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Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009 03:58 pm

Prelude to the Presidency

Locally produced documentary chronicles Lincoln’s time in central Illinois

By the mid-1850s, Lincoln was the leading attorney in the state of Illinois, trying more than 300 cases heard by the Illinois Supreme Court.

Noted historian and author of the best-selling Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin, says that Lincoln’s days in Illinois were “the root of his political education.” Kearns is one of many Lincoln scholars interviewed for WILL-TV’s new documentary, entitled Lincoln: Prelude to the Presidency.

The one-hour program, which features interviews and reenactments, examines how the young prairie lawyer shaped and honed the skills that would serve him as America’s president during a complex time in the nation’s history. Kearns Goodwin is joined by fellow Lincoln scholars Edna Greene Medford and Orville Vernon Burton.

Many local volunteers from Springfield and the surrounding area participated in the production, filming reenactments of Lincoln’s horseback travels as he tried court cases in the area. The scenes were filmed at rural sites near Bloomington, Decatur and Springfield.

Hazel Dell’s Joe Woodard portrays Lincoln, and Bloomington attorney Guy Fraker served as content advisor. Prelude was written and produced by Alison Davis Wood, co-produced and directed by Tim Hartin and edited by Colin Hartin. Wood was the producer of Gold Star Mothers: Pilgrimage of Remembrance, and Walter Burley Griffin: In His Own Right. Hartin’s previous credits include Ten Sisters: A True Story, and The Song and the Slogan.

Wood, who grew up in Springfield, says on her production blog that “my goal with this program was to show Lincoln as a complex man who lived in a complicated time. I hope that it reminds us that before he was an American icon, he was an attorney who etched out a living here in central Illinois.” She goes on to say that her profile of the traveling lawyer shows “he was becoming a well-respected attorney and a national political figure, and he was shaping and refining his views on the important issues of the day, many of which he would face in the White House.”

The documentary focuses on Lincoln’s court career. By the mid 1850s, the soon-to-be president was the leading attorney in Illinois, with more than 300 cases heard by the state Supreme Court.

Lincoln is portrayed by Joe Woodard of Hazel Dell, Ill.

Of the 5,000 cases Lincoln handled during his legal career, the documentary features his representation of slaveholder Robert Matson; his defense of Melissa Goings, who was accused of murdering her abusive husband; his successful defense of murder suspect Duff Armstrong by using the moon tables in the Farmer’s Almanac; and his representation of Rebecca Thomas, a Revolutionary War soldier’s widow whose pension was threatened by a pension agent.

As the Capital City celebrates Lincoln’s 200th birthday, WILL-TV will air Wood’s story of a man growing in compassion and oratory skills during his time here in Springfield, a time that would end only because of his nomination to be the Republican candidate for president in 1860.

The program will be shown at 7:30 p.m. on Lincoln’s Birthday, Thursday, Feb. 12. After Feb. 12, a DVD of the program may be purchased by calling 800-528-7980.

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