A Tour of Two Circuits with Lincoln

Fred Jankilevich Citing Abraham Lincoln

December 20th, 2017

Thank you to the University of Virginia, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Harvard Law Library for a flawless historical effort that deserves to be recognized and remembered by everyone who is a true American. Happy Holidays!


Stephen T. Logan and Abraham Lincoln had been law partners for nearly one year when the Sangamon County Circuit Court in Springfield, IL, adjourned on April 12, 1842. The circuit court in Sangamon County was the first court on the Eighth Judicial Circuit, and it would not meet again until July 1842. Logan and Lincoln had established a division of labor in which Lincoln travelled to outlying circuit courts, generally following the Eighth judicial Circuit after the close of court in Springfield. While Lincoln, was gone, Logan handled legal matters in Springfield and Sangamon County, although he did sometimes travel to neighboring counties, including Menard, Christian, Cass, Macoupin and Logan to practice in those circuit courts. Referring to his spring travels in a letter to his friend Joshua F. Speed on July 4, 1842, Lincoln wrote that he had not answere an earlier letter because “your letter had reached here a day or two after I started on the circuit; I was gone five or six weeks.” During the spring 1842 term, as during most of his law career, Lincoln travelled to circuit courts in counties throughout central Illinois.


In 1841 the Illinois General Assembly reorganized the court system by adding several new counties to some of the circuits. The Eight Judicial Circuit, for example, grew from nine to fourteen counties, partly from the creation of new counties out of existing ones and partly from the transfer of counties from other circuits. Some attorneys travelled all or part of the circuit to attend sessions in those courts. “Miserable roads, deep sloughs, lanes, execrable bridges, swollen streams, drenching rains, high winds, characterized the ride,” according to Springfield attorney James C. Conkling, who travelled the circuit in April 1843. His problems began when he broke his buggy’s axle after he “plunged into a bad mud hole” near the Sangamon River. Conkling managed a temporary fix and thereafter got down off the rig to help his horse go over poor roads or wade a stream. Later during the same trip, Conkling missed a turn and became lost “in an almost inextricable labyrinth” of trails and wetlands. Crossing increasingly rough terrain, Conkling found a village, nearly devoid of inhabitants, and managed to get directions back to the main road. After getting lost again, losing a wheel and a linchpin, and getting drenched by a cold spring rain, Conkling finally reached Bloomington. Conkling faced the prospect of continuing on the circuit to Tremont, Illinois, with “dread.”


In dry weather, traveling lawyers often went by horse and buggy, but during wet spring weather, they often chose to go on horseback. As early as 1840, Lincoln owned a buggy, but one of his clients in Edgar County, Illinois, recalled seeing Lincoln arrive at Paris, Illinois, on horseback during the spring 1842 term. Later in the 1840s, a very young Robert T. Lincoln had memories of seeing his father leave Springfield on horseback for the circuit with all his few belongings stored in large saddlebags.


During the Spring 1842 term, Lincoln wore a stovepipe hat and a black frock coat buttoned at the breast.


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