Abraham Lincoln’s Legal Ethics

Abraham Lincoln’s Legal Ethics

Lincoln accepted fees that he regarded as fair, sometimes even refusing to accept fees. He was certainly not a “job creator,” not rich, by the standards of the time, and his wife tended to spend money freely. Certainly with a growing family and some political ambitions, he could have used more money but he was unwilling to treat his clients in what he regarded as an unfair manner whatever the professional customs of the time dictated. When confronted by an ethical dilemma, he went his own way. He did not appear to be concerned with the question, “What does everybody else do?”

James Pilant

Abraham Lincoln’s Legal Ethics


The lawyers on the circuit traveled by Lincoln got together one night and tried him on the charge of accepting fees which tended to lower the established rates. It was the understood rule that a lawyer should accept all the client could be induced to pay. The tribunal was known as “The Ogmathorial Court.”

Ward Lamon, his law partner at the time, tells about it:

“Lincoln was found guilty and fined for his awful crime against the pockets of his brethren of the bar. The fine he paid with great good humor, and then kept the crowd of lawyers in uproarious laughter until after midnight.

“He persisted in his revolt, however, declaring that with his consent his firm should never during its life, or after its dissolution, deserve the reputation enjoyed by those shining lights of the profession, ‘Catch ’em and Cheat ’em.'”

And another story –


A certain rich man in Springfield, Illinois, sued a poor attorney for $2.50, and Lincoln was asked to prosecute the case. Lincoln urged the creditor to let the matter drop, adding, “You can make nothing out of him, and it will cost you a good deal more than the debt to bring suit.” The creditor was still determined to have his way, and threatened to seek some other attorney. Lincoln then said, “Well, if you are determined that suit should be brought, I will bring it; but my charge will be $10.”

The money was paid him, and peremptory orders were given that the suit be brought that day. After the client’s departure Lincoln went out of the office, returning in about an hour with an amused look on his face.

Asked what pleased him, he replied, “I brought suit against ——, and then hunted him up, told him what I had done, handed him half of the $10, and we went over to the squire’s office. He confessed judgment and paid the bill.”

Lincoln added that he didn’t see any other way to make things satisfactory for his client as well as the other.

And another –


If a client did not pay, Lincoln did not believe in suing for the fee. When a fee was paid him his custom was to divide the money into two equal parts, put one part into his pocket, and the other into an envelope labeled “Herndon’s share.”

And still one more –


Ward Lamon, once Lincoln’s law partner, relates a story which places Lincoln’s high sense of honor in a prominent light. In a certain case, Lincoln and Lamon being retained by a gentleman named Scott, Lamon put the fee at $250, and Scott agreed to pay it. Says Lamon:

“Scott expected a contest, but, to his surprise, the case was tried inside of twenty minutes; our success was complete. Scott was satisfied, and cheerfully paid over the money to me inside the bar, Lincoln looking on. Scott then went out, and Lincoln asked, ‘What did you charge that man?’

“I told him $250. Said he: ‘Lamon, that is all wrong. The service was not worth that sum. Give him back at least half of it.’

“I protested that the fee was fixed in advance; that Scott was perfectly satisfied, and had so expressed himself. ‘That may be,’ retorted Lincoln, with a look of distress and of undisguised displeasure, ‘but I am not satisfied. This is positively wrong. Go, call him back and return half the money at least, or I will not receive one cent of it for my share.’

“I did go, and Scott was astonished when I handed back half the fee.

“This conversation had attracted the attention of the lawyers and the court. Judge David Davis, then on our circuit bench (afterwards Associate Justice on the United States Supreme bench), called Lincoln to him. The Judge never could whisper, but in this instance he probably did his best. At all events, in attempting to whisper to Lincoln he trumpeted his rebuke in about these words, and in rasping tones that could be heard all over the court-room: ‘Lincoln, I have been watching you and Lamon. You are impoverishing this bar by your picayune charges of fees, and the lawyers have reason to complain of you. You are now almost as poor as Lazarus, and if you don’t make people pay you more for your services you will die as poor as Job’s turkey!’

“Judge O. L. Davis, the leading lawyer in that part of the State, promptly applauded this malediction from the bench; but Lincoln was immovable.

“‘That money,’ said he, ‘comes out of the pocket of a poor, demented girl, and I would rather starve than swindle her in this manner.'”


A Complete Collection of the Funny and Witty Anecdotes that made Abraham Lincoln Famous as America’s Greatest Story Teller With Introduction and Anecdotes

By Alexander K. McClure

(This material is in the public domain.)

Enhanced by Zemanta

Abraham Lincoln and the Bottom 47%

Abraham Lincoln and the bottom 47%

Abraham Lincoln and the Bottom 47%

Recently, a presidential candidate referred to bottom 47% of the American population as self identified victims. Abraham Lincoln had a different view of the poor. He had a deep concern for the less fortunate in society as is illustrated by this story (below). Would we lived in such times that this kind of judgment (and the kind of man who would make it) were honored and esteemed. Instead we are told to worship and respect the “job creators,” the PR name for what are often little more than predators.

James Pilant




An Ohio Senator had an appointment with President Lincoln at six o’clock, and as he entered the vestibule of the White House his attention was attracted toward a poorly clad young woman, who was violently sobbing. He asked her the cause of her distress. She said she had been ordered away by the servants, after vainly waiting many hours to see the President about her only brother, who had been condemned to death. Her story was this:

 She and her brother were foreigners, and orphans. They had been in this country several years. Her brother enlisted in the army, but, through bad influences, was induced to desert. He was captured, tried and sentenced to be shot—the old story.

 The poor girl had obtained the signatures of some persons who had formerly known him, to a petition for a pardon, and alone had come to Washington to lay the case before the President. Thronged as the waiting-rooms always were, she had passed the long hours of two days trying in vain to get an audience, and had at length been ordered away.

 The gentleman’s feelings were touched. He said to her that he had come to see the President, but did not know as he should succeed. He told her, however, to follow him upstairs, and he would see what could be done for her.

 Just before reaching the door, Mr. Lincoln came out, and, meeting his friend, said good-humoredly, “Are you not ahead of time?” The gentleman showed him his watch, with the hand upon the hour of six.

 “Well,” returned Mr. Lincoln, “I have been so busy to-day that I have not had time to get a lunch. Go in and sit down; I will be back directly.”

 The gentleman made the young woman accompany him into the office, and when they were seated, said to her: “Now, my good girl, I want you to muster all the courage you have in the world. When the President comes back, he will sit down in that armchair. I shall get up to speak to him, and as I do so you must force yourself between us, and insist upon his examination of your papers, telling him it is a case of life and death, and admits of no delay.” These instructions were carried out to the letter. Mr. Lincoln was at first somewhat surprised at the apparent forwardness of the young woman, but observing her distressed appearance, he ceased conversation with his friend, and commenced an examination of the document she had placed in his hands.

 Glancing from it to the face of the petitioner, whose tears had broken forth afresh, he studied its expression for a moment, and then his eye fell upon her scanty but neat dress. Instantly his face lighted up.

 “My poor girl,” said he, “you have come here with no Governor, or Senator, or member of Congress to plead your cause. You seem honest and truthful; and you don’t wear hoopskirts—and I will be whipped but I will pardon your brother.” And he did.


A Complete Collection of the Funny and Witty Anecdotes that made Abraham Lincoln Famous as America’s Greatest Story Teller With Introduction and Anecdotes

By Alexander K. McClure

(This material is in the public domain.)

Enhanced by Zemanta

Abraham Lincoln’s Business Ethics

Abraham Lincoln’s business ethics

Abraham Lincoln’s Business Ethics

Abraham Lincoln on being presented with a moral conundrum chose to “bend” the rules. Generally speaking, it is wrong to break the rules but it is also wrong to unquestionably obey them under all circumstances. Lincoln knew when to bend the rules. 

James Pilant


When a surveyor, Mr. Lincoln first platted the town of Petersburg, Ill. Some twenty or thirty years afterward the property-owners along one of the outlying streets had trouble in fixing their boundaries. They consulted the official plat and got no relief. A committee was sent to Springfield to consult the distinguished surveyor, but he failed to recall anything that would give them aid, and could only refer them to the record. The dispute therefore went into the courts. While the trial was pending, an old Irishman named McGuire, who had worked for some farmer during the summer, returned to town for the winter. The case being mentioned in his presence, he promptly said: “I can tell you all about it. I helped carry the chain when Abe Lincoln laid out this town. Over there where they are quarreling about the lines, when he was locating the street, he straightened up from his instrument and said: ‘If I run that street right through, it will cut three or four feet off the end of ——’s house. It’s all he’s got in the world and he never could get another. I reckon it won’t hurt anything out here if I skew the line a little and miss him.”‘

The line was “skewed,” and hence the trouble, and more testimony furnished as to Lincoln’s abounding kindness of heart, that would not willingly harm any human being.


A Complete Collection of the Funny and Witty Anecdotes that made Abraham Lincoln Famous as America’s Greatest Story Teller With Introduction and Anecdotes

By Alexander K. McClure

(This material is in the public domain.)


Enhanced by Zemanta

Felix Salmon Makes a Key Observation

Barack Obama and the limitations of probabilistic decision making | Felix Salmon

For Obama, if a decision doesn’t work out, he’s OK with that, since he reckons there’s a statistical certainty that a good third of his decisions will fail to work out. And he takes solace in the idea that so long as the process of arriving at the decision was a good one, by which he means that it was properly technocratic and probabilistic, then he did the best that he could have done.

But that kind of decision-making framework leaves very little room for ideals — for actually putting into practice the kind of vision you have for America. By making decisions on a case-by-case basis, you can end up missing out on building something bigger and much more coherent. In 2008, America voted for a man who was truly excellent at staring into the distance, a man looking at the big picture, and at a centuries-long legacy. Instead, hampered by the financial crisis and by a dysfunctional Congress, they got a man who spends his days weighing success probabilities: a tactician, rather than a strategist.

Barack Obama and the limitations of probabilistic decision making | Felix Salmon

“Little room for ideals:” Exactly, the President lacks the desire to fight on moral or ethical grounds but governs based on some kind of intellectual calculus, a bloodless exercise in which losses are measured in much the same way as a  a lost chess game.

Mr. Salmon hit on something I have long suspected, and I very much wish both he and I were wrong but we are not. The President lives in a world devoid of ethical calculus. He lives by the probability of the possible. We voted for a new direction for American democracy, a different vision, but we got a President who cannot envision a different reality – only manipulate the current one.

James Pilant

Enhanced by Zemanta

Foreclosure, Day 19;News of Possible Freeze? (via Angelinem’s Blog)

Way back in February, the President was talking about a foreclosure freeze in the hardest hit states.

When did this kind of talk disappear? What happened to the President?

Apparently foreclosure freezes was not a taboo subject just a few months ago.

My thanks to Angelinems’ Blog!

James Pilant

Foreclosure news to the forefront today. President Obama is talking about some kind of freeze on foreclosures in the states hardest hit, California being one. This should be interesting…buy us some time. I found another interesting link in the Orange County, CA news today:  http://mortgage.freedomblogging.com/2010/02/17/foreclosures-seen-for-many-years-to-come/26543/ For whatever reason IndyMac did not call us again today. Two days in a row now … Read More

via Angelinem’s Blog

Obama Refuses To Sign Mortgage Bill

The President (against all my expectations) declined to sign a bill that would have provided those financial institutions protection from their use of robo signers and their violations of the law.

I am grateful to the President and surprised that I have an opportunity to be grateful to the President.

Now, lawsuits filed by Attorney Generals across the nation can continue. I predict 25 states will file lawsuits by the end of the year. Why? Because the kind of fines you can get from giant financial institutions for lying to the court system hundreds of thousands of times make it a big revenue raiser for the state and an upward leap in status for the state’s Attorney General who then can think about Congress or maybe a Governorship.

There is also this strange idea, that these companies, that these individuals in charge of these companies, no matter who they are, should face justice. I am as surprised to see this happen as you are. I am used to disappointment in the government and in private industry. Very used to it.

But today was different. Praise God! Today was different. I’ll treasure it.

James Pilant

(Please forgive my occasional bursts of religiosity. I know how offensive this stuff can sound since you usually here it in the context of pushing some strange social agenda. But I am a practicing Christian and on rare occasions I will refer to in this in my writing.)

Net Neutrality – Where Is The President?

During the campaign two years ago, Obama repeatedly stated his support for net neutrality – Watch!

Did you hear that – “I will take a backseat to no one.” Backseat! He might as well be in the trunk for all the help he’s been.

“I am a strong supporter of net neutrality.” Okay, that’s good. How about NOW? Where is he?

“I’m a big believer in net neutrality.” Still nice, but how about saying something now?

“I remain firmly committed to net neutrality.” Is he still? I don’t have anyway to know.

Okay, guys, probably you’ve seen enough. I can find more clips. I’ve already seen them. The open internet is under attack right now at the FCC and in Congress. A bill was considered a few days ago, that would have essentially ratified the agreement between Google and Verizon dividing up the internet and giving broadband to corporations. The attacks are well funded and continuous. The President referred to the danger of large companies getting control in his many speeches.

Where is he now? Where is the President of the United States? Where are all his pretty words? If he doesn’t speak soon, he will only be commenting on the division of the web into corporate sectors after it’s done.

If there is no net neutrality, this web site may become so slow as not to be viable or simply not deemed worthy of band width. Under the new rules, the FCC cannot issue any regulations but can hear complaints. Thus, if I am treated wrongly I will be able to complain to the FCC and should they decide in my favor after months during which my audience has gone away to other sites approved by the great media companies, that will fix everything, right? I’ll be all whole and returned to where I was. Right?

There are tens of thousands of sites like mine. And these voices cry out for advocacy for the poor, or the environment, etc.., some cry out for political action, …., some broadcast every crazy theory you can imagine, … and some are people just crying out that they are there – they are significant – they are important – they plead for attention and recognition.

And soon, these voices will be silent, their bandwidth divied up for movie companies and media channels and, of course, the occasional lapse where they allow a semi-independent voice to speak.

Pretty words are not the same as action. Eloquence is not the same as standing up for your beliefs. Political expedience cannot be an excuse of inaction where action has been repeatedly promised.

Where is the President? Did he mean any of that stuff he said? Is there time left for him to do or say anything?

James Pilant


That’s the number of comments that have been lodged on Yahoo News on the story entitled, Anger grows as disaster reaches Panhandle beaches. That’s a very large amount of anger. Now, I freely confess I can’t read more than a hundred thousand comments (not without considerable monetary incentive), but I believe that there is considerable frustration with the federal government on this issue. And by federal government, I mean the President of the United States who appears increasingly angry but still doesn’t seem interested in taking any action.