Cases and Nonlitigation Activities

The legal activities of Lincoln and his partners are classified in the database as either legal cases or nonlitigation activities. The editors have identified any activity that involved an action brought before a recognized court of law as litigation and organized it as a case. They organized any activity on the part of Lincoln and his partners that occurred outside the court system as a nonlitigation activity. Legal cases comprise the overwhelming majority of the database.

The most significant difference in the way the researchers addressed these two types of work is in the search for and the collection of documents. The Complete Documentary Edition includes every legal case that can be attributed to Lincoln and his partners. The staff of The Lincoln Legal Papers conducted a comprehensive search for every legal case and legal document associated with litigation; no such search was conducted for documents for nonlitigation activities. This edition includes only a representation of the nonlitigation aspect of the law practice because the sheer volume of the documents for the myriad legal activities that engaged Lincoln and his partners outside the courtroom precluded a comprehensive search. Nonlitigation activities, by nature, occurred outside of standard court procedure and thus, there is no single nineteenth-century documentary source available (such as court records) to examine that would include all of Lincoln's nonlitigation activities. Likewise, many of Lincoln's nonlitigation activities were not documented to begin with; they were in large part oral. Lincoln and his partners made no apparent attempt to archive office records, and as a result, many records of these activities were destroyed. Therefore, the database includes nonlitigation activities that were readily available in existing document collections like the Henry Horner Collection at the Illinois State Historical Library and the Herndon Weik Collection at the Library of Congress.

The editors included the nonlitigation activities that met the following criteria: documents that were written or signed or made reference to Lincoln or his partners, and that involved a legal activity or service on behalf of a client or an officer of the court. They also included some private legislation such as divorce, some lobbying and legislative bills affecting the courts or officers of the courts. Such a wide range of potential nonlitigation activities is perhaps more easily understood in terms of those items that were considered non-legal. Editors excluded any legislation passed while Lincoln held elected office or any activity on behalf of a constituent that was unrelated to the law or the courts, any political activity except those that related to the courts or officers of the court; and any personal purchase or receipt of land or service. They also excluded Lincoln’s activities as postmaster and surveyor. The editors included a few reminiscences of Lincoln contemporaries dated outside the period of the law practice that illuminated the nonlitigation work. Because of the interest in Lincoln’s early associations with the law, editors included some of the earliest legal documents Lincoln penned or witnessed for others, before he was licensed to practice law. Editors identified Lincoln’s participation as “para-legal” in addition to the specific activity.

The editors are confident that the “acting as pension agent” transactions are a complete representation of that nonlitigation activity. However, the editors caution users that nonlitigation, as a body of evidence, is only a representation and should not be construed numerically as a percentage of the overall legal practice. Most of Lincoln’s personal, non-legal documents excluded from this database, are readily available in The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln.