Herndon, William H.

Born: 1818-12-25 Greensburg, Kentucky

Died: 1891-03-18 Springfield, Illinois

William Herndon came to Illinois with his family in 1820, and in 1821, his family moved to Sangamon County. In 1823, the family settled in Springfield, Illinois. In 1836, Herndon entered Illinois College, but his father removed him from college after one year because of his son's growing abolitionist sentiment. Upon his return to Springfield, Herndon clerked in Joshua Speed's store. In 1842, Herndon studied law in the law firm of Logan & Lincoln. He was admitted to the bar in 1844 and became Abraham Lincoln's junior law partner that same year. The Lincoln & Herndon partnership lasted formally until Lincoln's assassination. Herndon did not travel the Eighth Judicial Circuit but did argue cases in court, and Lincoln and Herndon split their fees equally. Herndon was an ardent abolitionist and active in Whig politics though not as an office seeker. He was, however, elected to serve a one year term as Springfield's mayor in 1854, and he served as bank commissioner for the State of Illinois under Governors Bissell, Yates, and Oglesby. Herndon campaigned for Lincoln during his successful 1846 Congressional race and maintained the law practice during Lincoln's absence. Herndon also gave his active support to Lincoln's successful presidential race in 1860, but he frequently disagreed with Lincoln's policies as president. For Herndon, Lincoln was too slow to make the abolition of slavery a goal of the war. Despite his political differences with his friend and partner, Herndon wholeheartedly supported Lincoln's reelection in 1864. In 1862, Herndon had entered into an informal partnership with Charles S. Zane, and he continued to practice law throughout the duration of the war. After Lincoln's assassination, Herndon gave many lectures on Lincoln's life. Collaborating with Jesse W. Weik, Herndon produced Herndon's Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life.

Walter F. Pratt, Jr., "Herndon, William Henry," American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 10:652-53; David Donald, Lincoln's Herndon (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1948); John J. Duff, A. Lincoln: Prairie Lawyer (New York: Rinehart, 1960), 114, 151, 164; William H. Herndon and Jesse William Weik, Herndon's Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life (Chicago: Belford, Clarke, 1889); Mark E. Neely Jr., The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia (New York: McGraw Hill, 1982), 145-46; John Palmer, ed., The Bench and Bar of Illinois: Historical and Reminiscent (Chicago: Lewis, 1899), 1:192-93. Illustration courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL.