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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

Katherine Lazarski
Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.