Abe Lincoln in Illinois

(Great Characters in Literature)

Characters Discussed

Abe Lincoln

Abe Lincoln, who, at the age of twenty-two in 1831, is an awkward, melancholy young backwoodsman with no particular ambition. By 1861, he is a man of dedicated political principles whose personality and career have been shaped by friendship, love, loss, marriage, his reactions to the Dred Scott decision, and the great debates with Stephen A. Douglas.

Ann Rutledge

Ann Rutledge, Lincoln’s great love, who agrees to marry him after her engagement to another man has been broken. She dies of a sudden fever.


McNeil, Ann’s fiancé, who is unable to return from his home in New York State to marry Ann.

Mary Todd

Mary Todd, an ambitious young woman who sees in Lincoln the means of fulfilling her own frustrated desires. After their marriage, she bears four children, but her jealousy and tantrums make his life so miserable that he is forced to shut her out of his election triumph.

Seth Gale

Seth Gale, Lincoln’s friend. When the possible death of his son Jimmie threatens the Gales’ plans to move west, Lincoln, seeing in his friend’s predicament a symbol of what could happen to his countrymen’s hopes after the Dred Scott decision, finds his political convictions shaped and strengthened.

Mentor Graham

Mentor Graham, the New Salem schoolmaster who taught Lincoln grammar and encouraged his love of poetry and oratory.

Ninian Edwards

Ninian Edwards, Lincoln’s political mentor and Mary Todd’s brother-in-law. Admiring Lincoln, he urges him to become a candidate for the Illinois State Assembly.

Judge Bowling Green

Judge Bowling Green, the New Salem justice of the peace.

Joshua Speed

Joshua Speed, a New Salem merchant.


Berry, Lincoln’s whiskey-drinking partner in a general store. His drinking bankrupts the partnership and leaves Lincoln with a debt of fifteen hundred dollars.

Judge Stuart

Judge Stuart, with whom Lincoln opens a law office in Springfield.

William H. Herndon

William H. Herndon, Lincoln’s law partner.

Stephen A. Douglas

Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln’s political opponent.

Jimmie Gale

Jimmie Gale, Seth’s young son.


(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Robert Sherwood saw in the struggles of Abe Lincoln a symbol of democracy in action. The playwright was able to stick fairly close to the facts of Lincoln’s life in working out his allegory of the growth of the democratic spirit, but in several scenes he was forced to invent fictitious characters or incidents to make his point. Whether the play be viewed as history or allegory, it remains as authentically American as its leading character.

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

The Abolitionist Movement
Slavery existed in the United States from the earliest colonial days, with settlers first using...

(The entire section is 1006 words.)

Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

Most full-length plays are divided into two or three acts, or, as in the case of most of Shakespeare’s works, into...

(The entire section is 667 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

1837: Chicago is incorporated as a city.

1938: At a time when freight is moved by rail and barges, Chicago is the...

(The entire section is 362 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

Read the text of the Lincoln-Douglas debates and rate each speaker in terms of how well he argues his point.

Research the life of...

(The entire section is 249 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Drama for Students)

Abe Lincoln in Illinois was adapted as a film in 1940, starring Raymond Massey in the title role, with Ruth Gordon and Gene Lockhart....

(The entire section is 78 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

Critics consider The Petrified Forest to be Sherwood’s most successful play. It is about an intellectual war veteran facing a...

(The entire section is 283 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Brown, John Mason, The Worlds of Robert E. Sherwood: Mirror to His Times, Harper & Row Publishers, 1962....

(The entire section is 279 words.)