QUINCY (WGEM) — When many people reflect on the legacy of President Abraham Lincoln, they picture the log cabin or the White House. However, the courtroom also played a vital role in the life of the 16th president.
It was the topic of discussion Sunday afternoon at the Quincy History Museum.
Local historian Reg Ankrom and the director of history programs for the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission, Samuel Wheeler, both gave talks about Lincoln’s extensive legal background and his ties to the Quincy area.
Lincoln Local Connections
Ankrom kicked off the discussion by talking about the many attorney friends of Lincoln he met and talked to frequently from the Quincy area.
Ankrom mentioned that Quincy executives and lawyers were among the first to float Lincoln’s name as a presidential candidate in the 1860 election during a discussion at a 5th and Hampshire meeting house.
Years later, another Lincoln friend from the Quincy area, Orville Browning, rewatched his inaugural address on the train to Washington DC.
Browning had told Lincoln to tone down some points, and had ended up leaving for Quincy before the train arrived in Washington.
Quincy and Adams County Historical Society executive director Rob Mellon said recognizing these local connections Lincoln has helped give locals perspective on the area’s history.
“I think it’s important to know our place in history, and that connects us to Abraham Lincoln who, of course, has a national and even international presence in history. But it also shows that our attorneys here were some of the most prominent attorneys in the state of Illinois at the time,” Mellon said.
Lincoln’s legal career as a whole
After Ankrom’s speech, Wheeler gave more insight into the exact development of Lincoln’s legal and political career.
Wheeler said that during Lincoln’s 25-year legal career, he was involved in more than five thousand cases.
From murder trials to debt repayments, Lincoln has handled many different cases and often argued cases before the Supreme Court of Illinois and even once before the Supreme Court of the United States.
Of those litigated cases, Wheeler says Lincoln won about 60% of the cases where he represented the plaintiff and lost more than half of the cases where he represented the defendant.
However, Wheeler said those numbers don’t tell the whole story, as more than a third of Lincoln’s total cases were also dismissed.
He said Lincoln’s philosophy was that there should be as little litigation as possible. Lincoln viewed attorneys as peacemakers, and as such believed that attorneys could often resolve cases and complaints without the formal courtroom process.
Wheeler referred to a quote from Lincoln that read, “Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them that the nominal winner is often a real loser – in fees, expenses and wasted time. As a peacemaker, the lawyer has a better chance of being a good man.
Wheeler said having discussions about Lincoln’s legal background can help today’s generation learn more about the full picture of one of America’s most famous leaders.
“His practice of law was important for us to help understand his political development. His legal career helps us understand how he developed, in part, his sense of empathy, his ability to speak in public, and his wonderful writing ability as well,” Wheeler said.
For those wishing to do more research on Lincoln’s legal career, click here.
Wheeler said the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission is currently in the process of digitizing the entire Illinois Supreme Court records from 1818 through the Civil War.
He hopes to have this work completed within the next two years, so that all of the Lincoln Supreme Court’s arguments can be accessed online for free.
For those interested in upcoming Quincy and Adams County Historical Society events, click here.
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