Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Lincoln's Ladder to the Presidency: The Eighth Judicial Circuit

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Lincoln's Ladder to the Presidency: The Eighth Judicial Circuit

Article excerpt

Lincoln's Ladder to the Presidency: The Eighth Judicial Circuit. By Guy C. Fraker. Foreward by Michael Burlingame. (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2012. Pp. xxiii, 328, notes, bibliography, index. Cloth 34.95.)

Our continuing fascination with virtually every aspect of the life and times of Abraham Lincoln never seems to abate or diminish. Now, prominent Bloomington attorney and esteemed Lincoln's scholar Guy C. Fraker has materially added to our knowledge of the sixteenth president in Lincolns Ladder to the Presidency: The Eighth Judicial Circuit. In this well-conceived study the author focuses on Lincoln's career as a busy attorney travelling the Eighth Judicial Circuit and the key role played by prominent politicians and lawyers Lincoln came to know while working in that circuit during his rise to the Presidency.

In 1839, the legislature created the Eighth Judicial Circuit to serve the legal and law enforcement needs of eventually seventeen counties of east central Illinois. Twice each year the elected circuit judge (from 1848 to 1862, Judge David Davis of Bloomington), a state's attorney, and a number of lawyers would travel to hold court in each county seat in the circuit.

In his twenty-three years of practicing law, Abraham Lincoln hardly ever missed riding the circuit. The author offers considerable insight into Lincoln's circuit court activities for a specific period, 1849-1853. In this five year segment Lincoln, after one unhappy term in Congress and before passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, was less active in politics than usual and devoted the bulk of his time to the legal profession. The Eighth Circuit then was bounded on the west by Sangamon and Tazewell counties; on the north by Woodford, McLean, and Champaign; on the east by Vermillion and Edgar; and on the southern boundary by Shelby and Christian counties.

Travelling the circuit in those days was a challenge with poor roads, unbridged rivers and streams to cross, dirty and ramshackle overnight accommodations, and almost always poor and monotonous food. Many of the lawyers complained about the discomfort and drudgery of their lives but never Lincoln. He seemed to thrive on the circuit. He enjoyed the camaraderie, the male bonding, and the friends he made while engaging in his profession. Lincoln was a general practice attorney who argued literally thousands of cases while on the circuit. …

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