Looking for Lincoln in Illinois: A Guide to Lincoln’s Eighth Judicial Circuit by Guy C. Fraker. Southern Illinois University Press, 2017. Paper, IBSN: 978-0809336166. $21.95.
This is a delightful journey along the highways and byways of the circuit traveled by lawyer Lincoln during his twenty-four year legal career. It essentially demonstrates his “experiential” rather than formal education.
Some have said that Lincoln became the 16th president with little or no experience, except four terms in the Illinois State Legislature and one term in Congress. But if one follows Lincoln’s actual law practice and travels on the Eighth Judicial Circuit—an area about the size of the state of Connecticut—a broader understanding emerges that Lincoln not only practiced law on the circuit, but politics as well. He was a politician before he became a lawyer. His agility as both politician and lawyer stand out. His experience with people dating from his youth is proof that he had the gravitas to lead the country.
Author Guy Fraker’s previous book on Lincoln’s law practice, Lincoln’s Ladder to the Presidency: The Eighth Judicial Circuit, is an outstanding primer on Lincoln’s legal and political encounters during the spring and fall of each year. Riding the circuit took about three months in the spring and three months in the fall—much to Mary Lincoln’s chagrin.
Yet this new little volume is more than a tour guide with numerous illustrations and maps to help the curious. Read in conjunction with Lincoln’s Ladder to the Presidency, the author’s new “experiential” guide takes the reader for a three-to-four day spree in Lincoln’s educational venue. The people are much like they were in the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s—kind, neighborly, and full of information about their towns and cities.
Frank J. Williams is founding Chairman of The Lincoln Forum and author of Lincoln as Hero.