Book Review Before Lincoln Saved the Union, He Fought to Save a Client from the Gallows, 1019 UTBJ, Vol. 32, No. 5. 26

AuthorBrian Craig, J.
PositionVol. 32 5 Pg. 26

Book Review Before Lincoln Saved the Union, He Fought to Save a Client from the Gallows

No. Vol. 32 No. 5 Pg. 26

Utah Bar Journal

October, 2019

September, 2019

Brian Craig, J.

Rvecent news stories involving unethical conduct by lawyers, such as misdeeds by Michael Cohen and Michael Avenatti, have tarnished the reputation of the legal profession. But the legal career of a certain self-taught country lawyer who ended up preserving the Union set a standard for all lawyers to follow in terms of professionalism and excellence.

In Lincoln's Last Trial: The Murder Case that Propelled Him to the Presidency, Dan Abrams and David Fisher provide a detailed account of the sensational 1859 murder trial in The State of Illinois v. "Peachy" Quinn Harrison. In his last trial before assuming the presidency, Abraham Lincoln represented "Peachy" Quinn Harrison, accused of murdering Greek Crafton. Lincoln argued that Harrison acted in self-defense, an affirmative defense not yet fully developed in 1859- Lincoln had close personal ties to the case. The murder victim, Crafton, studied the law under the tutelage of Lincoln himseE And the accused murderer, Peachy, was the son of Lincoln's close friend and a loyal supporter.

A Lost Trial Transcript Resurfaces

The original transcript written by the hand of scribe Robert Roberts Hitt remained undiscovered for more than a century until it was discovered in 1989 in a shoebox stored in a garage of the Fresno, California home once owned by Quinn Harrison's great-grandson. Abrams, ABC News chief legal affairs anchor and a Columbia University Law School graduate, adapted the old dusty transcript and takes the reader on a journey to the past looking at the case through the eyes of Hitt.

The book adds legal history tidbits to provide context and background, such as the origin of the Magna Carta and the history of the right to a trial by jury. One of the more intriguing anecdotes involves the origin of the oath taken by witnesses who testify in open court. In old Roman times, urban legend says that male Romans had to squeeze their testicles while vowing to tell the truth, as the Latin word for witness is "testis." The authors clarify that the more likely origin for "testis" comes from the ancient Greeks, meaning three, a witness being a third person to observe events. In the Harrison trial, witnesses kissed the Bible after taking the oath in accordance with the guidance set forth in Bouvier's Law Dictionary.

The account reads more like a novel than a...

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