Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Riding the 8th Judicial Circuit with Lincoln


What do you think about when you hear the name Abraham Lincoln?

I've asked that question dozens of times and I'm always intrigued by the answers I recieve.

Some have said they immediately think of images associated with the Civil War. Heroic soldiers in new uniforms, as well as horrific images of death and dying on the battlefield come to mind. Some even mention images associated with the institution of slavery.

Others think of Lincoln's words. "Four score and seven years ago..." or "With malice toward none; with charity for all..." Some people even cite the Emancipation Proclamation, though the "quotable language" in that document is practically nonexistent.

Not everyone associates Lincoln with words or actions, some are simply reminded of his "costume." When they think of Lincoln, they think of his stovepipe hat, his funny beard, or his ill-fitting black suit.

As you might imagine, many of Lincoln's contemporaries had a much different memory of Lincoln. Those who knew him well did not immediately associate Lincoln with the Civil War, political rhetoric, or his way of dress. No, when they thought of Lincoln, they immediately thought of his profession.

Unlike many of today's career politicians, Lincoln's profession was not politics. Politics was certainly his passion, but it did not pay the bills.

For nearly a quarter of a century, Lincoln was a practicing attorney; in fact, he built one of the most successful law pratices in central Illinois.

He was involved in more than 5,000 legal cases, an astonishing number. He practiced law on the local, state, and federal level; he even practiced before the United States Supreme Court.

However, the bread-and-butter of Lincoln's law practice came on the Eighth Judicial law circuit. Each year, he spent four to six months "riding the circuit," that muddy trail stretching from country courthouse to courthouse throughout central Illinois. Few of his contemporaries enjoyed their rough existence on the circuit, but Lincoln seemed to thrive.

If you want to know more about Lincoln's time on the law circuit, you are in luck. According to this story in the Bloomington Pantagraph, a group has put together a two-day tour called "Riding the 8th Circuit with Lincoln."

The tour will begin and end in Bloomington. The group will visit more than a half dozen sites in the town, including the David Davis Mansion, where the group will even be served a catered dinner and view a presentation called "An Autobiography of A. Lincoln" by Lincoln presenter James Keeran.

From Bloomington, the group will visit a number of other sites, including courthouses in Metamora, Postville, and Mount Pulaski.

The tour will be led by Guy Fraker, a Bloomington attorney who is working on a book about Lincoln's time on the circuit. I've met Mr. Fraker on a number of occassions and like him very much. He is enthusiastic, knowledgable, and perhaps most importantly for a two-day tour, very cordial.

"Riding the 8th Judicial Circuit with Lincoln"

Where: Various sites in Central Illinois; the two-day tour begins and ends each day in Bloomington

When: Tours are May 29-30 or June 19-20.

Cost: $275 per person includes transportation, lunch both days, dinner Thursday night, entertainment and commentary by Lincoln authority Guy C. Fraker. Not included are motel accommodations and a Friday night dinner at C.J.'s Restaurant in Bloomington.

Tips: The tours involve walking. Wear comfortable shoes and bring an umbrella.

Registration deadlines: May 14 for the May tour, June 4 for the June tour.

More information: Judy Markowitz at (309) 663-2074 or email cityjudy@aol.com

PS: The image at the top of this post is a sketch called, "Lincoln, the Circuit Lawyer," by Lloyd Ostendorf. Ostendorf was a very talented artist who produced a great many sketches from Lincoln's life. This one is my favorite, but you can view, as well as purchase, others at Abraham Lincoln Collectables.

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