Abraham Lincoln, Esq.: The Legal Career of America's Greatest President. By Roger Billings and Frank J. Williams. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2010. 263 pp.
Prior to the Lincoln Legal Papers Project (LLP), the source material produced by Lincoln's quarter century as an attorney lay scattered across the archival prairies of Illinois. Thus, analysis of the relationship between his law practice and presidency remained fairly limited, influenced more by the prevailing winds of popular culture and overly simplistic anecdotes about a handful of his most famous cases. The mythical image of an unread country lawyer, therefore, dominated both popular and professional assessments of Lincoln's legal career for many years. Through its documentation of approximately 5,000 cases, including 340 arguments before the Supreme Court of Illinois, the LLP has successfully laid the foundation that will inspire a much richer and more thought-provoking appreciation of Lincoln's years on the Illinois Eighth Circuit and their impact on his presidency.
Edited by Roger Billings and Frank J. Williams, Abraham Lincoln, Esq. brings together twelve essays by a significant stable of Lincoln legal scholars. Organized in three parts, these essays assess the historiographical appreciation of Lincoln's law practice, specific characteristics of his professional development and the cases he argued, and how his law practice influenced his presidency in matters such as constitutional and international law. Through their examination of his speaking style, powers of persuasion, thoughts about particular legal issues, sense of honesty and use of humor, understanding of constitutional law, and, even, the seemingly mundane aspects of bill collection, the contributors collectively conclude that Lincoln's years as an attorney "informed nearly every aspect of his future" (p. 8).
Mark E. Steiner does a fine job placing the previous scholarship on "Lawyer Lincoln" (p. 45) into perspective, and sets the stage for further discussion about how Lincoln's long-term political ambitions and legal philosophy reflected Whig reverence for law as the cornerstone of society.
In addition to his argument that Lincoln became an attorney because the...