Among the major findings to date of
"The Papers of Abraham Lincoln" was this
not-so-surprising fact: Lincoln's years as a lawyer in
Springfield were busy.
approximately two decades, the project has collected
more than 5,100 case files involving Lincoln and his
three legal partners, including hundreds of cases from
the U.S. Supreme Court, the Illinois Supreme Court and
It's all part of more than 96,000 documents that have
been gathered by the project, which grew from the
original Lincoln Legal Papers initiative, according to
project director and editor Daniel Stowell.
"We've now become the first part of a much larger
project to publish all of Lincoln's papers and incoming
correspondence," Stowell said Saturday at the Abraham
Lincoln Presidential Library.
Stowell's review of the project's status was part of
local events this weekend commemorating Lincoln's Feb.
The Lincoln Legal Papers program is Series I of the
three-part Papers of Abraham Lincoln project, Stowell
said. A DVD-ROM compilation of the findings was released
in 2000, and a four-volume print edition is scheduled
for publication in fall 2007.
Series I includes documents related to Lincoln's
legal career between the early 1830s and his
inauguration as 16th president in 1861. Subsequent
series will follow Lincoln through his assassination in
Stowell said, while the more than 5,100 case files is
a large number, undoubtedly the records of other cases
involving Lincoln were lost in the Chicago Fire of 1871,
as well as in fires in Logan, McLean and Sangamon
In addition to Lincoln's legal career, the project is
"a window onto Antebellum America" and what mattered to
citizens of that era, Stowell said.
The project has found that roughly 60 percent of
Lincoln's cases dealt with debt of some form, Stowell
said. Lincoln also did considerable work in family
squabbles resulting from divorce, inheritance and child
custody, as well as disputes over slander or community
Aside from standard case files, the project has
turned up a few unusual documents:
A 43-page answer to a bill of complaint
against a defendant written in Lincoln's hand. It's the
longest known document in Lincoln's handwriting.
Curiously, the entire original document exists except
for Lincoln's signature, which has been cut off.
A 101-page circuit court transcript of
one of Lincoln's cases. Court transcripts were rare in
those days, and the litigants in this particular case
hired a newspaper reporter to record the proceedings.
About two dozen "reminiscences" of one
of Lincoln's best-known cases, the "almanac murder
trial" in Cass County. No transcript from the trial is
known to exist, but written analyses of the case were
later collected by Lincoln's partner, William H.
Herndon, from people such as family members, jurors, the
judge and a sheriff.
The reminiscences vary greatly in their tellings of
the case and Lincoln's arguments.
"It gives you a wonderful exercise in the way history
is written and remembered," Stowell said.
Stowell said the Papers of Abraham Lincoln project is
the official successor to the eight-volume "The
Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln," a well-known 1953
collection edited by Roy P. Basler, Marion Dolores Pratt
and Lloyd A. Dunlap.
Additional information on the project is available at
Daniel Pike can be reached at 788-1532 or