does not mimic the play verbatim, the over-arching themes and message of the story remains intact, a feat achieved by Sherwood's preeminence in both genres.