February 12, 1809 – Birthdate of Abraham Lincoln & His Career as a Judge Pro Tem

On this day in history, Abraham Lincoln was born in a one-room log cabin in Kentucky.

Many people know a lot about his life, including the fact that he was a lawyer before the became the 16th President of the U.S. But most don’t know that he also served a Judge Pro Tem for the Eighth Judicial Circuit of Illinois.

The term judge pro tem normally refers to a judge who is sitting temporarily for another judge or to an attorney who has been appointed to serve as a judge as a substitute for a regular judge. Abraham Lincoln served as a substitute for Judge David Davis in the courts of the Eighth Judicial Circuit in over 300 cases between 1850 and 1859. (Davis also called on attorneys Clifton H. Moore and Oliver L. Davis to serve in his place for brief periods.)

While serving as judge, Lincoln made 323 decisions including 161 continuances, 31 dismissals, 28 default judgements, and 3 nonsuits. Most of those decisions did not require much input from Lincoln. He also, however, made 54 final judgments, 40 procedural rulings, 5 decisions to set aside defaults, and one other judgment the nature of which is unknown.

In 1858, when the voters of Sangamon County elected John F. King as a justice of the peace, Lincoln’s law partner William Herndon reported that King came to Lincoln to ask him for advice on how best to fulfill his responsibilities.

Source: The Papers of Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, a project dedicated to identifying, imaging, transcribing, annotating, and publishing all documents written by or to Abraham Lincoln during his entire lifetime (1809-1865).

Lincoln in 1860

Lincoln in 1860

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