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Abraham Lincoln, lawyer (Lincoln’s Hat Activity)-- Passes the Illinois Bar Exam

Abraham Lincoln, lawyer (Lincoln’s Hat Activity)

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       Abraham Lincoln practiced law for nearly twenty-five years in the Illinois courts. Other than part-time service in the Illinois legislature and the United States Congress, law was his full-time occupation. Lincoln handled cases in almost all court levels: justice of the peace, county, circuit, appellate, and federal. He had three successive formal partnerships: junior partner to John Todd Stuart (1837-1841), junior partner to Stephen T. Logan (1841-1844), and senior partner to William H. Herndon (1844-1861). Like many of his colleagues at the bar, Lincoln was a general practice attorney and represented clients in a variety of civil and criminal actions including debt, slander, divorce, dower and partition, mortgage foreclosure, and murder

Lincolnís Legal Education

        While Lincoln lived in New Salem, Illinois, from 1831 to 1837, he had various encounters with the legal system. He wrote legal documents for Bowling Green, the local justice of the peace, appeared in several lawsuits as a witness, and was the defendant in several cases in which creditors sued him to collect debts. Lincoln considered a career in law after he lost the 1832 election for the Illinois General Assembly, but, according to his 1860 campaign autobiography, decided against a legal career because he thought he needed more education to succeed as a lawyer. In 1834, Lincoln won election as a representative for Sangamon County to the state legislature. When he attended legislative sessions in Vandalia, fellow representative John Todd Stuart encouraged him to study law. 

Broke Tradition, Used Self Study
       Aspiring attorneys typically studied with established members of the bar or served as clerks in law offices to prepare for a legal career. Lincoln had no such opportunity in New Salem. Instead, he borrowed law books from Stuartís law office in Springfield, twenty miles away, and read them while the legislature was not in session. Lincoln read Blackstoneís Commentaries and legal pleading and practice treatises to become familiar with the forms of action and the legal system. On March 24, 1836, the Sangamon County Circuit Court in Springfield certified that Lincoln was a person of good moral character. This certification was the first of several necessary steps to become a lawyer in Illinois. On September 9, 1836, the Illinois Supreme Court examined Lincoln and issued him a license to practice law in all of the courts in the state, which was the final step to become an attorney.

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