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Collection Lincoln and the Law

About this Collection

Lincoln’s effort to restore the Union and his contributions to American political thought and its ideals of freedom often obscure the fact that he had been a successful attorney. Lincoln himself admitted his ambition lay in politics and not in the law, stating “my forte is as a Statesman, rather than a Prosecutor.” Even if the law was Lincoln’s “secondary” avocation, it was indelibly linked to him in life and death. The Law Library of Congress's historical collection vividly illustrates three periods in which the law played a prominent part of the Lincoln era.

First, Lincoln the lawyer is comprised of works specifically on his work as a prominent Illinois lawyer.

Second, Habeas Corpus and the War Powers of the President covers contemporary literature on Lincoln’s controversial balancing of civil liberties against the demands of war aims. Most notoriously, he and his administration several times suspended the writ of habeas corpus, a writ by which prisoners can challenge the legality of their detention, drawing the ire of political foes.

Finally, The Assassination: Trials contains period transcripts and reports of the trial of the surviving conspirators in the murder of the President and attempted murder of other public officials. George Atzerodt, David Herold, Lewis Payne/Powell, and Mary Surratt were convicted of the crimes and executed. Samuel Arnold, Michael O'Laughlen, Dr. Samuel Mudd, and Edman Spangler were also convicted and received prison sentences.