Abraham Lincoln

Essay by lilchisy January 2006

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While most people know Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer prior to becoming President, few may know he also had experience as a judge. As an attorney Lincoln worked in the Eighth Judicial Circuit in Illinois, and twice a year (usually in the fall and spring) he'd spend nearly 3 months travelling by horseback and stopping at each county seat for a brief court term (usually 2 days to a week in duration). Much of the time Lincoln argued cases in front of Judge David Davis who travelled the circuit with him. When Davis was ill or had other personal business to take care of, he usually asked Lincoln to act as judge for a few days. This procedure was irregular and was altogether without statutory sanction; thus Lincoln would only preside at a trial if all parties consented. At least two of "Judge" Lincoln's cases were reversed by the Illinois Supreme Court because of this irregular assignment of the judicial duties, but usually Lincoln's integrity and character were so outstanding as to inspire confidence in his findings and weight to his judgements.

A few examples of cases Lincoln dealt with as a judge were not of enormous consequence. One time he heard a case involving a merchant and a father of a minor son. The merchant had sold the boy a $28 suit on credit without the father's knowledge or approval. The businessman held the father responsible for the son's debt. To hold the parent liable for the son's debt, the merchant had to prove that the clothes were a necessity and suitable to the boy's lifestyle. The father was prosperous, and the merchant contended he ought to pay the boy's bill. However, "Judge" Lincoln ruled against the merchant. Mr. Lincoln said, "I have rarely in my life worn a...