Ben Gates is a well-educated history fanatic with a maverick's sense of adventure. His interest in the past comes from his own family lineage, as his ancestors had roles in some of America's historic events.
The family's passion can be seen in the full names of both Ben and his father, Patrick Henry Gates. As he is both intelligent and cagey, quests that seem impossible to most can plausibly be accomplished by Ben. Though he carries a sense of humor and wit, adversaries should not underestimate him, as they will rarely understand all facets of a situation as well as he does.
As a child, Benjamin Franklin Gates was very close to his grandfather, John Adams Gates, who told him of a story that Charles Carroll of Carrollton passed on a secret to their ancestor in 1832 of a fabled treasure taken from ancient empires throughout history that was discovered by the Knights Templar and later protected by the Freemasons. The treasure would eventually be hidden in America by the Founding Fathers. The clue leading to the treasure is the phrase "The secret lies with Charlotte". While Ben is convinced by the story, his skeptical father, Patrick Henry Gates, dismisses it as complete nonsense.
Thirty years later, Ben leads an expedition with Ian Howe, and his friend, Riley Poole, a computer expert, to find the Charlotte, a ship lost in the Arctic, which holds the first clue to finding the national treasure. On reaching the place where the ship was lost (using the radars and sensors), they find that the geothermal currents have caused the water to freeze so much that they could walk and dig deep down to find the "Charlotte." After hard fought efforts, they find a meerschaum pipe, which has a clue in the form of a riddle, implying that the next clue is on the Declaration of Independence. When Ian suggests they steal the Declaration of Independence, Ben opposes, causing a fight to ensue resulting in a massive fire fueled by gunpowder, and the group split in two. Ian and his men escape the ship while Ben and Riley take cover just before the ship explodes.
Ben and Riley return to Washington D.C. and report the potential theft of the Declaration to the FBI and Dr. Abigail Chase of the National Archives, but both dismiss their claim. Ben decides to steal the document himself from the Archives' preservation room during a gala event. Obtaining Abigail's fingerprints from a wine glass, Ben successfully accesses the preservation room and obtains the Declaration, but is spotted by Ian's group in the elevator just as they break in to steal it. Ben tries to leave via the gift shop, but has to buy the Declaration for $32 when the clerk mistakes it for a souvenir copy; not having enough cash in hand at the time, Ben pays for it with a credit card. Abigail, suspecting something is astray, pursues Ben and takes back the document. Ian kidnaps her, but Ben and Riley rescue Abigail, tricking Ian by leaving behind the copy of Declaration purchased at the gift shop. FBI Agent Sadusky begins tracking Ben down, using Ben's credit card information.
Unable to return home, the trio go to Patrick's house where they are welcomed a little unexpectedly by Patrick - "Is she pregnant?"- referring to Dr.Abigail. Afterwards, Patrick tries to convince Ben that the treasure is a myth and that one clue will only lead to another and so on, but Ben dismisses this. The trio then study the Declaration and discover an Ottendorf cipher written in invisible ink. With the help of lemon juice and some heat from the hair dryer, they find out that the hidden cypher refers to the Silence Dogood letters written by Benjamin Franklin. Patrick formerly owned them, but donated them to the Franklin Institute. Using a school boy to acquire the letters' key words, Ben, Riley, and Abigail discover a message pointing to the bell tower of Independence Hall, where the Liberty Bellonce stood. Unfortunately, Ian and his men question the school boy and pursue the new lead. Following the point on the opposite wall of the bell house where the shadow casted at exactly 2:22 pm on the same day, Ben finds a hidden cache containing a pair of glasses with multiple colored lenses invented by Benjamin Franklin, which, when used to read the back of the Declaration, reveals a clue pointing to the symbol of Trinity Church which is located on Wall Street and Broadway in New York City.
The group is chased by Ian's associates. Ben is arrested by the FBI, while Abigail and Riley lose the Declaration to Ian. However, Abigail convinces Ian to help them rescue Ben in exchange for the next clue. Ian agrees, arranging a meeting at the USS Intrepidwhere they help Ben evade the FBI.
Ian returns the Declaration and asks for the next clue, but when Ben remains coy, Ian reveals he has kidnapped Patrick as a hostage. They go inside Trinity Church where they sit and study the back of the Declaration of Independence using the different lenses resulting in the discovery of an underground passage known as Parkington Lane but it appears to lead to a dead end lit by a lone lantern. Patrick claims it is referencing the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, pointing Ian to the Old North Church in Boston. Ian leaves Gates trapped in the chamber to die, heading for Boston. Patrick reveals the clue was a fake, then enters the treasure room using the clues they gathered on their journey, but it seems looted. After a heart to heart between Ben and Patrick, they find a notch which the meerschaum pipe fits into, opening a large chamber containing the treasure, then escape through a back exit. Ben contacts Sadusky, who is actually a Freemason, surrendering the Declaration and the treasure's location in exchange for clemency. Ian is later arrested for trespassing into government areas.
Later, it's revealed Ben and Abigail have started a relationship and own a mansion. Meanwhile, Riley is somewhat upset that Ben turned down the 10% finder's fee for the treasure but accepted a much smaller amount of only 1%, which still has netted them all significant wealth. Riley drives away in a Ferrari as the film fades to black.
National Treasure: Book of Secrets
The sequel opens in the year 1865. Five days after the end of the Civil War, John Wilkes Booth and Michael O'Laughlen, both members of the Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC), enter a tavern and approach Thomas Gates (Ben Gates' great-great-grandfather). Thomasa well-known puzzle solver, to decode a message written in Booth's diary. Thomas recognizes the message and begins to translate it. While he does so, Booth leaves for Ford's Theatre to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. Thomas solves the puzzle, a clue to a map to Cibola, the city of gold, and realizes the men are still loyal to the South and have a sinister motive for finding the treasure. A fight breaks out, and Thomas rips several pages from the diary and throws them in the fireplace. Thomas is shot, and the gunman attempts to retrieve the pages, but only obtains a page fragment. As Thomas dies, he tells his distraught son, Charles Gates, "The debt that all men pay..."
In present day, Ben delivers a speech on the story of Lincoln' at a Civilian Heroes conference. Black market antiquities dealer, Mitch Wilkinson, shows one of the 18 missing pages of John Wilkes Booth's diary, with Thomas Gates' name written on it, convincing everyone that Thomas was not only a conspirator, but also the grand architect of the Lincoln assassination. Ben sets out to prove Thomas’ innocence.
Using spectral imaging, Ben, his estranged girlfriend Abigail Chase, and friend Riley Poole discover a cipher pointing to Édouard Laboulaye, hidden on the back of the diary page. Ben and Riley travel to Paris, where they find a clue engraved on the torch of the scale model of the Statue of Liberty, referring to the two Resolute desks. One of the desks is used by the President at the Oval Office in Washington, while the other is used by the Queen of Great Britain in Buckingham Palace in London.
Ben and Riley then head to London to infiltrate the Palace and Abigail shows up, unannounced. From the Queen's desk, he obtains an ancient wooden plank. Meanwhile, Wilkinson has broken into Patrick Gates' house and cloned Patrick's cell phone to track Ben's whereabouts. Wilkinson eventually obtains the wooden plank, but not before Ben manages to photograph the symbols carved into the plank.
At Ben's insistence, Patrick reluctantly asks his ex-wife and Ben's mother, Dr. Emily Appleton, for help in translating the symbols. She does so, but points out that some of the glyphs are partial, leading Ben to conclude that another plank must be hidden in the other Resolute desk at the White House.
Ben and Abigail coax her new love interest, Connor, a curator for the White House, into letting them into the office to see the desk. Ben discovers that the second plank is missing, but he does find a stamp bearing the seal of the "President's Secret Book". Riley tells Ben that the Book of Secrets contains documents collected "for Presidents,by Presidents and for Presidents' eyes only", covering such controversial subjects as the JFK assassination, Watergate, and Area 51.
Ben crashes the President's birthday party at Mount Vernon to convince the President to follow him into a secret tunnel under the House, where he confronts him about the book. The President warns Ben that his actions will be interpreted as an attempt to kidnap the President and Ben is now wanted for committing a federal offense. Ben convinces the President to reveal the location of the book, which is at the Library of Congress.
In the book, Ben finds a picture of the missing plank from the desk and an entry by President Coolidge, who found the plank in 1924, had it destroyed, and commissioned Gutzon Borglum to carve Mount Rushmore to erase the map's landmarks in order to protect the treasure. However, FBI Agent Sadusky tracks Ben to the Library, and the three narrowly escape capture.
Ben, Riley, Abigail, and Patrick then head to Mount Rushmore, where they meet Mitch, who has kidnapped Ben's mother, Emily. Mitch helps them find the entrance of a cave, containing the legendary Native American city of gold, Cíbola. Once inside, they encounter several traps and everyone gets separated. Eventually, they find the city of solid gold underneath Mount Rushmore and it begins flooding with water. In order to get out alive, one person has to stay behind to hold open the door to the tunnel. After a struggle and Ben's attempt to sacrifice himself, Mitch ends up staying behind and asking Ben to give him the credit for finding the treasure.
Ben clears his family's name with the discovery and is cleared of all charges when the President, in an attempt to protect Ben, tells everyone that Ben saved his life. Ben also ensures Mitch receives joint credit for the find. At the end, the President mentions the favor he asked of Ben when he gave him the location of the Book, implying that a third movie would be forthcoming. A lady that had read Riley's book wants it to be autographed. Riley gets his Ferrari back from the President who owes him a favor. Ben and Abigail reconcile and get back together as the film ends.