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Lincoln’s effort to restore the Union and his contributions to American political thought and its ideals of freedom often obscure the fact that he had been a successful attorney.  Lincoln himself admitted his ambition lay in politics and not in the law, stating “my forte is as a Statesman, rather than a Prosecutor.”  Even if the law was Lincoln’s “secondary” avocation, it was indelibly linked to him in life and death.  The Law Library of Congress's historical collection vividly illustrates three periods in which the law played a prominent part of the Lincoln era. 

First, Lincoln the Lawyer is comprised of works specifically on his work as a prominent Illinois lawyer. 

Second, Habeas Corpus and the War Powers of the President covers contemporary literature on Lincoln’s controversial balancing of civil liberties against the demands of war aims.  Most notoriously, he and his administration several times suspended the writ of habeas corpus, a writ by which prisoners can challenge the legality of their detention, drawing the ire of political foes. 

Finally, The Assassination: Trials contains period transcripts and reports of the trial of the surviving conspirators in the murder of the President and attempted murder of other public officials.  George Atzerodt, David Herold, Lewis Payne/Powell, and Mary Surratt were convicted of the crimes and executed. Samuel Arnold, Michael O'Laughlen, Dr. Samuel Mudd, and Edman Spangler were also convicted and received prison sentences.


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Lincoln the Lawyer

1. Abraham Lincoln legal writ, 1839. Application of issue of process in Sangamon County Circuit Court (Illinois), case of George M. Stockton versus James Tolly. Entirely in Lincoln's hand and signed by him "Stuart & Lincoln." (PDF, Page view, Catalog Record)

Abraham Lincoln2. Hill, Frederick Trevor.  Lincoln, the lawyer.  New York : Century Co., 1906.  xviii, 332 p. : ill., facsims.  (PDF, Page view, Catalog Record)

3.  Law Association of Philadelphia.  Minutes of the meetings and exercises held at the rooms of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in commemoration of the centennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln.  Philadelphia : Made at the Sign of the Ivy Leaf, [1909].  28 p. (PDF, Page view, Catalog Record)

4.  Oakleaf, Joseph Benjamin. Abraham Lincoln as a criminal lawyer.  Rock Island, Ill., Augustana Book Concern, printers, 1923. 15 p. (PDF, Page view, Catalog Record

5. Richards, John T. Abraham Lincoln at the bar of Illinois. [Chicago, 1909?] 14 p.  (PDF, Page view, Catalog Record)

Abraham Lincoln6. Richards, John T.  Abraham Lincoln, the lawyer-statesman.  Boston ; New York ; Houghton Mifflin, 1916.  vii, 260 p. (PDF, Page view, Catalog Record)

Abraham Lincoln7. Townsend, George Alfred.  The real life of Abraham Lincoln : a talk with Mr. Herndon, his late law partner.  New York : Publication Office, Bible House, 1867. 15 p. (PDF, Page view, Catalog Record)

8.  Trial of Abraham Lincoln by the great statesmen of the republic : a council of the past on the tyranny of the present : the spirit of the Constitution of the bench--Abraham Lincoln, prisoner at the bar, his own counsel.  New York : Office of the Metropolitan record, 1863. 29 p. (PDF, Page view, Catalog Record)

Abraham Lincoln9. Whitney, Henry Clay.  Life on the circuit with Lincoln. With sketches of Generals Grant, Sherman and McClellan, Judge Davis, Leonard Swett, and other contemporaries.  Boston, Estes and Lauriat, [1892].  viii, 601 p. (PDF, Page view, Catalog Record)


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Habeas Corpus and the War Powers of the President

1. Cook, William A.  Opinions and practice of the founders of the republic, in relation to arbitrary arrests, imprisonment of Tories, writ of habeas corpus, seizure of arms and of private papers, domiciliary visits, confiscation of real and personal estate, etc., etc.  Washington, D.C., W. H. Moore, printer, 1864.  54 p. (PDF, Page view, Catalog Record)

Abraham Lincoln 2.  Harbaugh, Henry.  Treason and law. A discourse, delivered at Clearspring, Maryland, June 1, 1865, the day of national mourning. By H. Harbaugh.  Philadelphia : J.B. Rodgers, printer, 1865.  31 p. (PDF, Page view, Catalog Record)

Abraham Lincoln3.  Lincoln, Abraham. President Lincoln's views : an important letter on the principles involved in the Vallandigham case.  Philadelphia : King & Baird, Printers, 1863. 16 p. (PDF, Page view, Catalog Record)

4. Nicholas, S.S. A review of the argument of President Lincoln and Attorney General Bates, in favor of presidential power to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.  Louisville, Ky. : Printed by Bradley & Gilbert, 1861. 38 p. (PDF, Page view, Catalog Record)

Abraham Lincoln5.  Whiting, William. The war powers of the President, military arrests, and reconstruction of the Union.  Boston : John L. Shorey, 1864.  vi, 263 p. (PDF, Page view, Catalog Record)


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The Assassination: Trials

Abraham Lincoln1. The assassination of President Lincoln and the trial of the conspirators David E. Herold, Mary E. Surratt, Lewis Payne, George A. Atzerodt, Edward Spangler, Samuel A. Mudd, Samuel Arnold, Michael O'Laughlin. Compiled and arranged by Benn Pitman, recorder to the Commission.  Cincinnati ; New York : Moore, Wilstach & Boldwin, 1865. xvi, 17-421,
[1] p. (PDF, Page view, Catalog Record)

Abraham Lincoln2.  The conspiracy trial for the murder of the president and the attempt to overthrow the government by the assassination of its principal officers. Edited, with an introduction, by Ben. Perley Poore.  Boston : J.E. Tilton and Company, 1865-66.  3 v. : 19 cm. All Law Library copies are incomplete: v. 3 wanting.  Vol. 1 has  480 p.; v. 2 has 552 p. (Vol. 1, PDF, Vol. 1, Page view, Vol. 2, PDF, Vol. 2, Page view; Catalog Record)

Abraham Lincoln3.  Bingham, John Armor.  Trial of the conspirators, for the assassination of President Lincoln, &c. Argument of John A. Bingham, special judge advocate, in reply to the arguments of the several counsel for Mary E. Surratt, David E. Herold, Lewis Payne, George A. Atzerodt, Michael O'Laughlin, Samuel A. Mudd, Edward Spangler, and Samuel Arnold, charged with conspiracy and murder of Abraham Lincoln, late president of the United States.  Delivered June 27 and 28, 1865, before the Military Commission, Washington, D.C.  Washington : Govt. Print. Office, 1865.  122 p. (PDF, Page view, Catalog Record)

Abraham Lincoln4. Life and extraordinary adventures of John H. Surratt, the conspirator: a correct account and highly interesting narrative of his doings and adventures from childhood to the present time.  Philadelphia : Barclay & Co., c1867.  1 p. l., 21-24, 37-40, 43-136 p. (PDF, Page view, Catalog Record)

5.  Merrick, Richard T.  Speech to the jury of Richard T. Merrick, Esq., on the trial of John H. Surratt, in the Supreme court of the District of Columbia, sitting for the trial of crimes and misdemeanors, on an indictment for murder of President Lincoln : before His Honor George P. Fisher, one of the justices of the Supreme Court for the District of Columbia, commencing Monday, June 10, 1867.  Washington City, D.C. : R. Sutton, 1867.  16, 15 p. ; 27 cm.  A separate printing from the Reporter, v. IV, nos. 96-97, September 10-11, 1867. Pages also numbered [427], 428-454, [455]. (PDF, Page view, Catalog Record)

Abraham Lincoln6. Trial of John H. Surratt in the Criminal Court for the District of Columbia, Hon. George P. Fisher presiding.  Washington : Government Printing Office, 1867.  Trial in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, sitting for the trial of crimes and misdemeanors, June-August, 1867, for the murder of President Lincoln.  2 v. (1383 p.). (Vol. 1, PDF, Vol. 1, Page view, Vol. 2, PDF, Vol. 2, Page view; Catalog Record)

7. Trial of John H. Surratt in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, sitting for the trial of crimes and misdemeanors, on an indictment for murder of President Lincoln before His Honor George P. Fisher, one of the justices of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, commencing Monday, June 10, 1867.  Washington city, D.C., 1867.  v. 3, p. [57-405], v. 4 ([558] p.) 28 cm. (In The reporter. A periodical devoted to religion, law, legislation, and public events. Washington City, D.C., 1867. 28 cm. v. 3, p. [57-405], v. 4 ([558] p.)  (Vol. 3, PDF, Vol. 3, Page view, Vol. 4, PDF, Vol. 4, Page view, Catalog Record)

Abraham Lincoln8.  Trial of the assassins and conspirators for the murder of Abraham Lincoln, and the attempted assassination of Vice-President Johnson and the whole cabinet : the most intensely interesting trial on record : containing the evidence in full, with arguments of counsel on both sides, and the verdict of the military commission : correct likenesses and graphic history of all the assassins, conspirators, and other persons connected with their arrest and trial.  Philadelphia :  Barclay & Co.,  c1864 [i.e. 1865].  21-102 p., [1].  (PDF, Page view, Catalog Record)

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Last Updated: 02/28/2014