Today is Abraham Lincoln's birthday, our 16th and arguably greatest president. His legacy as president and leader during the Civil War has been covered in great detail over the past 150 years. Sometimes, his career as a lawyer before his ascension to the presidency is overlooked (though all aspects of Lincoln's life have been studied in detail!). One great way to get to know Lincoln beyond as president is to read about his experiences riding through the then-wilderness of the Midwest, serving as a lawyer for a variety of frontiersmen, farmers and small town residents.
One great book that the Law Library has in it's Lincoln Collection is "Lincoln's Own Stories", edited by Anthony Gross. Originally published in 1912, the book is a unique collection of stories that were told by Lincoln himself (and those who knew him) ranging from his childhood to his time as Commander-In-Chief. An entire chapter is dedicated to Lincoln's down-home musing and humorous remembrances of his time as a lawyer. That entire chapter is available online. You truly get a feel for Lincoln's sense of justice and humor by reading these stories. Here is a short excerpt that tells the story of Lincoln and his contempt for frivolous lawsuits:
It was a common thing for Lincoln to discourage unnecessary lawsuits, and consequently he was continually sacrificing opportunities to make money. One man who asked him to bring suit for two dollars and a half against a debtor who had not a cent with which to pay, would not be put off in his passion for revenge. His counsel therefore gravely demanded ten dollars as a retainer. Half of this he gave to the poor defendant, who thereupon confessed judgment and paid the $2.50. Thus the suit was ended, to the entire satisfaction of the angry creditor.
You can find more great books about Lincoln (and the Civil War) by perusing our Lincoln Collection,located in the Quarles and Brady Reading Room. Happy Birthday, Mr. Lincoln!