Issue Date: February 9, 2009
City: Springfield, IL
According to tradition, Lincoln was a home-spun, folksy country lawyer, always ready with a humorous story. However, historic documents reveal a polished attorney who had one of the largest appellate practices in Illinois by the 1850s, with more than 5,000 cases in a 23-year career.
Denied a complete formal education, Lincoln was largely self-educated. When he was appointed the postmaster of New Salem, Illinois, he relished the opportunity to read incoming newspapers at no charge.
Lincoln was elected to the Illinois state legislature in 1834 and began to study law. Admitted to the bar in 1837, he moved to Springfield and earned a reputation as a formidable opponent. Lincoln also served as a circuit court judge, constantly traveling over a sprawling jurisdiction.
A landmark civil case, Hurd v. Rock Island Bridge Company, won Lincoln fame within the legal community. The case helped boost Western expansion by establishing the right of land routes to bridge waterways.
Lincoln planned to continue practicing law after his presidential term. Shortly before he left Springfield for his inauguration, Lincoln told his law partner, “If I live I’m coming back some time and then we’ll go right on practising law as if nothing had ever happened.”