Add to bookbag
Author: James T. Carroll
Title: Martha Benner and Cullom Davis's The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
September 2002

This work is protected by copyright and may be linked to without seeking permission. Permission must be received for subsequent distribution in print or electronically. Please contact for more information.

Source: Martha Benner and Cullom Davis's The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition
James T. Carroll

vol. 5, no. 2, September 2002
Article Type: Software Review

The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition

Benner, Martha, and Cullom Davis (ed.), The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition is the culmination of fifteen years of archival combing, scrupulous research, and clear organization. This collection of 100,000 documents related to the Lincoln 's practice of law in Illinois between 1836 and his election to the presidency in 1861. The multifaceted collection is organized and cross-referenced in a number of ways: chronologically, by subject, name of litigants, and types of documents. The collection is further amplified by case summaries, interpretative essays, and clear finding aids prepared by leading legal scholars. The editors provide a virtual archive on two DVD-ROM drive disks for scholars delving into the overlooked years when Abraham Lincoln practiced law and became involved in some well known 19th century legal contests, including the Chicken Bone and Almanac trials.

This collection of legal papers, court decisions, and non-litigation matters provides a glimpse of the intellectual formation of Abraham Lincoln and helps explain how Lincoln responded the constant crisis he faced as president of the United States. As an American historian I frequently highlight the echo of Lincoln's legal training in two major events of his presidency. The Emancipation Proclamation which outlawed slavery in territory under Confederate control while perpetuating the peculiar institution in the border territories and his approach to re-admitting states to the Union by arguing that the Confederate states were in rebellion since the Constitution did not provide for departure from the Union. In both of these cases Lincoln applied a narrow, legalistic, and pedantic view which is better analyzed in light of Lincoln's training and work in the legal profession for almost thirty years. This collection of documents will assist Civil War and 19th century historians who wish to probe the intellectual milieu of Abraham Lincoln, to evaluate Lincoln's response to the secession crisis and disunion, and to consider events on the Illinois frontier in the mid-19th century. The editors are to be commended for collecting, organizing, and formatting a large collection of primary sources that are very accessible to interested scholars.

The editors of the collection formatted this collection in a user-friendly and clear manner. The minimum system requirements start with a DVD-ROM drive and an IBM-compatible PC with an Intel Pentium-class processor. The 32 MB RAM and 130 MB hard disk space are generally standard on most computers that would be used to read these documents. The one shortfall (according to my Information Technology specialist) of this electronic database is that some existing software can interfere with easy installation of the documents. Despite this momentary obstacle, a competent IT person can assist a scholar in overcoming this challenge and insure that the programs are downloaded in a safe and appropriate manner. The editors have provided software that allows for downloading and manipulation of documents and images which can be printed or saved to disk. In addition to the two DVD-ROM disks that contain the data, the editors have included a very helpful "User's Manual," directions from online help, and an 800-number for technical support.

The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition makes a major contribution to the archival data on President Lincoln and some of the major events of frontier life in the 19th century. In many respects the editors of this edition provide a template for digitizing important historical documents that are quickly deteriorating in paper form.

James T. Carroll
Iona College, New Rochelle, N.Y.