Papers Tracing Lincoln Career to Be Published on CD-Rom

Article excerpt

The time-worn documents, some scrawled in quill or pencil, were gathered from musty courthouse files in Illinois and across the country. Many had gone unnoticed for more than a century, until a team of researchers set out on a decade-long hunt for them.

The reason for the painstaking search: The papers trace the career of a prairie lawyer named Abraham Lincoln.

Now, the results of the gargantuan research project are gaining a kind of high-tech immortality on computer CD-ROM. The Lincoln Legal Papers research project plans to publish the Complete Documentary Edition in CD-ROM early next year. The project has collected about 250,000 pages of documents involving 6,000 cases, ranging from mundane court dockets to briefs Lincoln wrote himself. Between his rail-splitting youth and his presidency, Lincoln became a prolific lawyer who rode the circuits, handled a large caseload before the Illinois Supreme Court and occasionally even filled in for a judge. The court records gathered by the project give a glimpse of the development of a man who would become one of the nation's greatest leaders and whose writings in documents like the Gettysburg Address are hailed as timeless. "A careful reading of his great public pronouncements indicates that he developed his arguments over slavery, secession and other constitutional issues in a very methodical, lawyerly way, proceeding point to point and very logically," said project director Cullom Davis. "They reveal a lawyer's mind operating." Given the stilted nature of legal writing, Davis said, it is difficult to find early traces of Lincoln's rhetorical eloquence as president in the pleadings and other court documents. "He was able to write a complicated argument in one draft only," Davis said. "What it shows is he had a terrific command of syntax that served him well not only as a lawyer, but as a public speaker and a writer." Already, a World Wide Web site outlines the project's scope and gives a peek at Lincoln's distinctive scrawl as well. But with thousands of Lincoln cases going onto CD-ROM, new fodder will likely be available for scholars to do Lincoln research at speeds previously unknown. …