From Lincoln the Lawyer

Source: Lincoln the Lawyer, by Frederick Trevor Hill, from a facsimile of the 1906 edition published by The Century Co., New York, as produced in 1996 by The Legal Classics Library, Division of Gryphon Editions, New York.

Image: Abraham Lincoln While a Traveling Lawyer, Taken in Danville, Illinois. n.d. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog, Washington, D.C. Library of Congress. Web. 20 Dec. 2015. <>. (digital file from b&w film copy neg.) cph 3a18603

  • "I don't know who my grandfather was," he remarked; "and am much more concerned to know what his grandson will be." P. 3.

  • He never surrendered his conscience to a code; his sense of justice was never cowed by the tyranny of "leading cases"; and the decision of the highest court in the world never succeeded in convincing him that wrong was right. P. 43.

  • ...and Lincoln afterward remarked that the best stroke of business he ever did in the grocery line was when he bought an old barrel from an immigrant for fifty cents and discovered under some rubbish at the bottom a complete set of Blackstone's Commentaries. P. 50.

  • "Discourage litigation," was his advice to lawyers. "Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often the real loser - in fees, expenses, and waste of time. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of becoming a good man. There will always be enough business. Never stir up litigation. A worse man can scarcely be found than one who does this. Who can be more nearly a fiend than he who habitually overhauls the register of deeds in search of defects in titles, whereon to stir up strife and put money in his pocket? A moral tone ought to be infused into the profession which should drive such men out of it." P. 102-103.

  • ...there is another story that he once interrupted a too personal debate as to the proper length for a man's legs by remarking, "I should think they ought to be long enough to reach from your body to the ground...." P. 106.

  • "Wealth," he observed, "is simply a superfluity of things we don't need,".... P. 119.

  • "In law," he wrote to General Linder, "it is good policy never to plead what you need not, lest you oblige yourself to prove what you cannot." P. 155.

  • Mr. Swett remarked that "any one who took Lincoln for a simple-minded man [in the court-room] would very soon wake up on his back in a ditch";.... P. 212.

  • On one occasion when he was defending a case of assault and battery it was proved that the plaintiff had been the aggressor, but the opposing counsel argued that the defendant might have protected himself without inflicting injuries on his assailant.

    "That reminds me of the man who was attacked by a farmer's dog, which he killed with a pitchfork," commented Lincoln.

    "'What made you kill my dog?' demanded the farmer.

    "'What made him try to bite me?' retorted the offender.

    "'But why didn't you go at him with the other end of your pitchfork?' persisted the farmer.

    "'Well, why didn't he come at me with his other end?' was the retort." P. 218.

  • ...he placed principle beyond price and illustrated the maxim that it is "better to make a life than a living." P. 241.

  • "The matter of fees is important, far beyond the mere question of bread and butter involved," he wrote in his notes for a law lecture. "Properly attended to, fuller justice is done to both lawyer and client. An exhorbitant fee should never be charged. As a general rule, never take your whole fee in advance, nor any more than a small retainer. When fully paid beforehand, you are more than a common mortal if you can feel the same interest in the case as if something was still in prospect for you as well as for your client." P. 241 - 242.

  • "The question," he remarked, "is bad as the basis of a controversy and good for nothing at all - a merely pernicious abstraction. We all agree that the seceded states, so-called, are out of their proper relation to the Union, and that the sole object of the government, civil and military, in regard to those States is to again get them into that proper relation........Finding themselves safely at home, it would be utterly immaterial whether they had ever been abroad. Let us all join in doing the acts necessary to restoring the proper practical relations between these States and the Union, and each forever after innocently indulge in his own opinion whether in doing the acts he brought the States from without into the Union, or only gave them proper assistance, they never having been out of it." P. 307 - 309.

Additional resource: "Lincoln and the Law." Law Library of Congress. Library of Congress, 6 June 2015. Web. 20 Dec. 2015. <>.