Law and Lincoln: A Look at the 16th President’s Early Legal Career

Among his many achievements as the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln is often remembered for his stirring speeches. While he won the presidency in middle age, he cultivated his oratorical skills in young adulthood while working as a lawyer. He first received his license to practice law in the state of Illinois in 1836. Along with his various partners, Lincoln then went on to handle over 5,000 legal cases.

During his time as a lawyer, Lincoln accepted a wide range of civil and criminal cases, from agricultural livestock feuds to corporate railroad disputes. Because breach of contract and debt collection cases were common at the time, he handled many cases in the realm of contracts, debts, and bankruptcies.

His most famous case was perhaps the trial of William “Duff” Armstrong, who was accused of fatally shooting another man in the eye with a slingshot. The other man was intoxicated from a moonshine drinking spree, but he still mounted his horse and rode away. He died a short time later and Armstrong was brought to trial for murder. An eyewitness claimed to have seen everything because, he said, the moon was shining high in the sky at the time. Lincoln produced an almanac to refute this claim, proving that the moonlight would have been too dim to see clearly. The witness, Lincoln argued, could be mistaken about any part of his testimony, and the drunk man could have died after falling from his horse. Lincoln’s eye for detail and his skill in conveying a logical argument eventually led to Armstrong’s acquittal—all because the moon was too dim to shine a light on the night’s events.

Lincoln quickly distinguished himself as one of the top trial and appellate attorneys in Illinois. His success in law was due in no small part to his great speaking, reasoning, and rhetorical skills. He was able to simplify the most complicated cases, distilling them down to a few key points, and clearly convey them to the court in a convincing way.

Lincoln himself believed that speaking and rhetoric were an essential part of any competent legal practice. In a set of notes he prepared for a law lecture, Lincoln wrote, “Extemporaneous speaking should be practised and cultivated. It is the lawyer’s avenue to the public. However able and faithful he may be in other respects, people are slow to bring him business if he cannot make a speech.”

As it turned out, speaking was also the president’s avenue to the public. When we remember Lincoln’s historic presidential speeches, as well as his influential legal reforms, it is clear that his time as a legal advocate shaped his ability to lead a nation.

At Calevoso Law, we understand the value of an attorney with strong logic, negotiation, and overall communication skills. We take it a step further by integrating our persuasive talents with a thorough knowledge of the law. Call us to speak with a well-rounded entertainment lawyer who can meet your specific legal needs.