Queens County Law Library
Abraham Lincoln and Law Books
Abraham Lincoln and Law Books In 1858, soon after the close of Lincoln’s debates with his political rival, Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln received a letter from James T. Thornton, a friend and fellow Republican. The purpose of Thornton’s letter was to introduce Lincoln to an ambitious young man named James H. Widmer (sometimes spelled – Widner or Widener). The callow Mr. Widmer wanted to become a lawyer and Lincoln’s successful law practice had attracted his attention. Long before a law school degree would become the standard route to a career in the law, clerking for an established attorney was the more common way to learn the law and become a lawyer. Widmer hoped to clerk for Lincoln.

Law BooksHowever, Lincoln replied that he was “absent altogether too much to be a suitable instructor for a law student.” Rather, Lincoln wrote, “Let Mr. Widmer read Blackstone’s Commentaries, Chitty’s Pleadings, Greenleaf’s Evidence and Story’s Equity, get a license and go to the practice and still keep reading. That is my judgment of the cheapest, quickest and best way for Mr. Widmer to make a lawyer of himself.”

As we Americans honor the Bicentennial of the birth of our beloved 16th President, this virtual exhibit is intended to provide convenient access to the legal texts that Lincoln found so important to knowledge of the law.

The Queens County Law Library staff has pulled copies of each of these monumental treatises from the shelves of the law library. The cover and title page of each treatise was then digitally photographed and added to the contents of this website. Links to full text digital versions of each treatise, located elsewhere on the web, are provided after a brief description of each title.


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New York State Unified Court System Lady Justice