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An Honest Calling: The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln Hardcover – August 10, 2006

4.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Insightful, convincingly argued, solidly researched ... illuminates the story of Lincoln at the bar." -- Michael Burlingame, Sadowski Professor of History Emeritus, Connecticut College

"Like turning on lights in ... a dim and unsorted storehouse.... no better word to describe this book than simply ‘Aha!’" -- Allen C. Guelzo, Director of Civil War Era Studies, Gettysburg College

"Well-written … a major step forward in our understanding of Lincoln’s law practice." -- Peter Karsten, University of Pittsburgh

About the Author

Mark E. Steiner is Associate Professor of Law at South Texas College of Law. He received both his J.D. and his Ph.D. in History from the University of Houston.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 282 pages
  • Publisher: Northern Illinois University Press; 1 edition (August 10, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 087580358X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0875803586
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,165,231 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In An Honest Calling attorney Mark E. Steiner makes good use of his professional training and years spent in helping to compile Lincoln's legal papers.

Study of Lincoln's law career has long been hampered by the scattered nature of Lincoln's court documents throughout Illinois and the Midwest. Now they are gathered together, and Steiner has made a fine presentation of what they reveal about Lincoln's "day job," which may have consumed as much of his time as politics did. Steiner deals with Lincoln's law practice in general and with some individual cases revealing Lincoln's handling of particular issues (including slavery and railroad corporations). Civil and criminal practices are covered.

This is an excellent introduction to Lincoln's law practice, and will also interest persons seeking information about the influence of attorneys on the Western frontier.
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Format: Paperback
Were I completely objective about this book, I'd probably grant it only 3 stars. It is a rather dry read, but because I bought it in a bookstore just around the corner from Lincoln's law office in Springfield, IL it represents a souvenir of a great day learning about the life of our 16th President and I love it.

Its greatest virtue is also its greatest vice. The author has made a phenomenal survey of the digital repository of Lincoln legal documents published in 2000 by the University of Illinois. His notes, bibliography and case index comprise about a third of the book's bulk. I've no doubt that these alone make this book a useful tool to the Lincoln scholar.

The seven chapters of text that precede the index are probably 100 percent interesting to people in the legal profession. The first three chapters are a bit plodding. They talk about 1) Lincoln's popularity vs the current standing of the legal profession, 2) the typical education of a lawyer in Lincoln's time with observations on how Lincoln was different and 3) political and economic considerations in the practice of law prior to the Civil War. The author tends to get bogged down in his minutiae, citations and quotes to the point where he fails to interpret his data.

This book is limited to descriptive history. The author does not have a case to make or a question to pose. This lack of historical argument can make for dry reading, however a patient reader can find nuggets of gold that the author has dug up. I particularly refer to the fourth chapter: Law on the Prairie.
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Format: Paperback
4.49 stars - I've read at least 3 books about the lawyer-life of Lincoln in the past 6 months and they have all been different - I would compare this one with Brian Dirck's "Lincoln the Lawyer." I gave Dirck's book 5 stars for its great readability, scholarship, broad scope, and contribution to Lincoln biography...I wanted to give this book 5 stars as well for its very deep dive into legal analysis, but as described below, just a few criticisms prevent that. First the good - an exceptional first chapter in which the author systematically runs through the merits and faults of the existing literature on Lincoln's legal career; two chapters on Lincoln's legal training and life in the courtroom are also very good. His characterization of Lincoln's Whig philosophy as it pertains to the law was persuasive and interesting. The coverage of the Jane Bryant/Matson slave case was especially comprehensive and interesting and while it strayed a bit from Lincoln by focusing on professional ethics and the moral quandary over representing a client's interests, even if you disagree with them, was terrific. A few criticisms - the author gives multiple examples when only two or three would do: the slander cases, while colorful, went on and on; the debt cases - fully half of Lincoln's practice - merited a couple of pages. While he argues that previous biographies emphasized a handful of Lincoln's most famous cases (Duff Armstrong, Effie Afton, Manny Reaper) - here, the author swings the pendulum a little to far the other way - where I'd love to see his perspective, he offers none.Read more ›
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