Monday, February 2, 2009

Lawyers on Lincoln the Lawyer

The bicentennial publications about Abraham Lincoln continue. Here's one you may not come across, unless you happen to be a regular reading of the main publication of the American Bar Association. The February issue of the ABA Journal has a series of articles about Abraham Lincoln, Esq.

For a long time, Lincoln's legal practice was the gaping hole in the study of his life and legacy. Aside from anecdotal accounts, particularly about the case of Lincoln's that came to represent him as a lawyer, the Almanac murder trial of "Duff" Armstrong, very little hard evidence was dug up about Lincoln, Attorney at Law.

This changed about a quarter of a century ago. In 1985, the Abraham Lincoln Association began a project, soon joined by the Illinois Preservation Association, to unearth any documents related to Lincoln's legal casework in Illinois courthouse records. This project, first called the "Lincoln Legal Papers," produced print and CD-ROM records of the hundreds of documents they uncovered. Recently, the latest version of these records became available to researchers (or any other interested people) in a free, searchable on-line version called the Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln. (In fact, the overall project was so popular and successful that it has been expanded. It is now called The Papers of Abraham Lincoln as is collecting papers related to Lincoln's entire career, including his presidency, which may ultimately supplant the half-century old Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln.)

The work of the last twenty years has excited scholars, who have used it to produce a number of recent books about Lincoln the Lawyer. Among the recent well regarded books are Lincoln the Lawyer by Brian Dirck (the Lincoln scholar who happens to be the creator of the great A. Lincoln Blog) and An Honest Calling: The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln by Mark Steiner.

If you don't have the time or energy to chase down and read those two books, the several short articles in the ABA Journal, all available online, give a good introduction to Abraham Lincoln as a lawyer. The pieces are written by several legal figures, including a piece by Steiner and another by Lincoln Forum president, and retired chief justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, Frank Williams. Click here to go to the articles.

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