The Birth of Lincoln the Lawyer

Lincoln Practicing the Law             Lincoln the Lawyer’s Political Life

Already, during his first several years in Illinois at New Salem, Lincoln had encounters with the law and his first actions on behalf of the locals. Not only did he write legal documents for Bowling Green – the local justice of the peace—but he appeared in several lawsuits as a witness and was even the defendant in several cases where creditors sued him to collect debts.

According to his 1860 campaign autobiography, Abraham Lincoln had considered a career in law after he lost the 1832 election for the Illinois General Assembly, but decided his lack of formal education, as a self-educated frontier man, made it a foolish endeavor.

In 1834, Lincoln was elected as a Representative for Sangamon County to the Illinois State Legislature. While serving in the Legislature at Vandalia during that time, Lincoln met and befriended John Todd Stuart, who encouraged Lincoln to study the law and join him in practice after reading with him.

In the early days of Illinois, people who wished to become attorneys generally studied with practicing lawyers who were approved members of the bar or, in some cases, even served as clerks in law offices, as on the job training, to build their legal knowledge and prepare them as lawyers.

Having no such opportunity in New Salem, Lincoln instead borrowed legal volumes from Stuart’s law office in Springfield, a staggering twenty miles away, and poured over them when the he was not working as a Legislator. He was relentless in his pursuit and read every bit of material, scrap of paper, and tome of legal knowledge he could borrow from Stuart.

Once the process was begun and studies were nearly complete to become a practicing lawyer in Illinois, aspirants had to first be certified as worthy candidates by the Court and on March 24, 1836, the Sangamon County Circuit Court in Springfield certified that Lincoln was a person of good moral character.

On September 9, 1836, the Illinois Supreme Court examined Lincoln and issued him a license to practice law in all of the courts in the state.

Though he was also born in 1809, it was in 1836 that Lincoln the lawyer was born.

“From Prelude to the Presidency”

Click here to view Maps of the 8th Judicial Circuit.