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Christopher Wills

Lincoln law book comes home

​Lincoln Presidential Library acquires one of the future president’s favorite legal volumes 

SPRINGFIELD – The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum has acquired a law book that Lincoln used as an attorney and considered one of the most important for a young lawyer to master.

The book is the second volume in a three-volume set called “A Treatise on the Law of Evidence” by Simon Greenleaf. It will be reunited with the first volume, which the library has owned for decades. The location of the third, if it still exists, is a mystery.

“We learn a little more about Lincoln’s career every month, and each discovery raises new questions to explore. When and why did the firm get rid of this book that Lincoln used so often? Did they buy a later edition? Maybe the answers will be in the next book or document that someone donates,” said James Cornelius, curator of the presidential library’s Lincoln Collection.

The Montana Historical Society generously donated the book to the Lincoln Presidential Library. The society received the book in 1927 from a Helena resident who had gotten it from his father, who had bought it years earlier. 

“The book does not fit in our collection, so we are very happy that the presidential library is interested in it,” said Roberta Gebhardt, library manager of the Montana Historical Society. “We always like to reunite sets if we can.” 

“It’s a pleasure to have these two volumes reunited here at the Lincoln Presidential Library, and we appreciate the Montana Historical Society’s generosity,” said Nadine O’Leary, acting executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. 

“A Treatise on the Law of Evidence” was an important reference work in Lincoln’s mind. In two surviving letters to aspiring young attorneys, he lists it as one of four books they must master.

The book is signed “Lincoln & Herndon” by Lincoln’s law partner, William Herndon. 

Lincoln and Herndon, partners for 17 years, had more than 120 thick law and statute books in their library. The firm Lincoln & Herndon eventually became Herndon & Orendorff, which closed in 1909. Afterward, many of the firm’s law books were sold. 

Today about half of those reside in the Lincoln Presidential Library, and the other half are in the Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago.

In the newly acquired Greenleaf book, Herndon starred or underscored a few passages and added minute index entries.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, a division of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, is dedicated to telling the story of America’s 16th president through old-fashioned scholarship and modern technology. 

The library holds an unparalleled collection of Lincoln books, documents, photographs, artifacts and art, as well as some 12 million items pertaining to all aspects of Illinois history. The museum uses traditional exhibits, eye-catching special effects and innovative story-telling techniques to educate visitors.

For more about the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, visit

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