Page images
PDF
EPUB

granting all favors which he could do consistently with his duty to his client, and rarely availing himself of an unwary oversight of his adversary.

“He hated wrong and oppression everywhere; and many a man whose fraudulent conduct was undergoing review in a court of justice has writhed under his terrific indignation and rebukes. He was the most simple and unostentatious of men in his habits, having few wants, and those easily supplied. To his honor be it said, that he never took from a client, even when the cause was gained, more than he thought the service was worth and the client could reasonably afford to pay. The people where he practised law were not rich, and his charges were always small.

“When he was elected President, I question whether there was a lawyer in the circuit, who had been at the bar as long a time, whose means were not larger. It did not seem to be one of the purposes of his life to accumulate a fortune. In fact, outside of his profession, he had no knowledge of the way to make money, and he never even attempted it.

“Mr. Lincoln was loved by his brethren of the bar; and no body of men will grieve more at his death, or pay more sincere tributes to his memory. His presence on the circuit was watched for with interest, and never failed to produce joy and hilarity. When casually absent, the spirits of both bar and people were depressed. He was not fond of controversy, and would compromise a lawsuit whenever practicable.”

More or other evidence than this may, perhaps, be superfluous. Such an eulogium, from such a source, is more than sufficient to determine the place Mr. Lincoln is entitled to occupy in the history, or, more properly speaking, the traditions, of the Western bar. If Sir Matthew Hale had spoken thus of any lawyer of his day, he would have insured to the subject of his praise a place in the estimation of men only less conspicuous and honorable than that of the great judge himself. At the risk, however, of unnecessary accumulation, we venture to record an extract from Judge Drummond's address at Chicago :

“With a probity of character known to all, with an intuitive insight into the human heart, with a clearness of statement which was in itself an argument, with uncommon power and felicity of illustration, - often, it is true, of a plain and homely kind, - and with that sincerity and earnestness of manner which carried conviction, he was, perhaps, one of the most successful jury lawyers we ever had in the State. He always tried a case fairly and honestly. He never intentionally misrepresented the evidence of a witness, nor the argument of an opponent. He met both squarely, and, if he could not explain the one or answer the other, substantially admitted it. He never misstated the law, according to his own intelligent view of it. Such was the transparent candor and integrity of his nature, that he could not well, or strongly, argue a side or a cause that he thought wrong. Of course, he felt it his duty to say what could be said, and to leave the decision to others ; but there could be seen in such cases the inward struggles of his own mind. In trying a case, he might occasionally dwell too long upon, or give too much importance to, an inconsiderable point; but this was the exception, and generally he went straight to the citadel of the cause or question, and struck home there, knowing, if that were · won, the outworks would necessarily fall. He could hardly be called very learned in his profession, and yet he rarely tried a cause without fully understanding the law applicable to it; and I have no hesitation in saying he was one of the ablest lawyers I have ever known. If he was forcible before a jury, he was equally so with the court. He detected, with unerring sagacity, the weak points of an opponent's argument, and pressed his own views with overwhelming strength. His efforts were quite unequal; and it might happen that he would not, on some occasions, strike one as at all remarkable. But let him be thoroughly roused, --- let him feel that he was right, and that some principle was involved in his cause, -- and he would come out with an earnestness of conviction, a power of argument, and a wealth of illustration, that I have never seen surpassed."

Mr. Lincoln's partnership with John T. Stuart began on the 27th of April, 1837, and continued until the 14th of April, 1841, when it was dissolved, in consequence of Stuart's election to Congress. In that same year (1841), Mr. Lincoln united in practice with Stephen T. Logan, late presiding judge of the district, and they remained together until 1845.

Soon afterwards he formed a copartnership with William H. Herndon, his friend, familiar, and, we may almost say, biographer, - a connection which terminated only when the senior partner took an affectionate leave of the old circuit, the old office, home, friends, and all familiar things, to return no more until he came a blackened corpse.

66 He once told me of you,” says Mr. Whitney in one of his letters to Mr. Herndon, “that he had taken you in as partner, supposing that you had a system, and would keep things in order, but that he found that you had no more system than he had, but that you were a fine lawyer; so that he was doubly disappointed.” 1

As already stated by Judge Davis, Mr. Lincoln was not “ a great reader of law-books; " but what he knew he knew well, and within those limits was self-reliant and even intrepid. He was what is sometimes called “a case-lawyer," -- a man who reasoned almost entirely to the court and jury from analagous causes previously decided and reported in the books, and not from the elementary principles of the law, or the great underlying reasons for its existence. In consultation he was cautious, conscientious, and painstaking, and was seldom prepared to advise, except after careful and tedious examination of the authorities. He did not consider himself bound to

. take every case that was brought to him, nor to press all the

1 The following letter exhibits the character of his early practice, and gives us a glimpse into his social and political life:

SPRINGFIELD, Dec. 23, 1839. DEAR

Dr. Henry will write you all the political news. I write this about some little matters of business. You recollect you told me you had drawn the Chicago Masack money,

and sent it to the claimants. Add hawk-billed Yankee is here besetting me at every turn I take, saying that Robert Kenzie never received the eighty dollars to which he was entitled.

Can you tell any thing about the matter? Again, old Mr. Wright, who lives up South Fork somewhere, is teasing me continually about some deeds, which he says he left with you, but which I can find nothing of. Can you tell where they are? The Legislature is in session, and has suffered the bank to forfeit its charter without benefit of clergy. There seems but little disposition to resuscitate it. Whenever a letter comes from you to Mrs. ,

, I carry it to her, and then I see Betty: she is a tolerable nice fellow now. Maybe I will write again when I get more time.

Your friend as ever,

A. LINCOLN P.8. - The Democratic giant is here, but he is not now worth talking about.

A.L.

6

points in favor of a client who in the main was right and entitled to recover. He is known to have been many times on the verge of quarrelling with old and valued friends, because he could not see the justice of their claims, and, therefore, could not be induced to act as their counsel. Henry McHenry, one of his New-Salem associates, brought him a case involving the title to a piece of land. McHenry had placed a family in a cabin which Mr. Lincoln believed to be situated on the other side of the adversary's line. He told McHenry that he must move the family out. " McHenry said he should not do it. Well,' said Mr. Lincoln, “if you do not, I shall not attend to the suit.' McHenry said he did not care a d-n whether he did or not; that he (Lincoln) was not all the lawyer there was in town. Lincoln studied a while, and asked about the location of the cabin, ... and then said, ' McHenry, you are right: I will attend to the suit,' and did attend to it, and gained it; and that was all the harsh word that passed.”

“ A citizen of Springfield,” says Mr. Herndon, “who visited our office on business about a year before Mr. Lincoln's nomination, relates the following:

“Mr. Lincoln was seated at his table, listening very attentively to a man who was talking earnestly in a low tone. After the would-be client had stated the facts of his case, Mr. Lincoln replied, “Yes, there is no reasonable doubt but that I can gain your case for you. I can set a whole neighborhood at loggerheads; I can distress a widowed mother and her six fatherless children, and thereby get for you six hundred dollars, which rightfully belongs, it appears to me, as much to the woman and her children as it does to you.

You must remember that some things that are legally right are not morally right. I shall not take your case, but will give you a little advice, for which I will charge you nothing. You seem to be a sprightly, energetic man. I would advise you to try your hand at making six hundred dollars in some other way.”

In the summer of 1841, Mr. Lincoln was engaged in a curious case. The circumstances impressed him very deeply with the insufficiency and danger of “circumstantial evidence ; so much so, that he not only wrote the following account of it to Speed, but another more extended one, which was printed in a newspaper published at Quincy, Ill. His mind was full of it: he could think of nothing else. It is apparent that in his letter to Speed he made no pause to choose his words: there is nothing constrained, and nothing studied or deliberate about it; but its simplicity, perspicuity, and artless grace make it a model of English composition. What Goldsmith once said of Locke may better be said of this letter: “He never says more nor less than he ought, and never makes use of a word that he could have changed for a better.”

SPRINGFIELD, June 19, 1841. DEAR SPEED, - We have had the highest state of excitement here for a week past that our community has ever witnessed; and although the public feeling is somewhat allayed, the curious affair which aroused it is very far from being over yet, cleared of mystery. It would take a quire of paper to give you any thing like a full account of it, and I therefore only propose a brief outline. The chief personages in the drama are Archibald Fisher, supposed to be murdered, and Archibald Trailor, Henry Trailor, and William Trailor, supposed to have murdered him. The three Trailors are brothers: the first, Arch., as you know, lives in town; the second, Henry, in Clary's Grove; and the third, William, in Warren County; and Fisher, the supposed murdered, being without a family, had made his home with William. On Saturday evening, being the 29th of May, Fisher and William came to Henry's in a one-horse dearborn, and there staid over Sunday; and on Monday all three came to Springfield (Henry on horseback), and joined Archibald at Myers's, the Dutch carpenter. That evening at supper Fisher was missing, and so next morning some ineffectual search was made for him; and on Tuesday, at 1 o'clock, P.M., William and Henry started home without him. In a day or two Henry and one or two of his Clary-Grove neighbors came back for him again, and advertised his disappearance in the papers. The knowledge of the matter thus far had not been general, and here it dropped entirely, till about the 10th inst., when Keys received a letter from the postmaster in Warren County, that William had arrived at home, and was telling a very mysterious and improbable story about the disappearance of Fisher, which induced the community there to suppose he had been disposed of unfairly. Keys made this letter public, which immediately set the whole town and adjoining county agog. And so it has continued until yesterday. The mass of the people commenced a systematic search for the

« PreviousContinue »