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IKE most other public men in America, Mr. Lincoln
made his bread by the practice of his profession, and the better part of his fame by the achievements of the politician. He was a lawyer of some note, and, compared with the crowds who annually take upon themselves the responsible office of advocate and attorney, he might very justly have been called a good one; for he regarded his office as a trust, and selected and tried his cases, not with a view to personal gain, but to the administration of justice between suitors. And here, midway in his political career, it is well enough to pause, and take a leisurely survey of him in his other character of country lawyer, from the time he entered the bar at Springfield until he was translated from it to the Presidential chair. It is unnecessary to remind the reader (for by this time it must be obvious enough) that the aim of the writer is merely to present facts and contemporaneous opinions, with as little comment as possible.
In the courts and at the bar-meetings immediately succeeding his death, his professional brethren poured out in volumes their testimony to his worth and abilities as a lawyer. But, in estimating the value of this testimony, it is fair to consider the state of the public mind at the time it was given, — the recent triumph of the Federal arms under his direction; the late overwhelming indorsement of his administration ; the unparalleled devotion of the people to his person as exhibited at the polls; the fresh and bitter memories of the hideous tragedy that took him off; the furious and deadly passions it inspired in the one party, and the awe, indignation, and terror it inspired in the other. It was no time for nice and critical examinations, either of his mental or his moral character; and it might have been attended with personal danger to attempt them. For days and nights together it was considered treason to be seen in public with a smile on the face. Men who spoke evil of the fallen chief, or even ventured a doubt concerning the ineffable purity and saintliness of his life, were pursued by mobs, were beaten to death with paving-stones, or strung up by the neck to lampposts. If there was any rivalry, it was as to who should be foremost and fiercest among his avengers, who should canonize him in the most solemn words, who should compare him to the most sacred character in all history, sacred and profane. He was prophet, priest, and king; he was Washington ; he was Moses ; and there were not wanting even those who likened him to the God and Redeemer of all the earth. These latter thought they discovered in his lowly origin, his kindly nature, his benevolent precepts, and the homely anecdotes in which he taught the people, strong points of resemblance between him and the divine Son of Mary. Even at this day, men are not wanting in prominent positions in life, who knew Mr. Lincoln well, and who do not hesitate to make such a comparison.
For many years, Judge David Davis was the near friend and the intimate associate of Mr. Lincoln. He presided in the court where Lincoln was oftenest heard: year in and year out they travelled together from town to town, from county to county, riding frequently in the same conveyance, and lodging in the same room. Although a judge on the bench, Mr. Davis watched the political course of his friend with affectionate solicitude, and more than once interposed most effectually to advance his fortunes. When Mr. Lincoln ascended to the Presidency, it was well understood that no man enjoyed more confidential relations with him than Judge Davis. At the first opportunity, he commissioned Judge Davis an Associate Justice of that august tribunal, the Supreme
Court of the United States; and, upon his death, Judge Davis administered upon his estate at the request of his family. Add to this the fact, that, among American jurists, Judge Davis's fame is, if not peerless, at least not excelled by that of any man whose reputation rests upon his labors as they appear in the books of Reports, and we may very fairly consider him a competent judge of the professional character of Mr. Lincoln.
At Indianapolis, Judge Davis spoke of him as follows:
“ I enjoyed for over twenty years the personal friendship of Mr. Lincoln. We were admitted to the bar about the same time, and travelled for many years what is known in Illinois as the Eighth Judicial Circuit. In 1848, when I first went on the bench, the circuit embraced fourteen counties, and Mr. Lincoln went with the court to every county. Railroads were not then in use, and our mode of travel was either on horseback or in buggies.
“This simple life he loved, preferring it to the practice of the law in city, where, although the remuneration would be greater, the opportunity would be less for mixing with the great body of the people, who loved him, and whom he loved. Mr. Lincoln was transferred from the bar of that circuit to the office of President of the United States, having been without official position since he left Congress in 1849. 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 law-books 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.
“Mr. Lincoln was the fairest and most accommodating of practitioners,