Saturday, November 15, 2008

Reading Lincoln

I’ve had a little R & R these last couple weeks, which has given me an opportunity to catch up on some Lincoln reading I’ve wanted to do.

Two books I’d used as references for my paper on Lincoln and his mentors caught my interest and seemed worthy of further examination. My first impression of both was correct. Neither disappointed me.

It will soon be time for me to return them to the respective libraries from whence they came. Before I do, I want to tell you a little more about: Lincoln the Lawyer by Brian Dirck and Lincoln Legends: Myths, Hoaxes and Confabulations Associated with our Greatest President by Edward Steers, Jr.

I’m currently reading Lincoln’s Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words by Douglas L. Wilson. Watch for more about that in a future post.

Lincoln the Lawyer
Until I began my Heartland college course on Lincoln, I had no idea how long Lincoln’s law career was (25 years) or how many cases he handled (5,000). In my class, I had the privilege of hearing Bloomington, Illinois attorney, Guy Fraker, who likely knows more about Lincoln’s time on the Eighth Judicial Circuit than anyone. Guy and my instructor, Dr. Scott Rager, both helped to create a hunger to learn more about Lincoln’s legal career, especially since it was right here in Central Illinois.

Brian Dirck’s Lincoln the Lawyer fed that hunger. Dirck, an Anderson University professor, takes his readers from the shock a Sangamon County farmer expressed when he learned Lincoln was studying law to Lincoln’s final days as an attorney in his law office across the street from the Old State Capitol in Springfield.

That journey took Lincoln through three partnerships – with John Todd Stuart, Stephen T. Logan and William Herndon – through courts in Springfield and the Eighth Judicial Circuit and in front of the Illinois and United States Supreme Courts. By the time Lincoln left for Washington, this self-taught lawyer was one of the most respected in the state. His cases ranged from property disputes and divorces to murders and large railroad cases. Fees he received ranged from $10 or less to the $5,000 fee he received representing the Illinois Central Railroad in their dispute with McLean County over taxes assessed the railroad.

Dirck is an academic and his book meets all the criteria of a scholarly volume – well researched, indexed, well cited – yet at no time as a reader do you feel as if you’re wading through an academic work that’s way over your head. Dirck’s book is a comfortable, entertaining read. He’s a gifted writer and a scrupulous scholar.

In my book, Dirck’s is a must read for anyone who really wants to understand those 25 years and the longest career in Lincoln’s life.

And if you can't wait to get the book to read Dirck's writing, in the meantime, you can get doses of Dirck through his blog, A. Lincoln Blog. It, too, is one of my must reads.

Lincoln Legends
As I worked on my recent paper, I realized what a large part legend played in the Lincoln story. It was often difficult to discern what was real and what wasn’t – who I could believe and who I couldn’t. People have been collecting stories about Lincoln and writing about him since shortly after his death – and, through his dying, the stories became glorified. The windows through which many of those people saw him were foggy indeed.

Although not a university-affiliated academic like many Lincoln scholars, Edward Steers, Jr., author of Lincoln Legends: Myths, Hoaxes, and Confabulations Associated with Our Greatest President, writes with all the authority of the best of them. Steers explores 14 of the most powerful Lincoln legends. He provides readers with the truth as he finds it – and, believe me, he digs until he’s left few stones unturned. If you’re curious about anything from who Lincoln’s father was to whether he loved Ann Rutledge or if he was gay, you can read about it in Steers’ book, and come away with a certainty that he’s done his homework and given you the right answer.

Lincoln Legends is also a comfortable read. I read both his and Dirck’s in front of the fireplace over a long weekend – a cold, rainy one with few interruptions. I’d recommend both of them to anyone wanting to learn more about our sixteenth president. What better way can you think of to celebrate the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth than by learning more about him?

As I read and learn about other Lincoln books, I’ll tell you a little about them. I hope you find some value in my little musings. Please use the Reactions check boxes below to let me know what you think about this article.

© Copyright 2008 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.


Roger Norton said...

Hello. I am a retired American history teacher. I have operated an educational Abraham Lincoln website since 1996. It is intended especially for students but has been used by many adults as well. The URL for my Abraham Lincoln Research Site is

I have a large list of Lincoln-related links on my web page at

I have begun a list of Lincoln blogs which have links back to my website. If you would be interested in adding my site to your Lincoln links then I will add your site at
to my page at

Thank you very much for your time.

Roger Norton, Webmaster
Abraham Lincoln Research Site

Lincoln Buff 2 said...


I've added your site to my study links. I'll be doing another research tips post again later this month or next, so I'll talk about your site a bit then.

Thanks for your note. I'd be honored if you'd link from your site.