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Abraham Lincoln, Esquire


Sat., April 25, 9:30 a.m to 4:15 p.m
Code: 1J0530

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Listing of Abraham Lincoln bicentennial events.

America has had 44 Presidents, 26 of whom were lawyers. Abraham Lincoln was admitted to the bar of Illinois in 1836, and he practiced law there until he moved to the White House in 1861. His law practice molded him and shaped his approach to people and problems. No other President has been confronted with so many unprecedented constitutional questions created by the crisis of the Civil War. Not surprisingly the key members of Lincoln’s Cabinet were lawyers, as were his important envoys.

This seminar explores Lincoln’s law practice and some of the fundamental legal issues he had to resolve as President. In the context of the Lincoln Bicentennial, as well as our new President—a lawyer from Illinois—the seminar has contemporary relevance.

9:30 to 10:45 a.m. The Role of Lawyers; Lincoln’s Practice

During the first half of the 19th century, lawyers tended to dominant political society. Lincoln’s law practice, his clients and his successes and failures are discussed, along with his single term as a law-maker, as a Representative from Illinois in the 30th Congress.

11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. The Ultimate Lawyers’ Conflict—Lincoln v. Taney

Within months of becoming President, Lincoln found himself in a head-to-head conflict with the Chief Justice: the Chief Executive v. the Chief Justice, dealing with civil liberties in time of war and the ancient writ of habeas corpus.

12:15 to 1:30 p.m. Lunch

Participants provide their own lunch.

1:30 to 3 p.m. Lincoln Practices International and Constitutional Law

Lincoln began his Presidency by staking out his view of the legality of secession, and during his first year he was forced to learn international law. Later, Lincoln had to make hard decisions that turned on the Constitutionality of several Congressional enactments: The admission of West Virginia as a State; military conscription; and the confiscation of rebel property.

3:15 to 4:15 p.m. Ending Slavery

How to end slavery, and by who’s authority, consumed much of Lincoln’s attention. Lincoln’s lawyerly drafting of the Emancipation Proclamation reflected a calculated eye toward potential lawsuits, as well as the moral, political, and military aspects.


Arthur T. Downey has lectured on the Civil War at the Smithsonian and at American University, and has taught at Georgetown University Law Center.

CODE: 1J0-530

S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Drive, SW
Metro: Smithsonian Mall Exit (Blue/Orange)