This course examines Abraham Lincoln's law practice, selected legal issues in his political career and presidency and how his legal experience affected his thinking, rhetoric and leadership style. Both instructors are lawyers and, at best, amateur historians. A goal of the course is to draw some useful insights into lawyering today from the experiences of Abraham Lincoln and his legal and political contemporaries. The course is offered as part of the bicentennial celebration of Mr. Lincoln's birth. This course satisfies the Legal Process requirement.
Attendance is required and part of the final grade.
Texts: There are three required texts
Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon and Schuster, 1995)
Dirck, Brian, Lincoln the Lawyer (University of Illinois, 2007)
Abraham Lincoln, Selected Speeches and Writings
(Library of America 1992)
Lincoln the Litigator Workbook (photocopy in Book Mart)
Participatory Class Format
Active participation is expected. The benefit of this particular course comes from engaged discussion and the breadth of perspectives we all bring to this learning enterprise.
Each student will make a presentation on their written work. Beyond sharing knowledge and perspective, this also affords a chance to practice oral communication, an essential lawyering skill which most law students neglect, though we do not. We expect each presentation (including our own) to be well-prepared, thoughtful and instructive. (An ABA study and a UW Law School survey of legal employers ranked oral communications among the three most important skills for new lawyers and also as one least found in new graduates and one not well taught in law school.)
Students are expected to submit written work that demonstrates their understanding of some aspect of Mr. Lincoln's connection to the law - either in his law practice, rhetoric, political endeavors, his presidency or other- in format(s) that helps advance the overall class learning about him. A menu of options to meet this requirement is listed below.
Letter grades are based on written assignments, class presentations, active class participation, and attendance.
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Fulfilling The Writing Requirement of the Course
Students must submit written work that demonstrates their particular understanding of some aspect(s) of Mr. Lincoln's connection to the law.
This course requirement can be fulfilled by selecting one of the following options:
1. Research Paper option. A scholarly research paper (of approximately 30 pages) on a topic of interest relating to Mr. Lincoln that is pre-approved by an instructor. The topic must be designed and described in a one page proposal pre-reviewed with a faculty member to assure that the topic undertaken is feasible, reasonably novel and of learning value to the class. Each paper will be scheduled for presentation to the class.
2. Essay option. Turn in two essays (approximately ten to fifteen pages each). One essay must be ready for class presentation at a time that matches the subject matter in the course schedule (see below).
An essay is a clearly written explanation, description or other statement of the fundamental character of any Lincoln related subject from the author's point of view. It has a set-up (introduction), a purposeful middle, and reaches some conclusion. It poses and seeks to answer a question or a few related questions by reasoned argument, use of evidence and/or other artful device. An essay engages the audience with the author's reflections on its subject matter. It may explore novel questions or perspective. An essay is meant to be a pleasure to read for the exposition of its subject matter and the craft of its writing.
A number of Mr. Lincoln's speeches could be described as essays though crafted to be delivered aloud to a live audience. Some would make excellent topics for a Lincoln essay.
3. Razzle-dazzle option. It is possible (not likely, but possible) for someone to propose a project so unique, creative, insightful and of such undeniable educational value that to deny its creation and presentation to the class would border on criminal neglect on our part. Again, its possible, not likely. Yet, we sit. We wait. Dazzle us if you dare (with a proposal).
Week 1 - -- Course introduction and overview of Mr. Lincoln's life (1809-1865 and supplemental readings)
Assigned Reading: David Herbert Donald, Lincoln*, pages 1 - 93.
Weeks 2 - 7 -- Mr. Lincoln's law practice and how his legal life influenced his thinking and leadership.
Assigned Reading: Donald, Lincoln, pages 94-195
Documentary Video: "A. Lincoln, Attorney at Law"
Guest Speaker: Prof. Brian Dirck Read Dirck, Lincoln The Lawyer (by week 3)
Weeks 4 - 7 John Skilton on Lincoln the Litigator
During this period, we expect a number of student presentations, especially on specific Case Work-ups.
Weeks 8 & 9 --Mr. Lincoln's rhetoric: Its origins, structure and impact.
Assigned Reading: Supplemental readings and selected speeches of Abraham Lincoln**
Guest Speaker: Professor David Zarefsky
During this period, we expect a limited number of student presentations relating to Lincoln's rhetoric.
Weeks 10 - 12 -- Mr. Lincoln's emerging views on slavery, emancipation and free Labor.
Assigned Reading: Donald, Lincoln, pages 196-599 and supplemental readings.
Lead Teacher: Attorney Jay Ranney - The Lincoln Presidency (including his use of presidential powers and his relationship to the Supreme Court).
During this period we expect a number of student presentations.
Week 13 -- Reserved for student presentations.
*Your enjoyment of this course is enriched by your reading at least one comprehensive Lincoln biography. We selected the Donald biography because it has a deserved reputation as a stellar one-volume biography. There are other excellent Lincoln biographies including: Richard Carwardine's Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power (2003); Stephen Oates' With Malice Towards None: The Life of Abraham Lincoln (1997); and Benjamin Thomas' Abraham Lincoln (1952). A shortcoming of these three, however, is their abbreviated coverage of Lincoln's law practice.
**We will furnish a list of "essential readings" from the Library of America volume for the course generally and specifically for the weeks we will be discussing Mr. Lincoln's rhetoric.But, one intention in choosing this text was the thought that in reading Mr. Lincoln's words as he wrote them you might find pleasure and benefit in your role as lawyers and articulate community leaders.