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Lincoln-Herndon
Law Offices

6th & Adams Streets
Springfield, Illinois

Take a Lincoln Law Career Photo Tour

When you are visiting downtown Springfield, be sure to stop in Abraham Lincoln's restored law office for a tour. It's on the south side of the square facing the Old State Capitol. During his nearly 25-year law career Lincoln used office space in several Springfield locations, but this is the only building which still stands. The street below was unpaved with wooden sidewalks for pedestrians.

Seth M. Tinsley built the handsome brick Greek Revival structure in 1840-41 for commercial use, and it extended well west of what remains today. The building was almost new when Lincoln moved into it in 1843 with his second law partner, Stephen T. Logan, a cousin of Mary Lincoln. They rented offices on the third floor, prime space for the time, above the federal courtroom and across from the new statehouse.

During Lincoln's time the federal government rented the first floor for a post office and the second floor for a district courtroom, judge's chamber and clerk's office. In the 1840s the federal district included the entire state of Illinois. Lincoln appeared before U.S. District Court Judge Nathaniel Pope in this building concerning 40 regular cases and 72 bankruptcy proceedings.

Lincoln and Logan dissolved their partnership in 1844 and Lincoln took William H. Herndon as his junior partner. Many years later Herndon wrote a biography of his famous partner with Jesse Weik. While Lincoln and Herndon occupied this building, they prepared cases for the federal courts, the Illinois Supreme Court and the state's Eighth Judicial Circuit, which covered most of east-central Illinois. Lincoln rode the circuit for a total of six months during the year, but Herndon usually stayed in Springfield.

In 1845 Gibson Harris joined the firm as a student and clerk. Years later he recalled the office this way: "The furniture, somewhat dilapidated, consisted of one small desk and a table, a sofa or lounge with a raised head at one end, and a half-dozen plain wooden chairs. The floor was never scrubbed....Over the desk a few shelves had been enclosed; this was the office bookcase holding a set of Blackstone, Kent's Commentaries, Chitty's Pleadings, and a few other books. A fine law library was in the Capitol building across the street to which the attorneys of the place had access."

In his celebrated Lincoln biography, Herndon described his law partner's habits in the office: "When he reached the office, about nine o'clock in the morning, the first thing he did was to pick up a newspaper, spread himself out on an old sofa, one leg on a chair, and read aloud, much to my discomfort. Singularly enough Lincoln never read any other way but aloud."

Herndon also observed Lincoln's haphazard approach to office organization: "Lincoln had always on the top of our desk a bundle to papers into which he slipped anything he wished to keep and afterwards refer to. It was a receptacle of general information. Some years ago, on removing the furniture from the office, I took down the bundle and blew from the top the liberal coat of dust that had accumulated thereon. Immediately underneath the string was a slip bearing this endorsement, in his hand: 'When you can't find it anywhere else, look in this.'"

Lincoln and Herndon moved from this location in 1852 to another building on the west side of the square. Their partnership was not officially dissolved until Lincoln's death in 1865. Just before Lincoln left Springfield to become President he told Herndon, "If I live I'm coming back some time, and then we'll go right on practising law as if nothing had ever happened."

Visiting Information

PLEASE NOTE: this historic site is undergoing restoration and has closed to the public temporarily. The site phone number is 217/785-7289. You may also call the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-545-7300 or 217/789-2360.

Related Links
Lincoln's Advice to Lawyers (ALO)
Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices (Illinois Historic Preservation Agency)
Lincoln Legal Career Highlights
Lincoln's Notes for a Law Lecture (ALO)
Lincoln Legal Papers (The Papers of Abraham Lincoln Part I)
Lincoln Legal Practice on DVD-ROM (ALO)
Lincoln on Herndon: An Unknown Interview with a List of Books in the Lincoln & Herndon Law Office (pdf) (JISHS)
Looking for Lincoln
Springfield Photo Tour
Television Tour of the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office (Illinois Channel)
Tinsley Building Research Continues (SJ-R)

Related Reading

  • Davenport, Don. In Lincoln's Footsteps: A Historical Guide to the Lincoln Sites in Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky. Revised edition, Trails Books, 2002.
  • Donald, David H. Lincoln's Herndon. New York: DaCapo Press, 1989.
  • Duff, John J. A. Lincoln: Prairie Lawyer. New York: Rinehart & Co., 1960.
  • Fraker, Guy C. Lincoln's Ladder to the Presidency: The Eighth Judicial Circuit. Southern Illinois University Press, 2012.
  • Frank, John P. Lincoln as a Lawyer. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1961.
  • Hill, Frederick T. Lincoln the Lawyer.
  • Steiner, Mark E. An Honest Calling: The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln. Northern Illinois University Press, 2006.
  • Strozier, Charles B. The Lives of William Herndon. Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Winter 1993.
  • Walsh, John Evangelist. Moonlight: Abraham Lincoln and the Almanac Trial. St. Martin's Press, 2000.
  • Wilson, Douglas L. William H. Herndon and His Lincoln Informants. Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Winter 1993.

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