Chapter Six: Entering the Law

Posted by on February 16, 2008 in Life of Lincoln | Comments Off

In 1834, while running for election, Lincoln became friends again with a man he had met while serving in the army, Major John T. Stuart. Stuart advised him to study the law, and Lincoln decided to do so. This proved to be quite the most important thing that occurred to him that year.

Stuart offered to lend him law books. This offer was gladly accepted. Lincoln, having no means of transportation, walked to and from Springfield, a distance of 20 miles, to get the books and return them.

During this time, as he studied law, Lincoln continued working at other jobs – storekeeping, postmaster, and surveyor. These jobs may not have interfered greatly with the study of the law, but the study of the law certainly interfered with the first of these, being a storekeeper. He read much outdoors. He would lie on his back in the shade of some tree, with his feet resting part way up the tree, then follow the shadow around from west to east, grinding around with the progress of the sun so he’d have light shining on his pages.

He was admitted to the bar, becoming a lawyer in 1837. At that time, there was no lawyer nearer to New Salem than those in Springfield, which was twenty miles off. So his neighbors often came to him for their legal needs, like writing up contracts. He had no office, and he often worked outside using a slab of wood for a desk.

This same year, he became a law partner of Stuart, in Springfield. Lincoln wanted to get into politics, and it was important that he should have a trustworthy partner. So the firm of Stuart and Lincoln was established in 1837 and lasted for four years. (Later, in 1845, was established the firm of Lincoln and Herndon, which continued until the assassination of the president in 1865.)

His partnership with Stuart of course had made it necessary for Lincoln to move to Springfield. Here, he met Joshua Speed, who turned out to be a friend for the rest of Lincoln’s life. Their meeting is described here, partly in Speed’s own words:

“He had ridden into town on a borrowed horse, with no earthly property save a pair of saddlebags containing a few clothes. I was a merchant at Springfield and kept a large country store, embracing dry goods, groceries, hardware, books, medicines, bedclothes, mattresses – in fact, everything that the country needed. Lincoln said he wanted to buy the furniture for a single bed. The mattress, blankets, sheets, coverlet, and pillow, according to the figures made by me, would cost seventeen dollars. He said that perhaps was cheap enough; but small as the price was, he was unable to pay it. But if I would credit him until Christmas, and his experiment as a lawyer was a success, he would pay then; saying in the saddest tone, ’If I fail in this, I do not know that I ever can pay you.’ As I looked up at him I thought then, and I think now, that I never saw a sadder face.

“I said to him: ‘You seem to be so much pained at contracting so small a debt, I think I can suggest a plan by which you can avoid the debt, and at the same time attain your end. I have a large room upstairs, which you are very welcome to share with me.’

The Old State Capitol in Springfield, Ill.He took his saddlebags on his arm, went upstairs, set them on the floor, and came down with the most changed expression. Beaming with pleasure, he exclaimed:

‘Well, Speed, I am moved!’”

Thus he became established in the profession of the law and a resident of Springfield. It was not a large city, but it was a very active one and was the capital of the state. His first law partner was very helpful to him, and he had reason all his life to be thankful also for the friendship of Joshua F. Speed.

Lincoln got deeper into politics, this period ending with the term in Congress. While in Congress, he let his law practice go a bit, but late in 1848, or early in 1849, he returned to the law, giving it his undivided attention for six years.

Based on the book by Henry Ketcham
Edited by Deborah Carroll

In 1834, the most important thing that happened to future president Lincoln was that he joined a law practice with Major John T. Stuart. What was the most important thing that happened to you last year?

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