Friday, April 17, 2009

Much to be learned on a Jacksonville Saturday

Over the past few weeks, bit by bit, I’ve shared my memories of the 2009 Illinois History Symposium, “Abraham Lincoln in Ante-bellum Illinois: 1830-1861.” I attended the symposium from Thursday, March 26 through Saturday, March 28.

In the next few blog posts, I’ll tell you about some of the Saturday events I attended, including a:

  • breakfast program with Mark Steiner presenting,
  • morning session with Samuel Paul Wheeler and Raymond Lohne,
  • brown bag lunch with Eileen McMahon,
  • lectures by Norbert Hirschhorn, M.D. and Ron Solberg and
  • a visit to Woodlawn Farm.
There’s too much for one article. You’ll have to wait until later blog posts for some of these. I’ve got some pretty cool things to share.

Steiner on Lincoln, the lawyer
One of my fellow Lincoln bloggers, Brian Dirck, has a great book out through the University of Illinois Press, titled Lincoln the Lawyer. I’m not a lawyer or even the least bit knowledgeable about the law, yet Dirck’s book kept me engaged and made it easy to learn about Lincoln’s legal career.

Had I not read his book, I’m not sure I would have been as interested in hearing Mark E. Steiner’s talk. Steiner, a professor of law at Southern Texas College of Law, presented his lecture over breakfast at the beautiful Hamilton’s Banquet Hall in old downtown Jacksonville (Ill.).

Steiner answered the question, “Has the Lawyer Lincoln Theme Been Exhausted?” This is a spinoff on a question Lincoln scholar James G. Randall first asked in his 1936 article, “Has the Lincoln Theme Been Exhausted?” in the American Historical Review.

Mark E. Neeley, Jr. addressed the question again in 1979 in his essay, “The Lincoln Theme Since Randall's Call: The Promises and Perils of Professionalism,” in the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association. And, across the country in classrooms, lecture halls and symposium venues like Hamilton’s, the question is asked and answered again and again.
So what did Steiner have to say that was any different than what we’ve heard over and over? He talked of important advances in Lincoln research, such as the Lincoln Legal Papers and digitization of other crucial documents and records related to Lincoln.

He pointed to books as compact as one of Allen Guelzo’s (unfortunately I can’t remember which title – they’re all good) and as vast as Michael Burlingame’s 2,000 page, two-volume Abraham Lincoln: A Life.

And the answer, of course, is still, “The topic exhausted? No way.” You can learn more about the lawyer Lincoln and Steiner’s work on the topic by reading his book, “An Honest Calling: The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln,” published by the Northern Illinois University Press.

And, if you’re asking me whether to read Dirck’s or Steiner’s, the answer is “Read both.” Each provides a unique view about Lincoln and his career as a lawyer. I advise reading Dirck’s first. I think it sets the stage, then follow up with Steiner’s.

But don’t stop there. Keep your eyes open for another book about that same prairie lawyer. Guy Fraker, a lawyer himself from Bloomington (Ill.), is working on a book to be published by Southern Illinois University Press – in 2010 or 2011, I believe. Last I knew, the working title was “The Eighth Judicial Circuit: Lincoln’s Ladder to the Presidency.” I really don’t think anyone knows more about the circuit than Fraker, so this book will be well worth the wait. And, if you hear of a time when Fraker will be speaking, you won’t want to miss it. He’s scheduled at venues throughout Illinois through the Illinois Humanities Council’s Road Scholars Program.

For those of you across the United States, if you ever get the chance to hear Steiner talk, be sure you do. He’s a pretty funny guy. Not, however, as funny as Guelzo, who is a real hoot – and a brilliant scholar, to boot.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

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