Friends and Fellow Lawyers:
February 12 is Abraham Lincoln’s 207th birthday.
Ralph Cagle, U.W. 1974, is of counsel to Hurley, Burish & Stanton, S.C., Madison, practicing principally in professional responsibility law and serving as a mediator. He is also an emeritus clinical professor at the U.W. Law School.
When Lincoln died at 7:22 a.m. on April 15, 1865, Edwin Stanton, his Secretary of War, pronounced that “he now belongs to the ages.” Stanton was prophetic. Abraham Lincoln has been studied, admired, modeled, and loved intensely for almost two centuries. There is enough Lincoln legend and substance for each of us to create our own image of him.
To lawyers, he is proudly one of our own, epitomizing so much of what is right about our professional calling.
We know Lincoln had virtually no formal education; approximately six months in his pre-teens in a frontier school and a legal education consisting of a few borrowed law books read in splendid isolation in New Salem, Ill. His real education drew from his keen and constant observations of how people thought and behaved. Along with his understanding of human nature, Lincoln brought rich capacities of character, resourcefulness, shrewdness, logic, and humor to his life’s work.
His law practice started modestly, mostly collections, land transactions, and family matters, interspersed with small trials that revealed his particular gift for persuading judges and juries. His reputation, practice, and clientele grew as he worked tirelessly in the 17 counties of the eighth judicial circuit of central Illinois.
Lincoln’s law practice grew in tandem with his other great professional love, politics. While spending almost half of every year slogging on horseback through the county seats in the Eighth Circuit, Lincoln built strong relationships with co-counsel, opponents, local officials, and citizens, who admired his gifts for courtroom advocacy, political oration, and engaging storytelling. These loyalists formed the base of support that secured him a term in the U.S. Congress and later, in conjunction with new admirers, the improbable Republican nomination for President.
To lawyers, Lincoln is proudly one of our own, epitomizing so much of what is right about our professional calling.
Lincoln’s rise to national political prominence mirrored his burgeoning law practice. By 1859, Lincoln had a hand in major cases of regional and national importance. His legal success and his political rise drew on his growing web of connections, reputation for integrity, eloquence, power of mind, and unfailing ability to understand and influence others.
I see images of Lincoln in many of the lawyers I have known and practiced with.
To be sure, we enjoy the advantage of him in the first-rate educations anchoring our legal skills. But, most lawyers know that schooling is only the beginning of what is needed to practice law successfully. Lawyers must engage those inner qualities of perception, character, and direction necessary to handle real-world legal challenges. For some, that inner quality may be energy or resourcefulness, persistence or creativity, compassion or courage. It is whatever special gifts lawyers possess that animate their practice; their own distinctive way of making a real difference.
So, whenever you may need inspiration to identify or unleash your inner powers, you can always look to our colleague from Springfield.
Happy Birthday Mr. Lincoln!