Abraham Lincoln`s Law Profession and its Contribution to the Presidency

AbrahamLincoln’s Law Profession and its Contribution to the Presidency

AbrahamLincoln’s Law Profession and its Contribution to the Presidency

ManyU.S. presidential candidates or presidents have practiced law at onetime. Thus, it is clear that attorneys have significant attributesthat make them successful and trusted leaders. Lawyer as a leaderillustrates a great passion for combating hierarchy and subjugationwhile striving social justice. In fact, legal practitioners manage toweave and integrate impartiality to most of their judgments, as wellas, advocate for policy reform and social change. More than 50% ofAmerica’s presidents have been legal professionals, but none hasever possessed Lincoln’s comprehensive courtroom practice: roughly3,800 documented cases, filed in around 25 years at the Illinois bar(Blackburn, Lincoln, &amp Marx, 2011 Billings &amp Williams,2010). His life as an attorney gave him political contacts and actedas a means through which he met constituents. During practice, helearned the art of communication with the common people, resolvingdisagreements, maintenance of law and order, and the preservation ofcommunity congruence – teachings that would serve him well as apresident. The history of Abraham Lincoln provides a clear example onhow the legal aspects that attorneys cultivate while practicingcontribute greatly to their leadership skills. As a litigator leader,Abraham Lincoln led the United States through a violent period,helped preserve the Union and began the process of EmancipationProclamation. Today, most people remember him for playing animportant function in calling for the end of slavery, as well as, asfor his leadership and character. Although he endured greatpressures, he used his law and leadership skills to modernize theeconomy and strengthen the federal government. To better comprehendthe interplay between being a legal practitioner and a leader, thepaper will report on Lincoln’s background, achievements, and theway the skills he learned as an attorney lawyer assisted him tobecome a great leader. Abraham Lincoln went down in history as one ofthe most influential leaders primarily because he was once apracticing counsel.



Bornin Hardin County, Kentucky on 12 February 1809 in humble backgrounds,Abraham Lincoln was the 16thpresident of the USA (Lamon, 2012). His father, Thomas Lincoln, bornto penurious parents was a workhand and later a trained carpenter whocould not write or barely write his name. Thomas was a stern parentand as a young man, Abraham never liked him much. Although hismother, Nancy Hanks, died when he was 7 years old, there is littleinformation on her contribution to the development of Lincoln. Mostscholars assume that Nancy was an illegitimate daughter, though theredoes not exist any record of her birth (Burlingame, 2013). After adispute over land titles in 1816, Thomas moved his family northerlyof the Ohio River to the Pigeon Creek where they squatted withoutrent until they made a payment one year later (Smith, 2014). TheYoung Lincoln helped his father plow fields, clear the land, splitlogs, and build a rough cabin. According to Smith (2014), harshwinters, failed crops, summer droughts, the precariousness of law,and the unpredictability of sickness and disease shaped existence atthis time. The society was dynamic with a robust democraticphilosophy among the white men and a restive hopefulness about theprobability of progress and improvement. However, for common folkslike the Lincoln’s on the frontier, it was a rough and rude realitywhere despite the efforts of reformers and preachers, violence anddrinking were principal elements of the masculine culture.

In1818, Abraham’s mother died of milk sickness aged 34 and left hisolder sister, Sarah in charge of the household (Lamon, 2012Ostergard, 2009). The incident was devastating to the young boy andhe grew more withdrawn from his father, as well as, begrudged thehard labor placed on him. The following year, his father marriedSarah Bush Johnston (a widow) who had three children and surprisinglyAbraham became close to her, often referring to her as “mother.”According to Smith (2014), Sarah Bush may have played a huge part inencouraging Lincoln’s interest in a life beyond farming. Sarah Bushwas affectionate, strong, and stimulated Abraham to study. Indianahad a short stock of books, but Abraham would go to far places toborrow books. During this period, it was challenging for a boy toimagine a path beyond a world of farm and labor, as clearing fieldsand planting was the norm (White, 2016). It was a common practice forpeople to exchange labor with one another meaning Abraham worked bothin the neighbors and his father’s farm. This might have providedthe emotional origins of his hatred of slavery, as the minimalcontrol he had as a laborer made him feel like a slave (White, 2016).However, enough evidence has not been provided to support the claim.

Legaland political career

In1830, Abraham finally left his father’s house to make his pathself-reliantly in life and settled in New Salem. He operated as astorekeeper, postmaster, and ultimately a general store proprietor.He acquired interpersonal and social skills while working in thisroles and would tell stories to people, which made him popular. Afterthe Black Hawk War, he began a career in politics, vied for anIllinois state legislature position, and supported the Whig Party(Lamon, 2012). The political comprehension he gained allowed himframe his early opinions in slavery and start a law career. Accordingto Reilly &amp Dugard (2011), he started teaching himself law bystudying Commentarieson the Laws of Englandand in 1837 he began practicing. In 1844 he joined William Herndonand cultivated a close personal and professional relationship,although they had dissimilar jurisprudent styles. Blackburn et al.(2011) and Lamon (2012) assert that during 1847 and 1849 he servedone term in the Houseof Representativeas a single Whig from Illinois. He used the chance to disparage theMexican-American War. Nevertheless, his disapproval of theconfrontation made him detested back home thus, he chose to run fora single term only and return to practice law in Springfield. Duringthe 1850s, he became an attorney for the Illinois Central Railroadwhere he won numerous court cases bringing other commercial customersincluding insurance, banking, and industrial.

Thepassage of the Kansas-NebraskaActby the Congress in 1854 rescinding the MissouriCompromisepermitted states and regions to choose whether to tolerate slavery(Smith, 2014). The enactment triggered vicious disapproval inIllinois and Kansas and led to the formation to the RepublicanParty.Abraham’s political enthusiasm was awakened, his opinions onsuppression moved toward ethical resentment, and in 1856, he joinedthe party. The following year, the Supreme Court declared thatAfrican-Americans had no alienable rights in Scottv. Sanfordcase (Lamon, 2012). Although Abraham felt that the whites weresuperior to African-Americans, he thought the country’s forefathersenvisioned that all men were created equal with specific fundamentalrights thus, he challenged Stephen Douglas, the sitting senator. Hecriticized the Supreme Court in his nomination acceptance speech forpromoting slavery and although he lost to Douglas, the exposurethrust him into national politics. In 1860, he was selected to standfor the presidency for of his understandings on slavery, backing forthe protective tariff, and enhancing infrastructure. In the mainelection, he received roughly 40% of the popular vote but won theelectoral votes with 180 out of 303 votes.


Historiantypically regards Lincoln as the most important man in Americanhistory. Lincoln boasts of a high aggregate score in nearly allrankings than other presidents (Blackburn et al., 2011 Reilly &ampDugard, 2011). He became president when America was at a crossroadregarding the Border States. Although most Northerners believed thatthe Union or Slavery were not worth fighting for, Lincoln held theUnion together. In addition, he supported the universal freedom andliberties of people. He issued the emancipation proclamation to banslavery. Furthermore, he made people understand the significanceunity after the Civil War. He underwent extraordinary challengesduring the Civil War but carried on despite the failure of generalsto fight. Against a backdrop of internal strife among cabinetmembers, assassination threats, antagonism from groups, such as,Copperheads, and great loss of life on the battlegrounds, Abrahampersevered and remained brave. His belief in the truth and thededication he had for integrity helped him fight until the defeat ofthe Confederacy (Blackburn et al., 2011). As an attorney, he foughtsocial injustices and called for the veneration of law. These aspectscoupled with the skills he learned, allowed him to push for theEmancipation Proclamation (Gabriel, 2014). Although the declarationdid not free slaves immediately, it laid the ground for the autonomyof all slaves with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865.

Rolesplayed before assuming office

Hestarted his professional career after the Black Hawk War with aninterest in the Illinois state legislature. He greatly contributed ingiving support to the Whig politics by criticizing slavery andcalling for economic development. By the 1850s, Illinois became amajor hub for the different companies as the railroad industry movedwest. Abraham Lincoln played the role of an activist for the IllinoisCentral Railway acting as its counsel (White, 2016). The successpulled other clients and thrust Abraham into the criminal andlitigation aspects of the law. Moreover, after joining the recentlyformed RepublicanPartyin 1856, he ran for the U.S. Senate two years later. In the Senate,he made a name for himself with his debating skills. The self-taughtIllinois counsel was known for his reputation as an eloquent opponentof slavery. He proved to be an astute military strategist and ashrewd leader during a war considered to be the costliest conflictever on the American soil.

AbrahamLincoln’s law practice

Hispersona was intensely entrenched in reverence for rationality andlaw. In his 1838 speech to the YoungMen’s Lyceum in Springfield,Abraham commented that an unemotional and calculating reason mustprovide all the materials of people’s future backing and defense(Schurz, 2005). To him, respect for the laws was the only wayAmericans would manage to call for social change and politicalemancipation. In fact, from 1837, when he became an attorney to 1860when he was nominated for the presidency, law and reverence for itsvalidity were the focus of his professional life. Moreover, his legalcolleagues were the epicenter of his partisan life. As the president,the law was his training ground for groundbreaking arguments andleadership. Schurz (2005) writes that although Lincoln wascomfortable in law, he usually saw it as a means of livelihood andsometimes he lost sight of its value as a profession. This does notmean that he did not hold it in high esteem, but it shows that lawwas ingrained in him therefore, he was highly comfortable in law. Hewent to the statehouse, Congress, and the White House to develop hislaw profession and used the courthouse to find a degree of securityand livelihood. Perhaps, the greatest skill that Abraham cultivatedas a counsel was truth and his devotion to integrity. According toBurlingame (2013), Abraham was practically defenseless without thetruth, but when he was on the right side, he was the strongest man.The truth allowed him to carry convictions both as a lawyer and thepresident. For example, his belief in the ills of slavery wasinculcated as a young man and as a practicing attorney.

Politicalambitions and successes

Abrahamand a colleague bought a small store in New Salem in 1832. As a clerkin the store, he enchanted people with his intelligence, wit, andintegrity and for the less literate populaces of the town, hisability to write and read was priceless. He became a popular memberand endeared himself to the locals as a good natured and studious man(Billings &amp Williams, 2010). However, the business struggleddespite the booming economy forcing him to sell his share. Afterthat, he started a political career with his first drive for theIllinois General Assembly. Although he had accomplished approval andcould draw crowds with his wit, his lack of money, powerful friends,and extensive education contributed to his loss. During the sameperiod, the Black Hawk War started and he offered to fight theIndians.

Leadershipin the office of the president

Asa shrewd attorney and legislator from the State of Illinois, Abrahamhad a strong reputation of opposing slavery. His nomination by theRepublican Party to vie for the presidency in 1860 shocked numerouscontenders who were considered as more prominent (Lamon, 2012).During his inauguration in 1861, and only a month before the start ofthe Civil War, many Southern States had already started to secede.However, against all expectations, President Lincoln proved to be asavvy lawyer and military strategist during one of the most expensiveconflicts ever witnessed on American soil. According to Lamon (2012),during his inaugural address, Lincoln promised to uphold the rightsof each State to control their domestic institutions in accordancewith their own judgment. This was critical in maintaining the balanceof power to enhance the endurance and perfection of the politicalsystem in the U.S.

Lincolnunderstood the significance of separation of powers and respectingthe autonomy of each branch of the government. He denounced any formof lawless invasion by armed groups in the soil of American states,arguing that such an act would be considered as the gravest crimeirrespective of its pretext or context. In 1863, Lincoln issued theEmancipation Proclamation which forced all the rebellious states tofree all the slaves and thus pave way for the consequent abolition ofslavery (Billings &amp Williams, 2010 Goodwin, 2012). HisGettysburg Address, regarded as one of the most influential andfamous oratory speeches in the American history, provides extensivedetails on his quality (Schurz, 2005).

Inhis practicing years, Lincoln had earned the reputation of being an“Honest Abe” and he represented both individual residents andmajor clients like national railroad lines. The most powerful elementof his personality was his conscience which was pure and sincere, andhe used this attribute during his presidency. Lincoln used to puzzlehis cabinet members by his mix of melancholy and humor, and he couldshift from this state to extreme seriousness. His regard forgenuineness and candor was one of the most conspicuous characters ofLincoln. Lawyer Samuel C. Parks said that Lincoln was one of the mosthonest individuals he had ever encountered, having practiced as alawyer for a quarter a century (Hubbard, 2015). For instance, duringthe famous trial of William &quotDuff&quot Armstrong, Lincolnbecame known for using facts that had been instituted by jurisdictivenotice and he managed to test the credibility and authenticity ofeyewitnesses. Lincoln continued to use his skills as president toretain a strong base support from his party, which was essential inredefining the war effort.

Respectingthe freedoms and rights of each person and state was one of the keyleadership aspects that set Lincoln apart and enabled the Americanpeople to respect and love his presidency. For instance, Lincoln oncesaid that America was a country that was conceived and developed inliberty, and that the government was devoted to the belief that allhuman beings are born equal (Billings &amp Williams, 2010).Therefore, the emancipation of slavery became one of the leadingnational concerns based on the principles of equality and liberty forall. Despite the fact that several soldiers lost their lives in thewar, Lincoln argued that the losses would not be in vain. This isbecause future democracies will be assured and that the mainobjective of the civil war would become a new birth of the nation.

Responseto the CrittendenCompromise

PresidentLincoln’s astuteness was first witnessed just after his resoundingvictory in the 1860 election (Ostergard, 2009). As he awaited hisinauguration, the president-elect faced a rising tide of calls forsecession from southern states. Southern states opposed his positionon the institution of slavery and they made good of their promise tobegin the process of secession should Lincoln be elected. Lincoln’sposition on the institution of slavery is well known, but his abilityto balance between the political reality of the time and his innerfeelings about the issue is a matter that reveals his astuteness. Hetook the position of not impairing slavery in states that alreadypracticed slavery but impede the spread of it in states that did nothave an established institution of slavery.

Thefirst step Lincoln took was to support a third amendment that soughtto support slavery in states that already practiced it. The amendmentwas successfully approved by the Congress (The New York Times, 1861).As he weighed his support for the amendment through RepublicanCongressional leaders, a senator from Kentucky, John J. Crittendencame up with proposals that aimed to institute massive constitutionalamendments that would have guaranteed slavery in states. The draft ofproposals would be called the CrittendenCompromise(The New York Times, 1861). The compromise proposed that Congressshall not abolish slavery in the District of Columbia and it wouldnot interfere with states trading slaves with each other. It alsoproposed that Congress would pass legislation that directed thecompensation of slaveholders who lost runaway slaves. Lincolnunderstood the set of proposals in the CrittendenCompromisewas to undermine his campaign platform. He instructed Republicancongressmen to reject any concessions on any clause of the compromisethat sought to expand slavery (McCurry, 2016 The New York Times,1861). Lincoln used this tactic to prepare for any eventualitybecause he knew that the Civil War was somewhat an inevitable issue,especially after the extreme resolutions at the Montgomery Conventionby southern states. He was able to foresee the ramifications of sucha constitutional amendment on his long-term focus on abolishingslavery.

Lincoln’sdecision on 300 Indians accused of war crimes during the Civil War

Duringhis time as a war leader, he employed the benevolent leadership stylethat had served him as a counsel and politician. Abraham preferred torespond to challenges and to the situations that people had createdinstead of originating policies. It was President Lincoln’s policyon Indians during the Civil War that demonstrated that his backgroundas an attorney had a huge influence on his leadership style, in lateNovember 1862, when the war was its peak (Ostergard, 2009). Thefinancial cost of war was at its all-time high since the war began.The tension was brewing in Dakota due to rumors that the governmentcould soon be no longer able to fund the war because there would beno annuity gold for The Dakota, the resident Indians in Minnesota.Traders slammed doors. The tension grew into an actual war that wassparked by the decision by four men from Dakota led by an Indiancalled Killing Ghost attacked and killed five white settlers(Ostergard, 2009). It was an act to hit at the government for itsfailure deal with the economic problems of Indians during the war.During this time, many federal soldiers were engaged in a waroffensive against the confederate soldiers. Dakota Indian leader sawthis as an opportunity strike at white settlers who they loathed andtheir attack seemed more as an onslaught against the union. Manysettlers in Dakota supported union troops and President Lincoln’sresolve to defend the constitution.

TheDakota led by Chief Taoyateduta or Little Crow attacked whitesettlers in proper succession and within four days, some four toeight hundred white settlers were killed in cold blood (Reilly &ampDugard, 2011). They burned farms and fields. They did not spare adetachment of federal soldiers that had been dispatched from FortRidgley. Panic and tension surged throughout Minnesota and tens ofthousands of white settlers were internally displaced and fleeing thewestern regions. Commander Henry. H. Sibley captured about 1,200 ofThe Dakota and began the process of prosecuting them as war criminals(Smith, 2014). He constituted a commission of five military officersto carry out trials for the prisoners and convict those found guiltyof war crimes. The penalty for war crimes was death. Executions couldonly be done upon the review and approval of the President. Mostcharges in the trials ranged from rape to murder to theft. The trialswere largely unfair because they did not follow the due process. Thecommission used its own witnesses without giving the Dakotas anopportunity to have a legal defense. It also relied on hearsayevidence with many witnesses testifying information they had heardfrom third parties rather than seen.

Alist of the accused, many of whom had been sentenced to death, wasdispatched to President Lincoln. As he began to deliberate and reviewthe list, Lincoln received a bombardment of opinions and advices fromgenerals, army officers, politicians, and the clergy. The Presidents’decision, however, was largely influenced by his background as anattorney (Hubbard, 2015). Rather than follow the sentiments ofsurviving white settlers or yield to pressures of the Civil War,Lincoln employed his legal prowess in dealing with the executions.During his practice as a lawyer, he had built a reputation as adefense lawyer and a prosecutor. He was famous for carrying outlengthy cross-examinations in countrified style. He had made over twohundred appearances as one of the senior lawyers of the IllinoisCentral Railroad. Thus, Lincoln used this legal experience to reviewthe cases before him by first reviewing transcripts and listened topleas from visiting family members of the men convicted by theSibley-appointed commission.

PresidentLincoln was able to identify the legal flaws of Dakota trials. TheLincoln used his legal skills to note that defendants did not havecounsel representation where attorneys could have challenged theimpartiality of the commission and its jurisdiction in the crimeswhere martial law was not ordered. Besides, Lincoln noted that theinconsistencies in witness submissions had been grossly ignored. Somewitnesses such as one called “Godfrey” had lied to the commissionin order to get its favor (Goodwin, 2012 Smith, 2014). Besideslacking legal representation, the Dakota also suffered from alanguage and cultural barriers that made the trials grossly biasedbecause many did not even understand the proceedings. President alsoused a political perspective in addition to his legal perspective ofthe cases, which was also nuanced with his natural compassion.Therefore, he decided not to be very cruel in his judgment in amanner that disregarded material evidence submitted and also not tobe too lenient to encourage another outbreak from the Indians. Heonly allowed 39 out of the 303 men to be executed (Goodwin, 2012).Were it not for Lincoln’s background as a legal expert and anattorney, he could possibly have made such a critical decisionwithout due attention to material evidence submitted against theDakotas. Besides, white Americans were crying for revenge but he didnot yield to such an unjust way of dealing with the issue. The thirtyprisoners sentenced to death had either been accused of murder,mutilation or mass massacres with compelling evidence against them.The decision was, indeed, astute and befitting of a president who hadspent many years serving as an attorney, a prosecutor, and a legalexpert.

Therash of emotional clemency

Inthe summer of 1863 when the Civil War was rife, a Confederatecivilian doctor murdered a Union officer who training coloredsoldiers in Norfolk, Virginia (Smith, 2014). A trial by a militarycommissioned found the doctor guilty and convicted him to death.Lincoln responded a rash of emotional clemency appeals with noquestion as to guilt. He decided to choose a medical expert to carryout a professional examination to determine the sanity of themurderer. The decision was influenced by his legal experiences inhigh profile cases such as Peoplev. Wyant andFlemingv. Rogers and Crothers(Hubbard, 2015).Inboth cases, he had selected expert medical witnesses to give evidenceon behalf of his clients. In this case involving a Confederatecivilian doctor, Lincoln’s political and legal prowess combined tooffer the best sense of judgment from a president. He considered lawand politics as interrelated, wholly inclusive, and interdependent.It is worth to note that Lincoln yielded to calls for clemency at atime when many in the North wanted a ruthless revenge on behalf ofthe state. His legal background compelled him to adduce evidence asthe basis of his decisions rather than emotions.

AbrahamLincoln, the unification, and the Reconstruction Period

TheReconstruction process began in 1863. After the triumphs of the Unionat Vicksburg and Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln charted theso-called ten-percent plan. This plan sketched the manner in whichthe readmission of the southern states was to be done. In this case,the plan mandated that 10% of all the voters in the southern statemust swear an oath of loyalty to the Union before readmission(Burlingame, 2013 Gabriel, 2014). After swearing the oath, thestates were to elect their representatives to the state constitutionsas well as develop their state governments. Lincoln promised toprotect the southerners’ private property apart from their slaves.Additionally, he also promised to provide a full pardon to thesoutherners apart from the high-ranking government officials and armyofficers.

Theplan was supported by the majority of the moderate Republicans sincethey wanted a quick end to the Civil War (Burlingame, 2013).Similarly, Lincoln’s efforts were aimed at bringing an end to theCivil War which he believed might divide the South and the North.Some historians argue that Lincoln’s plan was too lenient to the onthe South so as to make it surrender. Generally, Lincoln’s effortswere aimed at bringing a quick reunification of the States in orderfor the United States to exist as it had existed before the CivilWar. It was a period during and after the United States’ Civil War.Lincoln’s strategy was aimed at bringing a quick end to the CivilWar (Hubbard, 2015). As such, it proposed favorable policies to thesouthern states. These policies meant to make the southern statessurrender and thus bringing an end to the Civil War. In strategizingthe plan, Lincoln used his legal expertise. He advanced thedevelopment and construal of the law by codifying orders


Thepaper has looked at the significance of practicing law and thenumerous leadership attributes and styles it inculcates in a person.Looking at Abraham’s life especially his professional career, thepaper has managed to construe a comprehensive analysis on alawyer-leader facet. Abraham Lincoln’s leadership enabled theunification of all the states in the US. He ensured that slavery wasabolished in all the states and every slave was freed. The skills hedeveloped while practicing law helped him accomplish such a greatfeat.&nbspAs an astute attorney, representative, and president,Abraham had a strong reputation of opposing slavery. Moreover, heproved to be a military strategist during the Civil War. As thepresident, he understood the implication of separation of powers andrespect for the independence of each branch of the government. Hislaw attributes were evident in the numerous enactments he pushed,denunciation of any form of lawless invasion, and the issuance of theEmancipationProclamation.Consequently, as a lawyer, Abraham showed significant and dynamicleadership qualities which helped him preserve the Union, support thefederal government, stop slavery, and streamline the Americaneconomy.


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