From Publishers Weekly
This meticulous study of Lincoln leaves aside his well-covered presidency to spotlight his rather pedestrian career as an Illinois lawyer. Lincoln spent roughly 25 years practicing law, and most studies of this period cast it in terms of his later accomplishments: "admirers have done what they can to inject a little excitement into his legal life." Using the recently completed Lincoln Legal Papers Project, fourteen years of "unearthing every available primary source on Lincoln's law practice," history professor and author Dirck (Lincoln and Davis) applies the corrections, unearthing a more mundane, and more human, Lincoln. The vast majority of his nearly 4,000 cases were run-of-the-mill debt litigation, fairly standard for the growing credit economy. And although he had a few high-profile cases (murders, railroad lawsuits), Dirck's technique is to show more about Lincoln through everyday details-the masculine squalor of his Springfield office, the rough-and-tumble camaraderie of the circuit courts, and the quiet exactitude of his paperwork-than more sensational (and largely apocryphal) stories. Historians, legal scholars and practicing lawyers will find a sophisticated, thoughtful treatment of Lincoln and 19th century law practice, but Dirck's command of legal theory and straightforward prose make this book appropriate even for those without prior knowledge of the law or Lincoln's life.
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From the several thousand cases Abraham Lincoln litigated at the bar, historian Dirck delineates the categories of Lincoln's practice. He does so as a means of modulating the adulation for Lincoln-the-lawyer that he detects in memoirists and early biographers. Although a few of Lincoln's cases wend their way into modern biographies, most do not, and for good reason: they were dreary instances of debt. On the cash-poor frontier of 1830s Illinois, promissory notes proliferated. Consequently, overextensions, with which Lincoln was personally familiar as a formerly indebted storeowner, were chronic on the legal landscape. With the advent of railroads, Lincoln diversified into defending them against liability, his chief area of historical legal significance, but credit and debt were his daily grind. Dirck also relates the custom of "riding the circuit" by way of developing the regard in which Lincoln was held by his colleagues: an amiable but remote companion, an able speaker in the courtroom. Dirck's is a readably nontechnical study, searchable for hints of the presidential persona in that of the practicing lawyer. Gilbert Taylor
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