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Marty Benner
© Abraham Lincoln Online

Cullom Davis
© Abraham Lincoln Online

Lincoln Legal Practice DVD-ROM Released

Exactly 139 years after Abraham Lincoln started his inaugural journey to Washington, D.C., another historic event occurred in his hometown. On February 11, 2000, The Lincoln Legal Papers officially released The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition on DVD-ROM.

Editors Marty Benner and Cullom Davis and others from the now-famous research project held a press conference in the Springfield, Illinois, building where Lincoln's restored law office is located. Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., Illinois First Lady Lura Lynn Ryan presented the first copy to the Library of Congress.

The publication represents 15 years of work at a cost of $4 million, and is considered one of the most extensive historical research projects ever conducted. The study of Lincoln's legal career (1836-1861) sent a small band of researchers into 88 Illinois counties, many other states, and Washington, D.C.

The DVD-ROM set contains more than 5,600 cases and legal matters, and 96,000 documents (with more than 200,000 pages). Editor Marty Benner explained that just one DVD holds the equivalent of 45 file cabinets of papers.

She also revealed that like other extensive projects, it took longer to complete than anticipated. But then, researchers also turned up 2,000 more cases than expected and nearly 230 previously unknown documents written or signed by Lincoln. One such discovery was an amazing 43-page document handwritten by Lincoln. The only missing part was his signature, excised years ago by an unknown autograph hunter.

The DVD-ROM edition, which was created especially for research libraries, contains case files, non-litigation documents, fiscal records, correspondence, and comments about Lincoln, the law, and the legal profession of the time. Researchers using it can see images of actual handwritten documents from Lincoln and his associates. They can search for cases by name, participant, date, court, legal action, or subject.

Staff members also created an impressive reference section to help users understand legal practices of the era, the locale, and Lincoln's clients and fellow lawyers. It contains biographies, maps, photos, essays on 19th-century court procedure, period legal statutes, a chronology of Lincoln's legal career and much more.

Although Lincoln researchers are the most likely users, the project's breadth also makes it inviting to those interested in the formation of the Illinois court system, legal historical research, the development of law, and antebellum social history.

The price is $500 per set. It is available now from The Lincoln Legal Papers office at 217/785-9130 or online through the University of Illinois Press.

What's next? The staff has turned its attention to creating a four-volume printed edition of Lincoln's law practice, using selected materials from the DVD-ROM. But don't look for it before 2008.

Related Link
Lincoln Legal Papers (Papers of Abraham Lincoln)

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