Reviews of "The Papers of Abraham Lincoln: Legal Documents and Cases"

HUMANITIES 29, no.1 (January/February 2008)

Reviewed by By Douglas L. Wilson, co-director of the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College

Terrific in Denunciation

Taking a new look at Lincoln the lawyer

Until recently biographers of Abraham Lincoln have known surprisingly little about the details of his law practice. Even the most basic information has been lacking, such as how many cases he had, what proportion was devoted to criminal cases, what to debt collection, or how often he represented railroads and other corporate interests. In the absence of hard and comprehensive evidence, scholars of Lincoln's law practice have, for the most part, only been able to present it anecdotally. In these circumstances, the general impression of Lincoln the lawyer has formed around random recollections of some of his more colorful and dramatic cases.

A good example is an anecdote presented by Lincoln's law partner, William H. Herndon, which concerns Lincoln's spirited defense of a poor, Revolutionary War widow who had been cheated out of $200—half her meager pension—by a grasping and unscrupulous pension agent. What Herndon and others remembered most distinctly about this case was the “skinning” Lincoln gave the defendant, Erastus Wright.

Read more: HUMANITIES 29, No.1 (January/February 2008)