Author Brian McGinty has written a book about the contributions that Abraham Lincoln made as a lawyer.[1]   The author recounts how the shipping industry fought construction of railroad bridges which allowed trains to transport goods anywhere.  The first railroad bridge to cross the Mississippi River, the Rock Island Bridge, connected Rock Island, Illinois, with Davenport, Iowa.

A ship on the Mississippi River struck the bridge and was destroyed.  Its owners sued claiming the bridge was a hindrance to navigation and that its placement caused the crash.  Norman Judd, the railroad’s lead attorney, brought in Abraham Lincoln to try much of the case.  The author, McGinty, recreates the trial testimony from newspaper accounts.  Due to Lincoln’s advocacy, the railroad prevailed in the litigation.

McGinty illustrates how central Lincoln’s understanding of river currents, bridge engineering, and steamboat operation was to the success of the defense.  His account reflects that despite his physical awkwardness and high pitched voice, Lincoln was a lawyer in command of the facts.

In conclusion, McGinty writes

. . . Before he went to Washington, Lincoln was a resourceful lawyer who, in a crowded Chicago courtroom in 1857, helped to bind the nation together with iron rails, to bridge the mightiest river on the continent, and to turn the nation toward an economic future of strength and vitality.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

[1] McGinty, Brian.  Lincoln’s Greatest Case.  Liveright.  2015