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Lincoln the Lawyer

Brian Dirck

Publication Year: 2007

This fascinating history explores Abraham Lincoln's legal career, investigating the origins of his desire to practice law, his legal education, his partnerships with John Stuart, Stephen Logan, and William Herndon, and the maturation of his far-flung practice in the 1840s and 1850s. Brian Dirck also examines Lincoln's clientele, how he charged his clients, and how he addressed judge and jury, as well as his views on legal ethics and the supposition that he never defended a client he knew to be guilty.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This book examines Abraham Lincoln’s law practice from his perspective as much as possible, given the limitations of available source material and the historian’s craft. In choosing what to include and what to exclude in the narrative, my guiding question has been: what would Lincoln have seen when he practiced the law? ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

The acknowledgments section for every book I publish on Abraham Lincoln or the Civil War may well begin the same way, with an expression of thanks to Philip S. Paludan. Currently the Naomi B. Lynn Distinguished Chair of Lincoln Studies at the University of Illinois–Springfield, Phil is my longtime mentor and friend. ...

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pp. 1-8

Sometime during the 1850s Abraham Lincoln wrote down a few thoughts on the subject of being an attorney. They read like the early draft of a speech, perhaps one that Lincoln planned to deliver before a local bar association meeting. The editors of the Lincoln Legal Papers plausibly suggest they were intended for an address he gave at Ohio State and Union Law College. ...

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1. “Great God Almighty”

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pp. 9-32

Russell Godbey spotted Abraham Lincoln straddling a woodpile one day in the early 1830s, reading a book. It was an odd sight in New Salem—an Illinois village peopled by farmers who by and large weren’t avid readers—though maybe not so much for Lincoln. People had grown used to seeing him here and there, propped up and down and around at strange angles, nose buried in a newspaper or book. ...

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2. The Brethren

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pp. 33-53

In many ways, Lincoln enjoyed less camaraderie with his partners than he did with the Illinois bar in general. It was a large brotherhood. Springfield was home to eleven other lawyers when Lincoln first entered the profession. Most of the surrounding communities, if they were of any size or substance at all, sported at least one or two attorneys. ...

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3. Promissory Notes

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pp. 54-75

Lincoln could not always be so indifferent to what he earned. Three years before he was licensed as an attorney, he was desperate for money. He was an insolvent debtor facing financial ruin. ...

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4. The Energy Men

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pp. 76-98

James Frazier Reed came to Lincoln about a note sometime in the early winter of 1845–46. Lincoln and Herndon’s law office was at that time located in the Tinsley Building, near Springfield’s busy central square. Getting to the office, Reed would have dodged people, wagons, horses, oxen, and maybe some pigs or a few stray dogs. ...

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5. The Show

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pp. 99-119

Of course, some risk taking Lincoln could not fix. Some clients pressed their luck far beyond his capacity to be of any help. A few months after James Reed lost his debt case to William Butler, he decided that Springfield was no longer a promising business environment; the entire region had undergone an economic downturn. ...

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6. Death and the Maidens

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pp. 120-137

Leonard Swett followed Lincoln to Washington, D.C., when he became president, one of several old friends from the Illinois bar whom Lincoln brought with him. Some were officeholders like Ninian Edwards, who became captain commissary of subsistence, or Ward Hill Lamon, who was Lincoln’s self-appointed bodyguard on the trip from Springfield, ...

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7. Storytelling

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pp. 138-153

Elizabeth Edwards was a good talker; it was a trait that fit her lifestyle well. As one of the leading figures in Springfield society, she and her husband Ninian hosted frequent soirees at their large house on what was locally dubbed “quality hill,” the high spot at the edge of town where Springfield’s upper crust cloistered. ...

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8. Grease

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pp. 154-172

As storytelling goes, it all comes down to a matter of metaphors. Various people have applied different metaphors to Lincoln the lawyer. He has been a giant (or, for some critics, pygmy) of the Illinois bar; a champion of freedom (or, for some critics, its nemesis) and future emancipator in the courtroom; ...

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pp. 173-176

Let’s take Billy Herndon at his word, and imagine that Lincoln really did want nothing more than a return to his law practice at the end of his second term; a return to the rusty shingle, “hanging there, undisturbed . . . as if nothing had ever happened,” including John Wilkes Booth’s bullet. ...


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pp. 177-210

Bibliography and Sources

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pp. 211-220


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pp. 221-228

About the Author, Production Notes

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Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780252095481
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252076145

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2007