Reviews of "The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition"

Journal of the Association for History and Computing 5, no. 2 (September 2002)

Reviewed by James T. Carroll, Iona College

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.

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