Lincoln the Lawyer’s Political Life

The Birth of Lincoln the Lawyer             Lincoln Practicing the Law

While Lincoln did not personally desire any type of judicial appointment or office, he did make it a common practice to write letters of endorsement on behalf of those individuals he felt were best qualified and suited for positions. That is not to say that he was not qualified, just that he did not exhibit the drive to pursue a position. In fact, Lincoln was so qualified and capable that when Judge David Daviscould not attend to court on the Eighth Judicial Circuit, he would have an attorney sit as judge for a few cases or even for a few days. It is known that Davis asked Lincoln to act as judge several times in the 1850s, however, Lincoln was not the only person whom Davis appointed.

Lincoln had no desire to be the state’s attorney either, although he did assist Ward Hill Lamon, when he served as state’s attorney on the Eighth Circuit. Lincoln wrote indictments, served as co-counsel, and even acted as state’s attorney’s representative lawyer in several criminal cases.

Lincoln branched out in his legal practice and honed his skills this way, yet there were a few times when Lincoln seemed to put his legal practice on hold altogether, such as when he stumped for the Whig Party in various regions of the state during election years in the 1840s. Most of the time, however, Lincoln was more than capable of combining the two great passions of his life. For example, while campaigning for the Whigs in southern Illinois in 1840, he gave a political speech in Jefferson County and while court was in session argued a case in the Circuit Court. 

At another time, during his term in Congress, while Lincoln did not handle any cases in Illinois…he did argue one case and became involved in two others before the United States Supreme Court, since he was already in Washington DC.

In yet another example, Lincoln wrote to some clients in March of 1855, after losing the 1854 Senate election, that he had dabbled in politics and neglected business, and that since he had lost, he directly return to his legal practice.

During his 1858 Senatorial campaign against Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln did not practice law for much of the summer and fall, but he returned to law after his loss and maintained correspondences with everyone involved from his end, which helped him gather and solidify support for the presidential election in 1860.

In May of 1860, the Republican National Convention nominated Lincoln for president and his primary delegation was made up of lawyers and personalities that Lincoln had met and befriended from his time on the 8th Judicial Circuit, including Judge David Davis, who operated as a campaign manager for Lincoln during that time. Throughout the campaigning and into the fall, Lincoln still practiced as a lawyer and in November of 1860, Lincoln won the election for the presidency over his political rival Stephen A. Douglas and the other candidates John C. Breckenridge and John Bell. During the winter, Lincoln wrapped up his legal business with Herndon, and left for Washington in February 1861.


According to Herndon's, biography of his famous law partner, Lincoln wanted the partnership sign to hang undisturbed and “give our clients to understand that the election of a President makes no change in the firm of Lincoln and Herndon.” He told Herndon that if he returned he wanted to resume their practice of law “as if nothing had ever happened.” Lincoln’s next and final trip home was after his assassination. After he left Central Illinois and Springfield, he never again practiced law in the courts, the life that had made him the man he became.