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Law Practice-Rules for a Lawyer-Law and Politics: Twin Occupations-The Springfield Coterie-Friendly Help-Anne Rutledge-Mary Owens
[INCOLN'S removal from New Salem to Springfield and his entrance into a law partnership with Major John T. Stuart begin a distinctively new period in his career. From this point we need not trace in detail his progress in his new and this time deliberately chosen vocation. The lawyer who works his way up in professional merit from a five-dollar fee in a suit before a justice of the peace to a five-thousand-dollar fee before the Supreme Court of his State has a long and difficult path to climb. Mr. Lincoln climbed this path for twenty-five years with industry, perseverance, patience -above all, with that sense of moral responsibility that always clearly traced the dividing line between his duty to his client and his duty to society and truth. His unqualified frankness of statement assured him the confidence of judge and jury in every argument. His habit of fully admitting the weak points in his case gained their close attention to its strong ones, and when clients brought him bad cases, his uniform advice was not to begin the suit. Among his miscellaneous writings there exist some fragments of autograph notes, evidently intended for a little lecture or talk to law students, which set forth with brevity and force his opinion of what a lawyer ought to be and do. He earnestly commends diligence in study, and, next to diligence, promptness in keeping up his work.
"As a general rule, never take your whole fee in advance," he says, "nor any more than a small retainer. When fully paid beforehand, you are more than a common mortal if you can feel the same interest in the case as if something was still in prospect for you as well as for your client." "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. And yet, there is not a more fatal error to young lawyers than relying too much on speech-making. If any one, upon his rare powers of speaking, shall claim an exemption from the drudgery of the law, his case is a failure in advance. Discourage litigation. 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. There will still be business enough. Never stir up litigation. A worse man can scarcely be found than one who does this. Who can be more nearly a fiend than he who habitually overhauls the register of deeds in search of defects in titles, whereon to stir up strife and put money in his pocket? A moral tone ought to be infused into the profession which should drive such men out of it." "There is a vague popular belief that lawyers are necessarily dishonest. I say vague because when we consider to what extent confidence and honors are reposed in and conferred upon lawyers by the people, it appears improbable that their impression of dishonesty is very distinct and vivid. Yet the impression is common-almost universal. Let no young man choosing the law for a calling for a moment yield to the popular belief. Resolve to be honest at all events;
LAW AND POLITICS
and if, in your own judgment, you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer. Choose some other occupation, rather than one in the choosing of which you do, in advance, consent to be a knave."
While Lincoln thus became a lawyer, he did not cease to remain a politician. In the early West, law and politics were parallel roads to usefulness as well as distinction. Newspapers had not then reached any considerable circulation. There existed neither fast presses to print them, mail routes to carry them, nor subscribers to read them. Since even the laws had to be newly framed for those new communities, the lawyer became the inevitable political instructor and guide as far as ability and fame extended. His reputation as a lawyer was a twin of his influence as an orator, whether through logic or eloquence. Local conditions fostered, almost necessitated, this double pursuit. Westward emigration was in its full tide, and population was pouring into the great State of Illinois with ever accelerating rapidity. Settlements were spreading, roads were being opened, towns laid out, the larger counties divided. and new ones organized, and the enthusiastic visions of coming prosperity threw the State into that fever of speculation which culminated in wholesale internal improvements on borrowed capital and brought collapse, stagnation, and bankruptcy in its inevitable train. As already said, these swift changes required a plentiful supply of new laws, to frame which lawyers were in a large proportion sent to the legislature every two years. These same lawyers also filled the bar and recruited the bench of the new State, and, as they followed the itinerant circuit courts from county to county in their various sections, were called upon in these summer wanderings to explain in public speeches
their legislative work of the winter. By a natural connection, this also involved a discussion of national and party issues. It was also during this period that party activity was stimulated by the general adoption of the new system of party caucuses and party conventions to which President Jackson had given the impulse.
In the American system of representative government, elections not only occur with the regularity of clockwork, but pervade the whole organism in every degree of its structure from top to bottom-Federal, State, county, township, and school district. In Illinois, even the State judiciary has at different times been chosen by popular ballot. The function of the politician, therefore, is one of continuous watchfulness and activity, and he must have intimate knowledge of details if he would work out grand results. Activity in politics also produces eager competition and sharp rivalry. In 1839 the seat of government was definitely transferred from Vandalia to Springfield, and there soon gathered at the new State capital a group of young men whose varied ability and future success in public service has rarely been excelled-Douglas, Shields, Calhoun, Stuart, Logan, Baker, Treat, Hardin, Trumbull, McClernand, Browning, McDougall, and others.
His new surroundings greatly stimulated and reinforced Mr. Lincoln's growing experience and spreading acquaintance, giving him a larger share and wider influence in local and State politics. He became a valued and sagacious adviser in party caucuses, and a power in party conventions. Gradually, also, his gifts as an attractive and persuasive campaign speaker were making themselves felt and appreciated.
His removal, in April, 1837, from a village of twenty houses to a "city" of about two thousand inhabitants placed him in striking new relations and necessities as
to dress, manners, and society, as well as politics; yet here again, as in the case of his removal from his father's cabin to New Salem six years before, peculiar conditions rendered the transition less abrupt than would at first appear. Springfield, notwithstanding its greater population and prospective dignity as the capital, was in many respects no great improvement on New Salem. It had no public buildings, its streets and sidewalks were unpaved, its stores, in spite of all their flourish of advertisements, were staggering under the hard times of 1837-39, and stagnation of business imposed a rigid economy on all classes. If we may credit tradition, this was one of the most serious crises of Lincoln's life. His intimate friend, William Butler, related to the writer that, having attended a session of the legislature at Vandalia, he and Lincoln returned together at its close to Springfield by the usual mode of horseback travel. At one of their stopping-places over night Lincoln, in one of his gloomy moods, told Butler the story of the almost hopeless prospects which lay immediately before him-that the session was over, his salary all drawn, and his money all spent; that he had no resources and no work; that he did not know where to turn to earn even a week's board. Butler bade him be of good cheer, and, without any formal proposition or agreement, took him and his belongings to his own house and domesticated him there as a permanent guest, with Lincoln's tacit compliance. rather than any definite consent. Later Lincoln shared a room and genial companionship, which ripened into closest intimacy, in the store of his friend Joshua F. Speed, all without charge or expense; and these brotherly offerings helped the young lawyer over present necessities which might otherwise have driven him to muscular handiwork at weekly or monthly wages.