Abraham Lincoln: From His Own Words and Contemporary Accounts

By Roy Edgar Appleman; Abraham Lincoln | Go to book overview

In all the elements that constitute the great lawyer, he had few equals. He was great both at nisi prius and before an appellate tribunal. He seized the strong points of a cause, and presented them with clearness and great compactness. His mind was logical and direct, and he did not indulge in extraneous discussion. Generalities and platitudes had no charms for him. An unfailing vein of humor never deserted him; and he was always able to chain the attention of court and jury, when the cause was the most uninteresting, by the appropriateness of his anecdotes.

His power of comparison was large, and he rarely failed in a legal discussion to use that mode of reasoning. The framework of his mental and moral being was honesty, and a wrong cause was poorly defended by him. The ability which some eminent lawyers possess, of explaining away the bad points of a cause by ingenious sophistry, was denied him. In order to bring into full activity his great powers, it was necessary that he should be convinced of the right and justice of the matter which he advocated. When so convinced, whether the cause was great or small, he was usually successful. He read lawbooks but little, except when the cause in hand made it necessary; yet he was usually self-reliant, depending on his own resources, and rarely consulting his brother lawyers, either on the management of his case or on the legal questions involved.

To his honor be it said, that he never took from a client, even when the cause was gained, more than he thought the service was worth and the client could reasonably afford to pay. The people where he practiced law were not rich, and his charges were always small.

His presence on the circuit was watched for with interest, and never failed to produce joy and hilarity. When casually absent, the spirits of both bar and people were depressed. He was not fond of controversy, and would compromise a lawsuit whenever practicable.

DAVID DAVIS IN SPEECH GIVEN AT INDIANAPOLIS, QUOTED IN WARD H. LAMON, The Life of Abraham Lincoln.


11. LINCOLN INTERPRETS THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

The discussion stage of the great controversy over slavery reached its climax on the speaker's platform, in the formulation of political philosophy, and in Court decisions during the 1850's. The Dred ScottDecision was announced by the Supreme Court on March 7, 1857. Lincolnheld that the Court had made a bad decision and had wrongly interpreted the law of the land. In a great speech a few months after the Dred Scott Decision had been handed down he appealed to the Declaration of Independence and inquired into the intentions of the framers and the meaning of some of the stirring clauses of that famous document in support of his view.

I think the authors of that notable instrument intended to include all men, but they did not intend to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean

-12-

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