Lincoln's Life in Letters:
Lincoln the Lawyer

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Springfield, Ills. Sep. 25. 1860

J.M. Brockman, Esq

Dear Sir
   Yours of the 24th asking "the best mode of obtaining a thorough knowledge of the law" is received– The mode is very simple, though laborious, and tedious– It is only to get the books, and read, and study them carefully. Begin with Blackstone's Commentaries, and after reading it carefully through, say twice, take up Chitty's Pleading, Greenleaf's Evidence, & Story's Equity &c, in succession– Work, work, work, is the main thing–

Yours very truly
A. Lincoln

From Partner to Mentor

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.


Three men sit at a long table in Lincoln and Herndon’s law office on 6th street. Lincoln, identifiable by his stove pipe hat, is seated the furthest to the right. The room is furnished with unoccupied chairs, desks, bookcases, and another table. Books are stacked high on top of an open cabinet.
A contemporary sketch of Lincoln’s law office at the time of his election as president.
 
Lincoln sits stiffly as he looks towards the viewer with cleanly shaved face. The future President is dressed formally, wearing a black bow tie around his neck, a white undershirt, a dark colored waistcoat, and jacket.
The first known photograph of Abraham Lincoln, taken in 1846.
 
Lincoln stands, pointing at a pig that sits in front of a woman who wears a bonnet and stands facing away from the audience. Lincoln wears a bowtie, waist coat, trousers, and a white shirt with rolled sleeves. The judge sits behind a desk to the left of Lincoln while a male jury sit to his right.
Artist Fletcher Ransom’s depiction of Lincoln practicing law in a country courtroom.
A view of the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office State Historic Site from across the street. The Greek Revival styled building consists of three stories. Text is painted on the building’s exterior above the windows of each floor. The text painted on the frieze above the first floor reads, Post Office, Lincoln & Herndon, Wholesale Grocer, S. M. Tinsley.
A modern exterior shot of the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Debates

1860 Campaign

The Lincoln Family

Emancipation

Gettysburg Address

Mary Lincoln


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. To see more documents written to and by Lincoln from all over the world, please visit www.papersofabrahamlincoln.org. 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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