New Salem was also where Lincoln developed his interest in the law. Without access to a university, he learned the legal trade through borrowed law books—another example of Lincoln’s remarkable ability for self-improvement. In 1836, he passed the bar and soon moved to Springfield to join a practice.

Over the course of his law career, Lincoln handled various types of cases and honed his already formidable skills of persuasion. He had three different partners as his reputation grew, eventually also becoming a mentor to many young lawyers, including his last partner William Herndon. This 1860 letter shows us a glimpse of Lincoln the mentor, as he advises a young man named John Brockman how best to enter the legal field. Brockman valued the advice and his descendants saved the letter, but the Civil War disrupted his legal ambitions and he chose a different path.

Photos Album

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Lincoln's Life in Letters Lawyer Photos

Photos for Lincoln Life in Letters Lawyer panel.

The documents highlighted in this exhibit are all drawn from our own collection. The originals are in our vault and the images were created by our Papers of Abraham Lincoln project. Please visit their website,, to see more documents written to and by Lincoln from all over the world. If you have a Lincoln document, or know someone who does, please reach out to us. We are always looking for new discoveries.


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