For six generations, members of the Gates family have been pursuing clues -- believed to have been left by America's founding fathers -- that might lead them to the legendary Knights of Templar treasure that's rumored to be hidden somewhere in the U.S. After discovering a centuries old oceangoing vessel buried in the Arctic Circle, Benjamin Franklin Gates (NICOLAS CAGE), his assistant Riley Poole (JUSTIN BARTHA) and their financier Ian Howe (SEAN BEAN) have found another cryptic clue.
This one is the most telling, however, leading Ben to believe that the location of another clue or perhaps a map to the treasure is located on the back of the Declaration of Independence. When Ben won't go along with Ian's decision to steal that famous document, the two violently part ways, with Ian believing the other two to be dead.
Realizing they have little time and finding themselves unable to convince National Archives conservator Abigail Chase (DIANE KRUGER) of the legitimacy of their claims, Ben decides that the only way to protect the Declaration is to steal it and keep it out of Ian's hands. Utilizing an elaborate plan, they manage to do just that, but end up having to save Abigail from Ian and his goons who arrived on the same night with the same quest.
After getting some help from Ben's estranged father, Patrick Gates (JON VOIGHT), who states he wasted decades of his life hunting for what he now believes to be just a myth, Ben shows Abigail that he wasn't crazy as they find more clues hidden on the back of the fragile document. Trying to stay one step ahead of Ian and his goons as well as federal agent Peter Sadusky (HARVEY KEITEL) and his men who are hot on their trail, Ben, Abigail and Riley race from one historical location to the next, collecting clues that they hope will lead them to the treasure.