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LINCOLN AS A LAWYER
WITH little hope of a political future, gloom at home, and a constant, grim determination to make the best of what fate allowed him, Lincoln settled quietly into the routine of Springfield and circuit practice. A Chicago lawyer, named Grant Goodrich, with a good business, offered him a partnership, which he declined on the ground that, as he already tended toward consumption, hard study and confinement would kill him. He therefore undertook his part of the work of Lincoln and Herndon, spending half of the year at home, and half around the state, following Judge Davis, and there is every reason to believe that the travelling life was more agreeable. On Saturday nights it was customary for the judges and lawyers who lived within reach to go home, but of this opportunity Lincoln seldom or never availed himself, preferring to spend his Sundays chatting at the tavern.
In the Springfield office he spent a good deal of his time on Euclid, poetry, and history, and more on the newspapers, conversation, and stories, somewhat to the annoyance of his more methodical
partner, who failed to enjoy Lincoln's habit of reading the papers aloud when they two were alone. Law was not neglected by him, however, especially when a case was at hand, and he often studied late into the night, making such progress, through his fundamental clearness of understanding, that his reputation increased very rapidly, even for legal arguments to the court, but particularly for jury trials, where his colloquial, honest, and racy manner had its full opportunity. His speech was never technical or pompous, but always familiar. He "reckoned it would be fair to let in that," and if the court overruled him he said, “Well, I reckon I must be wrong." He was leisurely, and when Herndon suggested that he was too slow in speech and manner he turned his long jackknife in a circle, and then a small penknife with the same speed at the circumference, to show that the one which took longest in completing the circle had travelled farthest, and he in turn advised the younger partner never to aim over the heads of the people he was talking to. It is significant that during his presidency he told Mr. Colfax that in all his time at the bar he never found an opponent's case stronger than he expected, and usually found it weaker.
With an earnest, honest, and simple mind, and little aptitude for technicalities, his strength naturally lay in cases where the fundamental right
was clear. He frequently advised the dropping of cases which could only be won by technical adroitness. Once when Herndon, who reveals his own elastic standards with unhesitating frankness, had drawn a fictitious plea, and explained to his partner that, although it was not sound, he had overheard remarks of the opposing counsel which showed that they would not be able to disprove it, Lincoln advised its withdrawal. After he had won in the prosecution of a murder trial, he was for a long time haunted by a bare doubt of the prisoner's sanity. He induced his young friend Lamon, when they had been retained on the same case, to return part of a joint fee agreed upon in advance, because he thought afterward that it was excessive. In a suit against a railroad company, before judgment was pronounced, he arose to point out that his opponents had failed to prove all that was justly due them in offset, and the amount which he explained might have been found was allowed in the judgment. However, he was not beyond provocation. When the Illinois Central contested a bill of $2000, Lincoln sued for $5000 and won.
These characteristics became widely known. As he for years went over the whole circuit, he was always among friends, never facing a jury. without seeing familiar countenances before him. To the popularity brought him by his honesty
and simplicity, his breezy spirits added much. He would enter the court-room with some such exclamation as, "Well, here I am, ain't you glad to see me?" The well-known smallness of his fees, which kept him always poor, his constant habit of never suing, and his willingness to give help in any just cause, also helped him win the general heart. He was invariably kind to young lawyers, and he never objected to any reasonable request by opposing counsel. The easy, untechnical character of the law in Illinois in those days was just what his character needed. When he read, he took no notes, because he understood the principles, and they were all he cared to remember. So in court he easily remembered the testimony as far as it bore on the real issue, for his attention never strayed from that. He did not know a great number of precedents, but he could reason logically and persuasively from sound general principles. His standing on technical details is probably correctly indicated by a story told by a lawyer who asked him, in 1855, if they could interpose the same defence to an action upon the judgment of another state that they could to the original claim. Lincoln's answer was "Yes." At another time the same man asked him if, in an attachment suit, a service of the attachment writ on the defendant had the force of a summons. Damfino," said Lincoln.
Nevertheless, "any one," as Leonard Swett says, "who took Lincoln for a simple-minded man would very soon wake up on his back, in a ditch." He nearly always stuck to simple, central truths, but he could, when necessary, use a kind of adroitness of his own, although it was not very technical. One of his companions tells this story:
During my first attendance at court in Menard County, some thirty young men had been indicted for playing cards, and Lincoln and I were employed in their defence. The prosecuting attorney, in framing the indictments, alternately charged the defendants with playing a certain game of cards called 'sevenup,' and in the next bill charged them with playing cards at a certain game called 'old sledge.' Four defendants were indicted in each bill. The prosecutor, being entirely unacquainted with games at cards, did not know the fact that both 'seven-up' and 'old sledge' were one and the same. Upon the trial on the bills describing the game as 'seven-up seven-up' our witnesses would swear that the game played was 'old sledge,' and vice versa on the bills alleging the latter. The result was an acquittal in every case under the instructions of the court. The prosecutor never found out the dodge until the trials were over, and immense