Benner, Martha, and Cullom Davis (ed.), The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2000.
The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition is the culmination of fifteen years of archival combing, scrupulous research, and clear organization. This collection of 100,000 documents related to the Lincoln 's practice of law in Illinois between 1836 and his election to the presidency in 1861. The multifaceted collection is organized and cross-referenced in a number of ways: chronologically, by subject, name of litigants, and types of documents. The collection is further amplified by case summaries, interpretative essays, and clear finding aids prepared by leading legal scholars. The editors provide a virtual archive on two DVD-ROM drive disks for scholars delving into the overlooked years when Abraham Lincoln practiced law and became involved in some well known 19th century legal contests, including the Chicken Bone and Almanac trials.
This collection of legal papers, court decisions, and non-litigation matters provides a glimpse of the intellectual formation of Abraham Lincoln and helps explain how Lincoln responded the constant crisis he faced as president of the United States. As an American historian I frequently highlight the echo of Lincoln's legal training in two major events of his presidency. The Emancipation Proclamation which outlawed slavery in territory under Confederate control while perpetuating the peculiar institution in the border territories and his approach to re-admitting states to the Union by arguing that the Confederate states were in rebellion since the Constitution did not provide for departure from the Union. In both of these cases Lincoln applied a narrow, legalistic, and pedantic view which is better analyzed in light of Lincoln's training and work in the legal profession for almost thirty years. This collection of documents will assist Civil War and 19th century historians who wish to probe the intellectual milieu of Abraham Lincoln, to evaluate Lincoln's response to the secession crisis and disunion, and to consider events on the Illinois frontier in the mid-19th century. The editors are to be commended for collecting, organizing, and formatting a large collection of primary sources that are very accessible to interested scholars.
"The collection fascinates not just because of the documents it makes available for researchers, but because of the way it presents them. Searchable images of 96,000 pages of nineteenth-century Illinois legal documentation represents a new kind of archive.
"The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln should be of interest to anyone researching the antebellum era. The editors have made documents usually locked away in courthouse vaults accessible, not just physically accessible, but understandable. The promise of the computer age is that historical resources will be more widely available, not just to senior scholars with big grants, or dissertation writers with little grants, but to all manner of students. These records should be used by high school and college students, professors at teaching colleges as well as the faculty at the leading research institutions."
"A Superior Opportunity of Being a Good Man"
The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition. Edited by Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2000. 3 DVDs and user's manual. $2,000. ISBN 0-252-02566-0.
Great president. Lousy lawyer." In four words, a movie character played by the late actor Walter Matthau thus summed up the career of Abraham Lincoln. For most of the 136 years since Lincoln's death, general readers and scholars alike have accepted this verdict. Occasional Southern partisans have tried to belittle Lincoln's greatness as a president, but no substantial challenges to his overall reputation appeared between Edgar Lee Master's vitriolic Lincoln: The Man in 1931 and Lerone Bennett's Forced Into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream in 2000. During that span, hundreds of other authors portrayed Lincoln in every possible light: dynamic leader or passive responder to events, cool religious skeptic or secret Christian believer, Burkean conservative or proto-twentieth-century statist liberal, ideologue or pragmatist; but always an admirable and successful model of a particular way of thinking, which (by remarkable coincidence) generally tended to be that of the author as well.
Even rarer than a serious attack on Lincoln as a president has been a serious evaluation of Lincoln as a lawyer. Abraham Lincoln received his law license in 1836 and began practicing as the junior partner of John Todd Stuart (cousin of his future wife Mary Todd) in 1837. He ran the firm for two years while Todd served in Congress and in 1841 left to become a partner of Stephen T. Logan. Three years later he established his own practice, with William H. Herndon as his junior partner, and (with the exception of a single term in Congress) spent the next seventeen years living in Springfield, devoting most of his energies to the law. Numerous books have described Lincoln's pre-presidential years, but John J. Duff's A. Lincoln: Prairie Lawyer (1960) and John P. Frank's Lincoln as a Lawyer (1961) remain the only two full-length studies of Lincoln's legal career (although others are currently being written).
Journal of American History 88 (September 2001): 648-49.
The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: The Complete Documentary Edition (DVD). Ed. by Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis, 2000. (Windows) 3 DVDS, $2,000. (University of Illinois Press, 1325 S. Oak St., Champaign, IL 61820. ISBN 0-252-02566-0.)
Forty people spent fourteen years compiling this collection of over 200,000 documentary images and 1.5 million discrete facts. The collection comprises 96,386 documents describing 5,173 cases and 496 nonlitigation activities. More than cases and pleadings are included. Newspaper reports on cases help provide context. Essays on Abraham Lincoln, the court structure, and the legal practice of his age provide further background. A subject index guides readers to case summaries, an overview of the law practice of Lincoln, a statistical portrait of the cases, biographies of major players, and bibliographies on Lincoln and on nineteenth-century law. There are maps setting forth state and federal judicial districts as well as major transportation arteries. There are lists of state and federal circuit judges and their terms, a monetary conversion table to allow modern comparisons with Lincoln's economic environment, a file on land measurements of the time, and introductions to the forms of pleading. There is even a perpetual calendar for those who wish to know that Lincoln's birthday was on a Friday in 1828! The editors seem to have thought of everything that might help the user of this collection. Furthermore, being in DVD format, the materials are almost instantly available as research proceeds. Even this novice found his way through the user-friendly files.
These documents bring Lincoln out of his monument and into the mundane world, a world of law that absorbed most of his adult life. Lincoln spent more time being a lawyer than he spent doing anything else he ever did. If there is an entrée to revealing or discovering the real Lincoln, this is an indispensable place to look. Some historians have argued that those years and days of law practice made the sixteenth president essentially a conservative. Here is a place to find out.
Journal of Illinois History 4 (Summer 2001): 168-69.
The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition
Edited by Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000. 3 DVDs. $2,000.
The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln is extraordinary in every sense of that much overused word. It is difficult to find any other word that accurately captures the contours of this publication. Tens of thousands of books have appeared on all aspects of the life of Abraham Lincoln, and tens of thousands more will appear in years to come. I am certain, however, that no publication—past, present, or future—will rival this one in terms of its breadth and depth of detail.
The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln brings together nearly 100,000 documents from more than 120 repositories and private collections. These documents are the extant record of the thousands of court cases and legal matters that made up Lincoln's law practice from 1836, when he was admitted to the Illinois bar, until his departure for Washington in 1861. All of the documents are available in an easily searchable text format, and the editors also provide more than 250,000 images of actual court documents related to Lincoln's legal work.