Abraham Lincoln: The Lawyer-Statesman, by John T. Richards
Even though the author was the head of the Chicago Bar, this book reads as if it was written by a Southerner who is moderately fine with Abraham Lincoln but strongly anti-abolitionist overall. While Lincoln is the sort of leader whom it is easy to praise as president (for everyone with at least some sense), at the same time how Lincoln is praised tends to vary widely based on the sort of assumptions that one brings into the analysis. An abolitionist historian would praise Lincoln for freeing the slaves but might be frustrated by his support of colonization and his comments about civil and political equality. Lincoln’s skeptical attitude towards enforcing civil and political equality for blacks is precisely what this author praises Lincoln for, though, and so while this book does provide an interesting look of Lincoln as a lawyer it does so in a way that the reader is likely to find more than a little bit puzzling. This is all the more so since few readers will approach this book with the author’s assumptions and most will be quite hostile to the author’s pessimism concerning the ability of blacks and whites to live at peace and to the thought that the South was justified in being provoked by the harshness of Reconstruction.
This book is about 250 pages long or so and it is divided into several chapters. The author begins by laying the foundation of a discussion of the importance of Lincoln’s work as a lawyer in his behavior as a statesman as well as the foundation of Lincoln’s own interest in the law (1). After that the author discusses Lincoln’s career in the courts, which offers a great deal of interest because Lincoln spent a lot of time in a variety of courts ranging from rough and ready frontier courts in rural Illinois to the district and state courts and even to the Supreme Court (II). After that the author looks at how Lincoln’s career as a lawyer influenced his career as a president with regards to knowing laws and working with the constitution and his high view of treating others according to the law (III). After that the author discusses Lincoln’s criticism of the judiciary before and during his presidency (IV). Finally, the author discusses Lincoln as an orator (V), before ending the book with some gems of thought as well as an appendix that contains a list of Lincoln’s cases in the Illinois and US Supreme Court as well as an index.
If you are not sympathetic to the South, you will likely find this book to be a bit frustrating to deal with. The book is certainly politically independent with its hostility to abolitionism and its skepticism concerning the preparedness of blacks for freedom. The main aspects of this work are not ones that are likely to draw too much hostility from readers, as Lincoln’s background as a lawyer and his development of statesmanship were vital in his presidency. Lincoln was a friend of the South and without rancor or resentment to them, a trait that was not shared by those Northerners who were less understanding of the South and its sensibilities. Unfortunately, contemporary readers are likely to be no more sympathetic to the sensibilities of the South than Northern radicals were, with equally tragic and frustrating results. This book is a reminder that there are a great many people whose praise of Lincoln is for his moderation and not in spite of it, and a great many readers will find the author’s discussion of Lincoln’s opposition to the Supreme Court to be a bit more gentle than they would prefer. Such is the life, though, when you read old books.