Historical society hosts Lincoln discussion

Published: May. 22, 2022 at 9:02 PM CDT
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QUINCY (WGEM) - When many people look back at the legacy of President Abraham Lincoln, they envision the log cabin or the White House. However, the courtroom also played a vital role in the 16th president’s life.

That was the topic of discussion Sunday afternoon at the History Museum in Quincy.

Local historian Reg Ankrom and Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission Director of History Programs Samuel Wheeler both gave lectures on Lincoln’s expansive legal background and how it’s connected to the Quincy area.

Lincoln’s Local Connections

Ankrom kicked off the discussion, talking about Lincoln’s many lawyer friends whom he met with and spoke to frequently from the Quincy area.

Ankrom mentioned that Quincy leaders and lawyers were among the first people to float Lincoln’s name as a presidential candidate in the 1860 election in a discussion at a meeting house at 5th and Hampshire.

Years later, another friend of Lincoln from the Quincy area, Orville Browning, looked over his inaugural speech on the train to Washington DC.

Browning had told Lincoln to soften his tone on certain points, and ended up leaving to head back to Quincy before the train arrived in Washington.

Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County Executive Director Rob Mellon said recognizing these local connections Lincoln had helps give locals perspective on the history of the area.

“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 on history. But it also shows that our lawyers here were some of the most prominent lawyers in the state of Illinois at the time,” said Mellon.

Lincoln’s Legal Career as a Whole

Following Ankrom’s speech, Wheeler gave more insight on how exactly Lincoln’s legal and political career evolved.

Wheeler said over the course of Lincoln’s 25 year legal career, he was involved with over five thousand cases.

From murder trials to debt repayments, Lincoln handled many different cases and often argued cases in front of the Illinois Supreme Court and even one time in front of the United States Supreme Court.

Among those cases argued, 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 saw lawyers as peacemakers, and as such, thought that many times the lawyers could solve cases and complaints without the formal process of the courtroom.

Wheeler brought up a Lincoln quote that read, “Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser- in fees, expenses and waste of time. As a peacemaker, the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man.”

Wheeler said having discussions about Lincoln’s lawyer background can help today’s generation learn more of the full picture about one of America’s most famous leaders.

“His law practice was important for us to help to understand his political evolution. His legal career helps us understand how he developed, in part, his sense of empathy, his public speaking ability, 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 entirety of the Illinois Supreme Court’s records from 1818 through the Civil War.

He hopes to have that work completed over the course of the next two years, so all of Lincoln’s Supreme Court arguments can be given free online access.

For those interested in the upcoming events from the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County, click here.

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