Wednesday, October 5, 2016

MORE ON "PRAIRIE DEFENDER: THE MURDER TRIALS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN"

The publication process for Prairie Defender is making progress, and they've come out with some advertising copy for the book. We've still got to go through copy editing, page proofs, and indexing, but it won't be as long as it has been. Here's the advertising copy:

***

According to conventional wisdom, Abraham Lincoln spent most of his law career collecting debt and representing railroads, and this focus made him inept at defending homicide cases. In this unprecedented study of Lincoln’s criminal cases, George Dekle disproves these popular notions. Through careful examination of Lincoln’s homicide cases and evaluation of his legal skills, Dekle demonstrates in Prairie Defender that Lincoln was first and foremost a trial lawyer, that the trial of accused criminals was an important part of his practice, and that he was quite capable of defending murder cases, which he tried at the rate of about one per year.

Dekle begins by presenting the viewpoints of those who see Lincoln as a perfect lawyer whose only flaw was his inability to represent the wrong side of a case and those who believe Lincoln was a less-than-honest legal hack, and he invites readers to compare these stereotypes to the flesh-and-blood Lincoln revealed in each case that is described, including a case where Lincoln assisted the prosecution in an axe murder, a poisoning case he refused to prosecute for $200 but defended for $75,  and a case he won by proving that a supposed murder victim was still alive.

As Dekle deals with each case, he first tells the stories of the feuds, arguments, and insults that led to murder and other criminal activity, giving a gripping view of the seamy side of life in nineteenth-century Illinois. Then he traces the course of the pretrial litigation, describes the trials and the various tactics employed in the prosecution and defense, and critiques the performance of both Lincoln and his adversaries.

Dekle concludes that Lincoln was a competent, diligent criminal trial lawyer who knew the law, could argue it effectively to both judge and jury, and would use all lawful means to defend clients whether they were innocent or guilty. His trial record shows Lincoln to have been a formidable defense lawyer who won many seemingly hopeless cases through his skill as a courtroom tactician, cross-examiner, and orator. Criminal defendants who could retain Lincoln as a defense attorney were well represented, and criminal defense attorneys who sought him as co-counsel were well served to have had Lincoln as a trial partner. Providing insight into both Lincoln’s legal career and the culture in which he practiced law, Prairie Defender resolves a major misconception concerning one of our most important historical figures.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

PRAIRIE DEFENDER: THE MURDER TRIALS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN

When I was writing AbrahamLincoln’s Most Famous Case: The Almanac Trial I was struck by the fact that Lincoln had tried a lot of interesting murder cases. I decided to write a book about Lincoln’s last murder case, People v. Peachy Quinn Harrison, because (1) it contrasted quite nicely with the Almanac Trial, and (2) a transcript of the trial has survived to this day and is available in pdf online at the Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln website. With the Almanac The only evidence was the reminiscences of the participants; with the Harrison trial we had a transcript and numerous newspaper reports. The defendant in the Almanac Trial came from a family that was poor as church mice; the defendant in the Harrison case came from a rich and powerful family. The victim in the Almanac Trial was a poor dirt farmer; the victim in the Harrison case was the son of a rich and powerful politician. Both cases had about an equal number of witnesses, and both cases had about the same degree of complexity; but the Almanac Trial was tried in an afternoon and the Harrison trial took a week. Did Lincoln try harder when there was money to be made defending a case?


I soon realized that the Harrison case wasn’t going to make a very thick book, so I decided to expand the book to cover all of Lincoln’s homicide trials, both murder and manslaughter. Devoting a chapter to each trial, and taking the trials in chronological order, I tell the story of the killing, introduce the lawyers, and describe how they contested the cases. Trying a case back then was somewhat more primitive than today, but reading those cases brought back memories of my early days as a public defender in the Third Circuit of Florida. Believe it or not, the 1970’s Third Judicial Circuit was very much like Illinois’ 1850’s Eighth Judicial Circuit. The main difference was that I rode an un-airconditioned Dodge Dart around the Third Circuit and Lincoln rode a horse around the Eighth. Well, there may have been more differences than that, but the atmosphere of the two circuits was very similar. We tried cases just as fast and furious as they did back before the Civil War, and we did it with about the same amount of discovery. But I’m digressing.


We know very little about some of Lincoln’s cases, so I have three summary chapters to talk about the less-well-documented cases. And I look at some interesting non-murder cases, too, like the time Lincoln defended an organized crime boss. I couldn’t help but be struck with what a good trial lawyer Lincoln was. The conventional wisdom says Lincoln was first and foremost a politician, but looking at his cases tells a different story. Something else that struck me was how good some of the lawyers he opposed were. There was Leonard Swett, who was probably the best criminal defense attorney in Illinois; and T. Lyle Dickey, who could talk a judge into freeing a convicted killer; and Stephen T. Logan, who taught four future U.S. Senators, three future governors, and one future president how to practice law. 

And an amazing number of Lincoln’s colleagues at the bar went on to distinguish themselves as general officers in the Civil War. There was Major General John A. McClernand, who served as Grant’s second in command at Vicksburg; and Major General John M. Palmer, who distinguished himself at Stones River and Chickamauga; and Brigadier General William Orme, who contracted tuberculosis at Vicksburg. My favorite has to be Brevet Brigadier General Caleb Dilworth, who became a brigade commander because all the officers above him were killed in action. Dilworth distinguished himself at Kennesaw Mountain, Chickamauga, and the Siege of Atlanta. Then there was the tragic figure of Edward D. Baker, a sitting U.S. Senator who declined an appointment as Major General to serve as a Colonel, and was killed in action at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff. Lincoln cried when he heard of Baker’s death.


Just as the Third Circuit of the 1970’s had its share of colorful lawyers, Lincoln’s Eighth Circuit had some colorful lawyers, too. There was Ward Hill Lamon, who liked to engage in wrestling matches during court recesses; and Usher F. Linder, who didn’t care what the judge said, he was going to smoke in court come Hell or high water; and Josiah Lamborn, who thought that a prosecutor was an Avenger of Blood rather than a minister of justice, who once browbeat a man into confessing to a murder that never happened; and David Longnecker, who stabbed a client to death in an argument over a $40.00 legal fee. Discretion prevents me from naming or describing any of the colorful characters of the Third Circuit.

So I wrote Lincoln for the Defense: The Criminal Law Practice of Our Sixteenth President, and I had more fun writing it than any previous book I've written. Only the publisher didn't like the title. And they had some ideas for changing some other things about the book. So the thesis of Lincoln for the Defense met the antithesis of the Southern Illinois University Press, and the synthesis was Prairie Defender: The Murder Trials of Abraham Lincoln. I had to tighten the book up some, remove a number of irrelevant digressions, and give the book an actual structure rather than just having a collection of good stories about interesting cases Lincoln tried. And I have to admit that Prairie Defender is better than Lincoln for the Defense

Prairie Defender comes out in July of next year, but SIU is already taking pre-publication orders for it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

COUNTIES AND COUNTY SEATS OF LINCOLN'S EIGHTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT

When Lincoln began riding the Eighth Judicial Circuit of Illinois as an itinerant trial lawyer, the circuit had nine counties. When he left Illinois for Washington as president-elect, it had shrunk to five counties. Between 1839 and 1860 it morphed several times, becoming as large as fourteen counties. At one time or another sixteen counties were part of the circuit. Below is a diagram graphically demonstrating how the circuit expanded and contracted over the years:


COUNTIES AND COUNTY SEATS OF LINCOLN’S EIGHTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
1839-1841
1841-1845
1845-1847
1847-1853
1853-1857
1857-1861
DeWitt
Clinton
DeWitt
Clinton
DeWitt
Clinton
DeWitt
Clinton
DeWitt
Clinton
DeWitt
Clinton
Logan
Pottsville
Logan
Pottsville
Logan
Pottsville
Logan
Mt. Pulaski
Logan
Lincoln[1]
Logan
Lincoln
McLean Bloomington
McLean Bloomington
McLean Bloomington
McLean Bloomington
McLean Bloomington
McLean Bloomington
Sangamon Springfield
Sangamon Springfield
Sangamon Springfield
Sangamon Springfield
Sangamon Springfield
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Tazewell Tremont
Tazewell Tremont
Tazewell Tremont[2]
Tazewell 
Pekin
Tazewell
Pekin
--------------
Macon
Decatur
Macon
Decatur
Macon
Decatur
Macon
Decatur
--------------
--------------
Christian
Taylorville
Christian Taylorville
Christian Taylorville
--------------
--------------
--------------
Livingston Pontiac
Livingston Pontiac
--------------
--------------
--------------
--------------
Menard
Petersburg
Menard
Petersburg
--------------
--------------
--------------
--------------
--------------
Mason
Havanna
--------------
--------------
--------------
--------------
--------------
Moultrie Sullivan
Moultrie Sullivan
Moultrie Sullivan
--------------
--------------
--------------
Piatt
Monticello
Piatt
Monticello
Piatt
Monticello
--------------
--------------
--------------
Shelby Shelbyville
--------------
Shelby Shelbyville
--------------
--------------
--------------
Woodford Versailles[3]
Woodford Metamora
Woodford Metamora
Woodford Metamora
--------------
--------------
--------------
Vermillion Danville
Vermillion Danville
Vermillion Danville
Vermillion Danville
--------------
--------------
--------------
Edgar
Paris
Edgar
Paris
--------------


[1] Lincoln became the county seat of Logan County in 1854.
[2] Pekin became the county seat of Tazewell County in 1851.
[3] Metamora became the county seat of Woodford County in 1843.