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Lincoln's Biography

Return to the Law, 1850-1853

By R.D. Monroe, Ph.D.

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Returning to Springfield after his single term in Congress, Lincoln found himself adrift. While the rest of the country debated the Compromise of 1850, Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin and personal liberty laws, Lincoln withdrew from politics. Without politics, he channeled his energies into the practice of law.

Already melancholy by nature, Lincoln endured the death of his son Edward at the age of three in 1850 and the death of his father in 1851. These setbacks deepened Lincoln's gloom, but they also set him upon a course that would eventually lead to religion.

On the judicial circuit Lincoln traveled with Judge David Davis and a large group of lawyers contesting cases in a series of county courthouuses. In this setting Lincoln tried a variety of cases that revealed the inner workings of American society and politics, and made political contacts that would eventually serve him well.

While Lincoln retreated to Illinois, the American political system lurched toward crisis. The acquisition of new territories from Mexico set both northern and southern partisans on edge, as each group worried that the other would gain the upper hand in shaping the region's legal and economic character. Paramount among these concerns was the status of slavery. Moderate politicians north and south hoped that the Compromise of 1850 could preserve the Union, but political events quickly proved their hopes unfounded.


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