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ch. xvii. The bar in great measure was composed of the same men who used to follow the circuit on horse­back, over roads impassable to wheels, with their scanty wardrobes, their law-books, and their docu­ments crowding each other in their saddle-bags. The improvement of roads which made carriages a possibility had effected a great change, and the coming of the railway had completed the sudden development of the manners and customs of the modernized community. But they could not all at once take from the bar of the Eighth Circuit its raciness and its individuality. The men who had lived in log-cabins, who had hunted their way through untrodden woods and prairies, who had thought as much about the chances of swimming over swollen fords as of their cases, who had passed their nights — a half-dozen together — on the floors of wayside hostelries, could never be precisely the same sort of practitioners as the smug barristers of a more conventional age and place. But they were not deficient in ability, in learning, or in that most valuable faculty wThich enables really intelligent men to get their bearings and sustain themselves in every sphere of life to which they may be called. Some of these very colleagues of Lincoln, at the Springfield bar have sat in Cabinets, have held their own on the floor of the Senate, have led armies in the field, have governed States, and all with a quiet self-reliance which was as far as possible removed from either undue arrogance or undue modesty.1

i A few of. the lawyers who Logan, Stuart, Baker, Samuel H.

practiced with Lincoln, and have Treat, Bledsoe, O. H. Browning,

held the highest official positions, Hardin, Lyman Trunabull, and

are Douglas, Shields, Stephen T. McClernand.


Among these able and energetic men Lincoln as- ch. xyn. sumed and held the first rank. This is a statement which ought not to be made without authority, and rather than give the common repute of the circuit, we prefer to cite the opinion of those lawyers of Illinois who are entitled to speak as to this matter, both by the weight of their personal and professional character and by their eminent official standing among the jurists of our time. We shall quote rather fully from addresses delivered by Justice David Davis, of the Supreme Court of the United States, and by Judge Drummond, the United States District Judge for Illinois. Judge Davis says:

I enjoyed for over twenty years the personal friendship of Mr. Lincoln, We were admitted to the bar about the same time and traveled for many years what is known in-Illinois as the Eighth Judicial Court. In 1848, when I first went on the bench, the circuit embraced fourteen counties, and Mr. Lincoln went with the Court to every county. Railroads were not then in use, and our mode of travel was either on horseback or in buggies.

This simple life he loved, preferring it to the practice of the law in a city, where, although the remuneration would be greater, the opportunity would be less for mixing with the great body of the people, who loved him, and whom he loved. Mr. Lincoln was transferred from the bar of that circuit to the office of the President of the United States, having been without official position since he left Congress in 1849. In all the elements that constitute the great lawyer he had few equals. He was great both at nisi prius and before an appellate tribunal. He seized the strong points of a cause, and presented them with clearness and great compactness. His mind was logical and direct, and he did not indulge in extra­neous discussion. Generalities and platitudes had no charms for him. An unfailing vein of humor never deserted him; and he was able to claim the attention of


ch. xvil court and jury, when the cause was the most uninterest­ing, "by the appropriateness of his anecdotes.1

His power of comparison was large, and he rarely failed in a legal discussion to use that mode of reasoning. , The framework of his mental and moral being was honesty, and a wrong cause was poorly defended by him. The ability which some eminent lawyers possess, of explaining away the bad points of a cause by ingenious sophistry, was denied him. In order to bring into full activity his great powers, it was necessary that he should be convinced of the right and justice of the matter which he advocated. When so convinced, whether the cause was great or small, he was usually successful. He read law-books but little, except when the cause in hand made it necessary; yet he was usually self-reliant, depending on his own resources, and rarely consulting his brother lawyers, either on the management of his case or on the legal questions involved.

Mr. Lincoln was the fairest and most accommodating of practitioners, granting all favors which were consistent with his duty to his client, and rarely availing himself of an unwary oversight of his adversary.

He hated wrong and oppression everywhere, and many a man whose fraudulent conduct was undergoing review in a court of justice has writhed under his terrific indig­nation and rebukes. He was the most simple and un­ostentatious of men in his habits, having few wants, and those easily supplied. To his honor be it said that he never took from a client, even when his cause was gained, more than he thought the services were worth and the client could reasonably afford to pay. The people where he practiced law were not rich, and his charges were always small. "When he was elected President, I question whether there was a lawyer in the circuit, who had been at the bar so long a time, whose means were not larger. It did not seem to be one of the purposes of his life to accumulate a fortune. In fact, outside of his pro-

i U. F. Linder once said to an that flattering unction to your

Eastern lawyer who expressed soul. Lincoln is like Tansey's

the opinion that Lincoln was horse, he ("breaks to win.'"—T.

wasting his time in telling W. S. Kidd, in the Lincoln Me-

stories to the jury, " Don't lay morial Album.


fession, he had no knowledge of the way to make money, ch.xvii. and he never even attempted it.

Mr. Lincoln was loved by his brethren of the bar, and no body of men will grieve more at his death, or pay more sincere tributes to his memory. His presence on the circuit was watched for with interest and never failed to produce joy or hilarity. "When casually absent, the spirits of both bar and people were depressed. He was not fond of litigation, and would compromise a lawsuit whenever practicable.

No clearer or more authoritative statement of Lincoln's rank as a lawyer can ever be made than is found in these brief sentences, in which the warmth of personal affection is not permitted to disturb the measured appreciation, the habitual reserve of the eminent jurist. But, as it may be objected that the friendship which united Davis and Lincoln rendered the one incapable of a just judgment upon the merits of the other, we will also give an extract from the address delivered in Chicago by one of the ablest and most impartial lawyers who have ever honored the bar and the bench in the West. Judge Drummond says:

With a probity of character known to all, with an intuitive insight into the human heart, with a clearness of statement which was in itself an argument, with un­common power and felicity of illustration,— often, it is true, of a plain and homely kind,—^and with that sincerity and earnestness of manner which carried con­viction, he was perhaps one of the most successful jury lawyers we ever had in the State. He always tried a case fairly and honestly. He never intentionally mis­represented the evidence of a witness nor the argument of an opponent. He met both squarely, and if he could not explain the one or answer the other, substantially admitted it. He never misstated the law, according to his own intelligent view of it. Such was the transparent candor and integrity of his nature, that he could not well


ch.xvii. or strongly argue a side or a cause that he thought wrong. Of course he felt it his duty to say what could be said, and to leave the decision to others; but there could be seen in such cases the inward struggle of his own mind. In trying a case he might occasionally dwell too long upon, or give too much importance to, an incon­siderable point 5 but this was the exception, and generally he went straight to the citadel of the cause or question, and struck home there, knowing if that were won the outworks would necessarily fall. He could hardly be called very learned in his profession, and yet he rarely tried a cause without fully understanding the law appli­cable to it; and I have no hesitation in saying he was one of the ablest lawyers I have ever known. If he was forcible before a jury, he was equally so with the Court. He detected with unerring sagacity the weak points of an opponent's argument, and pressed his own views with overwhelming strength. His efforts were quite unequal, and it might happen that he would not, on some occa­sions, strike one as at all remarkable. But let him be thoroughly roused, let Mm feel that he was right, and some principle was involved in his cause, and he would come out with an earnestness of conviction, a power of argument, a wealth of illustration, that I have never seen surpassed.

This is nothing less than the portrait of a great lawyer, drawn by competent hands, with the life­long habit of conscientious accuracy. If we chose to continue we could fill this volume with the tributes of his professional associates, ranging all the way from the commonplaces of condolence to the most extravagant eulogy. But enough has been quoted to justify the tradition which Lincoln left behind him at the bar of Illinois. His weak as , well as his strong qualities have been indicated. . He never learned the technicalities, what some would call the tricks, of the profession. The sleight of plea and demurrer, the legerdemain by





Lamon, p. 317.
which justice is balked and a weak case is made to ch. xvn gain an unfair advantage, was too subtle and shifty for his strong and straightforward intelligence. He met these manoeuvres sufficiently well, when practiced by others, but he never could get in the way of handling them for himself. On the wrong side he was always weak. He knew this himself, and avoided such cases when he could consistently with the rules of his profession. He would often persuade a fair-minded litigant of the injustice of his case and induce him to give it up. His partner, Mr. Herndon, relates a speech in point which Lin­coln once made to a man who offered him an objectionable case: "Yes, there is no reasonable doubt but that I can gain your case for you. I can set a whole neighborhood at loggerheads; I can dis­tress a widowed mother and her six fatherless chil­dren, and thereby get for you six hundred dollars, which rightfully belongs, it appears to me, as much to them as it does to you. I shall not take your case, but I will give a little advice for nothing. You seem a sprightly, energetic man. I would advise you to try your hand at making six hun­dred dollars in some other way." Sometimes, after he had entered upon a criminal case, the conviction that his client was guilty would affect him with a sort of panic. On one occasion he turned suddenly to his associate and said: " Swett, the man is guilty; you defend him, I can't," and so gave up his share of a large fee. The same thing happened at another time when he was engaged with Judge S. C. Parks in defending a man accused of larceny. He said: "If you can say anything for the man, do it, I can't; if I attempt it, the jury will vol. I.—20'


ch.xvil see I think he is guilty, and convict him." Once he was prosecuting a civil suit, in the course of which evidence was introduced showing that his client was attempting a fraud. Lincoln rose and went to his hotel in deep disgust. The judge sent for him; he refused to come. " Tell the judge," he said, "my hands are dirty; I came over to wash them." We are aware that these stories detract something from the character of the lawyer; but this inflexible, inconvenient, and fastidious moral­ity was to be of vast service afterwards to his country and the world.

The Nemesis which waits upon men of extraor­dinary wit or humor has not neglected Mr. Lin­coln, and the young lawyers of Illinois, who never knew him, have an endless store of jokes and pleasantries in his name; some of them as old as ut, ^s-~~- Howleglass or Babelais.1 But the fact is that with all his stories and jests, his frank companionable humor, his gift of easy accessibility and welcome, he was, even while he traveled the Eighth Circuit, a man of grave and serious temper and of an unusual innate dignity and reserve. He had few or no special intimates, and there was a line beyond which no one ever thought of passing. Besides, he was too strong a man in the court-room to be regarded with anything but respect in a community

i As a specimen of these sto- " Gone to h ," was the gloomy

ries we give the following, well response. "Well, don't give it

vouched for, as apocrypha gen- up," Lincoln rejoined cheer-

erally are : Lincoln met one day fully; "you can try it again

on the court-house steps a young there "— a quip which has been

lawyer who had lost a case — his attributed to many wits in many

only one — and looked very dis- ages, and will doubtless make

consolate. " What has become the reputation of jesters yet to

of your case?" Lincoln asked, be.



in which, legal ability was the only especial mark of distinction.

Few of his forensic speeches have been preserved, but his contemporaries all agree as to their singular ability and power. He seemed absolutely at home in a court-room; his great stature did not encum­ber him there; it seemed like a natural symbol of superiority. His bearing and gesticulation had no awkwardness about them; they were simply striking and original. He assumed at the start a frank and friendly relation with the jury which was extremely effective. He usually began, as the phrase ran, by " giving away his case w; by allow­ing to the opposite side every possible advantage that they could honestly and justly claim. Then he would present his own side of the case, with a clearness, a candor, an adroitness of statement which at once nattered and convinced the jury, and made even the bystanders his partisans. Sometimes he disturbed the court with laughter by his humorous or apt illustrations; sometimes he excited the audience by that norid and exuberant rhetoric which he knew well enough how and when to indulge in; but his more usual and more success­ful manner was to rely upon a clear, strong, lucid statement, keeping details in proper subordination and bringing forward, in a way which fastened the attention of court and jury alike, the essential point on which he claimed a decision. " Indeed," says one of his colleagues, " his statement often rendered argument unnecessary, and often the court would stop him and say, ' If that is the case, we will hear the other side.'"

Whatever doubts might be entertained as to

ch. XVII.


"Life of


p. 32.




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