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Abraham Lincoln as practicing lawyer

Via Lattman: Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker, summarizing a new book "Lincoln the Lawyer" by Brian Dirck (U. of Illinois Press), says the legal career of the Great Emancipator was neither one of a crusader for the little guy against injustice, as some partisans have hoped, nor mostly that of a "railroad lawyer" devising crafty ways to avoid liability, as others have argued. Instead, his work was dominated by debt collection and other routine cases, typical of small-town practice in his place and era. According to Gopnik,

Dirck argues that Linoln took away from the practice of law and the love of legal language both a feeling for �grease� � that is, for finding an acceptable middle ground between contending parties � and a habit of detachment.

...What he learned was not faith in a constant search for justice but the habit of empathetic detachment. ...His magnanimity was also a function of his lawyerly sense of distance from other people�s motives, and his appreciation � honed by decades of witnessing nearly every imaginable form of strife in Illinois�s courtrooms � of the value of reducing friction as much as possible. The lack of vindictiveness Linconln displayed . . . was the daily requirement of a small-town lawyer. Lincoln believed in letting go; his magnanimity was more strategic than angelic.

More on Lincoln's work as a lawyer here; more on older lawyerly ideals of emotional detachment here.



Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.