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LINCOLN, LAWYER, ON THE 8th CIRCUIT
Lincoln was away from Springfield for nearly six months of the year, three months each spring and each fall riding the circuit. He had traveled the Eighth Judicial Circuit in the past but began to spend even more time on the circuit after his return from Congress. By 1849, the circuit had fourteen counties in central Illinois, and Lincoln was the only attorney, besides the state’s attorney and the judge, who traveled the entire circuit. After one county circuit court concluded its business, the circuit judge, and the state’s attorney left to hold court at the next county seat. Circuits usually consisted of four to ten counties, and a court term lasted from a few days to a few weeks. At its peak from 1841 to 1847, the Eighth Judicial Circuit consisted of fifteen counties. Roads were difficult to travel during rainy weather. Itinerant court members traveled on horseback or by horse and buggy. While in a county seat, they stayed at local taverns, ate at common tables, and shared beds. When travel was particularly hazardous or lengthy, the group stayed at rural farmhouses along the way. By the end of the 1850s, railroads had become a popular mode of transportation, and Lincoln was able to travel to each of the county seats by rail. Many county seats along rail lines had grown in population and had hotels in which traveling lawyers and judges stayed.
Lincoln did not have any formal partnerships on the circuit. When he reached a county seat, local attorneys asked Lincoln to assist them with a case, or litigants themselves sought his services. Lincoln handled the business as it came to him. Generally, he chose neither clients nor co-counsels along partisan lines. In Macon County, Lincoln and Democrat Joel Seth Post argued fifteen cases together and opposed each other in fifteen cases. In Vermilion County, Lincoln and Ward Hill Lamon had a de facto partnership and advertised it in local newspapers. However, this arrangement did not prevent Lincoln from opposing Lamon in a few cases.