Lincoln: Prelude to the Presidency

A television documentary by WILL Public Media

Lincoln: Prelude to the Presidency DVD coverAs a lawyer traveling Illinois’ Eighth Judicial Circuit, Abraham Lincoln made two simultaneous journeys. He gained respect as a skilled attorney and mesmerizing speaker, but he also built a political base and refined his views on the important issues of the day, many of which he would face in the White House.

His experiences from 1837 to 1860 on muddy roads, in homes of friends and in courtrooms on the circuit guided him when he became president. WILL-TV’s Lincoln: Prelude to the Presidency tells the story of the cases he tried and people he met during this critical period of his life.

“That’s where he really got a sense of the various kinds of problems people faced,” said historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, one of the experts featured in the documentary. “He got a sense of the exuberance of their dreams and their hopes. In a certain sense, I think it was the root of his political education.”


  • Reenactments of Lincoln as you’ve never seen him before: defending a slaveholder trying to reclaim a slave named Jane Bryant and her children; brandishing a sword on the banks of the Mississippi River at dawn before being talked out of fighting a duel; and crossing the prairie reading a book atop his horse, Old Tom.
  • Interviews with experts, including Doris Kearns Goodwin, Edna Greene Medford and Orville Vernon Burton, who describe how the circuit built the skills Lincoln used as president.

Available from American Public Television

Production Credits:

  • Producer, writer: Alison Davis Wood
  • Co-producer, director: Tim Hartin
  • Co-producer, editor: Colin Hartin
  • Subject matter expert: Guy Fraker
  • Executive producers: Henry Szujewski, Steve Drake


Silver Telly Award


Lincoln: Prelude to the Presidency was made possible by contributions from the Illinois Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission; Country Financial; the University of Illinois College of Law; the Monticello Chamber of Commerce; the Office of the Chancellor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; the Illinois State Bar Association and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum.

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Illinois Public Media, which includes WILL-AM 580, FM 90.9, WILL-TV,, and, is developing a new on-air/online audio service focused on the Black community in Central Illinois.

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