Case Study

Abraham Lincoln – the Prairie Lawyer

Avater User Author Bud & Prairie

Last update Dec 28, 2022

MY US FRIEND added that Lincoln was a self-described “PRAIRIE LAWYER” and a SELF-TAUGHT LAWYER.

By Bud & Prairie


8 September, at that time, my US friend – client in an international conference told me about the life and career of Abraham Lincoln. He, Abraham Lincoln, was an American lawyer and statesman who served as the 16th president of the United States from 1861 until 1865. He was born near Hodgenville, Kentucky on February 12, 1809. Lincoln co-owned a general store for several years before selling his stake and enlisting as a militia captain defending Illinois in the Black Hawk War of 1832. After the war, he studied law and campaigned for a seat on the Illinois State Legislature. Although not elected in his first attempt, Lincoln persevered and won the position in 1834, serving as a Whig.

My friend added that Lincoln was a self-described “Prairie Lawyer” and a self-taught lawyer. In September 1836 he was admitted to the bar, allowing him to practice law in Illinois. Lincoln focused on his all-embracing law practice in the early 1850s after one term in Congress from 1847 to 1849. He joined the new Republican party—and the ongoing argument over sectionalism—in 1856. A series of heated debates in 1858 with Stephen A. Douglas, the sponsor of the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, over slavery and its place in the United States forged Lincoln into a prominent figure in national politics. Lincoln’s anti-slavery platform made him extremely unpopular with Southerners and his nomination for President in 1860 enraged them.

And here is the list of “Ten Things You Might Not Have Known about Lincoln the Lawyer” by Blake Harris, a Museum Program Associate at President Lincoln’s Cottage.

“1) Lincoln represented a slave owner

In October 1847 Robert Matson brought several enslaved people from Kentucky to work on his farm in Illinois, including Jane Bryant and her four children. Also working at the farm was freedman Anthony Bryant, Jane’s husband. When threatened with the children being sold, the Bryants fled Matson’s farm and sought the protection of local abolitionists Gideon M. Ashmore and Hiram Rutherford. Lincoln represented Matson, arguing that although a free state Illinois reserved protections for slave ownership as long as the slaves were in transit. Lincoln lost this case and the slaves were freed. Read more about the case here.

2) Lincoln had to sue for a fee

Lincoln worked his most profitable case while representing Illinois Central Railroad in 1856 who paid him $5,000. McLean County had seized railroad land to sell after refusing to recognize the state’s authority to exempt the company from county taxes. The case went before the Illinois state supreme court and was decided in favor of Illinois Central Railroad. More than a year after the victory, and after Lincoln sued the company twice for his fee, he was finally paid.

3) Lincoln fought the sale of an African American woman

In 1841 Lincoln represented Nance Legins-Costley, an African American woman who had been sold. He argued that the sale of people in Illinois was illegal due to Illinois’ status as a free state. Lincoln won the case and Nance was freed from her position.

4) Lincoln had three law partners

Over the course of his career as a lawyer, Lincoln had three separate law partners: John Stuart, Stephen Logan, and William Herndon. Lincoln shared an office with each of these partners in Springfield, Illinois. Click here for a brief summary of his law career.

5) Lincoln did not go to Law School

Lincoln’s career in law began as a hobby of visiting courthouses to hear examples of great oratory discourse. Before long he began reading law books and in 1836 he passed an oral exam conducted by a panel of lawyers and received his law license. Although he was often criticized for a lack of technical knowledge, Lincoln pursued his cases with diligence, for which he was often rewarded. Read more about Lincoln’s training as a lawyer.

6) Lincoln lost his only U.S. Supreme Court case

Lincoln made many appearances as a lawyer in front of the Illinois Supreme Court but only one before the United States Supreme Court. In 1849 Lincoln represented Thomas Lewis before the Supreme Court in the case Lewis v Lewis. Lincoln lost the cause and Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote the majority opinion opposing Lincoln. Lincoln would cross paths with Taney again in 1861 when Taney administered Lincoln’s presidential oath of office.

7) Lincoln used the Moon as evidence

In 1858, Lincoln successfully defended his client who had been accused of murder in one of his most famous trials, dubbed the Almanac Trial. The key witness’s testimony relied on his explanation that he had seen the murder because of the light from the full moon. Lincoln was able to refute the claim through reference to a farmers almanac that showed there was a new moon the night of the murder, and thus insufficient light by which the witness could have seen the alleged murderer.

8) Lincoln and Jefferson Davis were adversaries on a case

In 1857 Lincoln was hired to represent the Rock Island Bridge Company which had been sued after a steamboat crashed into a recently constructed bridge. But the case had much larger implications: the bridge in question had made a transnational railroad route through the North possible. In fact, many southerners, including Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, preferred a southern railroad route and fought the Rock Island bridge location for years. Lincoln helped the Rock Island Bridge Company win their case and the bridge was rebuilt.

9) Lincoln told a defendant of his to vote for his prosecutor

In 1859 Lincoln represented Simeon Quinn Harrison, nicknamed Peachy. Peachy had killed a man in self-defense and was charged with murder, a local case that gained national attention due to Lincoln’s status as a presidential hopeful. In the last murder case of his 25-year career as a trial lawyer, Lincoln argued the case flawlessly and Peachy was acquitted. Read more about the case here.

After the case ended, Peachy wrote a letter to Lincoln, asking if he should vote for the prosecutor in this case, John M. Palmer, in an upcoming election. In a letter, dated November 3, 1859, Lincoln responded to Harrison by encouraging him to vote for Palmer, since “he is good and true, and deserves the best vote we can give him.” This month, we’re honored to display this original letter, on loan from Jorge Roldan and Family.

10) Lincoln planned to continue his law career after the presidency

Even after his election in 1860 Lincoln did not plan to give up on his career as a lawyer. Just before he moved to Washington, Lincoln told his law partner William Herndon to keep the sign up on their office, as he planned to return once his time as president was over.”

The life of Lincoln is a bright example on how we can help people towards a fair and equal society. My friend boasted his pride in such a US person of figure.

What are 3 things Abraham Lincoln is famous for?

Lincoln’s legacy is based on his momentous achievements: he successfully waged a political struggle and civil war that preserved the Union, ended slavery, and created the possibility of civil and social freedom for African-Americans.

What were Abraham Lincoln's two greatest achievements?

Still, the most lasting accomplishments attributed to Lincoln are the preservation of the Union, the vindication of democracy, and the death of slavery, all accomplished by the ways in which he handled the crisis that most certainly would have ended differently with a lesser man in office. In broad terms:

As commander in chief, Lincoln was responsible for how the war was conducted, and he transformed the President’s role as commander in chief and as chief executive into a powerful new position;

Abraham Lincoln has taken the highest ranking in each survey and George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Theodore Roosevelt have always ranked in the top five while James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, and Franklin Pierce have been ranked at the bottom of all four surveys.

Lincoln proved to be a shrewd military strategist and a savvy leader: His Emancipation Proclamation paved the way for slavery’s abolition, while his Gettysburg Address stands as one of the most famous pieces of oratory in American history.

Why is Abraham Lincoln considered one of the greatest American?

Lincoln was seemingly a natural born leader. With his ability to command a room, give a powerful speech and negotiate, he is regarded as one of the best presidents in American history. As a leader, Lincoln was determined to hold together a nation that was falling apart at the seams.

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Bud & Prairie

We offer a full complement of services in all areas of IP law, including without limitation patents; trademarks; copyrights; industrial designs; IP litigation; anti-counterfeiting and enforcement; and licensing, due diligence, and contract review. Our strong technique fields include bio-chemistry, biotechnology, pharmaceutical, superconductor devices and systems, civil engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, electronics, computer software, telecommunications, information technology, communications, media, construction. Bud & Prairie boasts a team of highly-qualified lawyers, licensed patent and trademark agents, engineers, paralegals, technical staff and legal professionals whose knowledge, experience, and acumen are second to none. Most of our attorneys and consultants own advanced degrees from both domestic and foreign institutions. We have the depth of experience of our partners with a perfect combination of knowledge, foresight and creativity, making us possible to analyse and solve issues faced by clients from various industries and providing them with all-round or holistic solutions that are not only legally sound, but also commercially sensitiv


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