Robert Emmet Sherwood chose to dramatize the pre-presidential career of Abraham Lincoln for three primary reasons: first, his lifelong fascination with, and admiration for, the great Civil War leader; second, his belief that Lincoln was the quintessential American, a man who embodied the basic genius of the American character, with all of its strengths, ambiguities, and contradictions; and, third, his conviction that the world in 1938 faced a crisis not unlike America’s Civil War and needed, therefore, the guidance and inspiration of Lincoln’s example.
Sherwood’s focus is on Lincoln’s humanity and the agonizing contradictions in his character: his love of life and preoccupation with death; his bearlike physicality and his gentleness; his love of people and his “misanthropy”; his need for female love and his fear of its consequences; his humor and his sadness; his sense of greatness and his feelings of mediocrity.
The play is structured as a loose chronicle covering the major crises in Lincoln’s career from his beginnings as a bankrupt shopkeeper in New Salem to an elected President setting off to assume office in Washington. Except for the dramatization of one Lincoln-Douglas debate and his farewell speech, however, all of the scenes are private; that is, all show Lincoln relating to friends or associates while the pressures and tensions, external and internal, swirl about him. Two concerns are foremost: Lincoln’s erratic, indecisive political career and his need for, and fears of, the love and support of a...
(The entire section is 634 words.)