Publish date:
Updated on

Lincoln reaches legal milestone

On this day in 1839, future President Abraham Lincoln advances to another stage in his legal career when he is admitted to practice law in the U.S. Circuit Court. It was during his years practicing law that Lincoln honed his now famous oratorical skills.

Lincoln made the first step toward becoming a lawyer in 1836 when the state of Illinois certified him as being “a person of good moral character.” (He did not attend law school but studied on his own while working as a clerk in a law office.) In 1838, he delivered closing arguments in the Jacob Early murder case, persuading the jury that his client, the defendant, had acted in self defense. In 1840, Lincoln was re-elected to the Illinois State Assembly—his third term since 1834—and by 1846 earned a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. By that time, Lincoln had begun to use his debate and speaking skills to help fellow Whigs campaign for state and national offices and, in 1848, he delivered a blistering attack on President James Polk for what Lincoln believed was an ill-advised war against Mexico. He called Polk “a bewildered, confounded, and miserably perplexed man” for waging a war that ended up costing the nation 13,780 lives and a whopping $100 million.

After losing his House seat in the election of 1848, Lincoln returned to practicing law in the state of Illinois, where he helped to establish the new Republican Party. His oratorical skills came in handy while speaking out against the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) and the Dred Scott decision (1857), which both served to perpetuate the practice of slavery, an institution Lincoln saw as immoral. In his 1858 campaign for a seat in the U.S. Senate, as secessionist sentiment brewed among the southern states, Lincoln warned in a campaign speech that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Although he did not win a Senate seat that year, he earned national recognition as a strong political force. In 1860, Lincoln was elected to the presidency.

Lincoln’s skill with words helped soothe an anxious populace throughout the Civil War. His most famous speech is the Gettysburg Address, which he delivered in the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. In that speech, Lincoln resolved that those killed in the battle “shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Though less than 300 words, the Gettysburg Address is now considered a defining vision of American democracy.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!


First human heart transplant

On December 3, 1967, 53-year-old Louis Washkansky receives the first human heart transplant at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. Washkansky, a South African grocer dying from chronic heart disease, received the transplant from Denise Darvall, a 25-year-old woman more

The Bhopal-Union Carbide disaster

In the early morning hours, one of the worst industrial disasters in history begins when a pesticide plant located in the densely populated region of Bhopal in central India leaks a highly toxic cloud of methyl isocyanate into the air. Of the estimated one million people living more

First Balkan War ends

Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, and Montenegro sign an armistice with Turkey, ending the first Balkan War. During the two-month conflict, a military coalition between Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Montenegro–known as the Balkan League–expelled Turkey from all the Ottoman Empire’s more

A Streetcar Named Desire opens on Broadway

On this day in 1947, Marlon Brando’s famous cry of “STELLA!” first booms across a Broadway stage, electrifying the audience at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre during the first-ever performance of Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire. The 23-year-old Brando played the more

Illinois becomes the 21st state

Illinois achieves full statehood on this day. Though Illinois presented unique challenges to immigrants unaccustomed to the soil and vegetation of the area, it grew to become a bustling and densely populated state. The strange but beautiful prairie lands east of the Mississippi more

Explosion kills 2,000 at pesticide plant

An explosion at a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, on this day in 1984, leads to the worst industrial accident in history. At least 2,000 people died and another 200,000 were injured when toxic gas enveloped the city. Bhopal was a city of nearly a million people in more

The clothes make the man . . . guilty

Five-year-old Melissa Brannen disappears without a trace from a Christmas party in Fairfax, Virginia. The intensive forensic investigation that followed led to the arrest of party guest Caleb Hughes and, in the process, demonstrated how technically advanced crime solving had more

George McClellan born

On this day in 1826, Union General George McClellan is born in Philadelphia. Although McClellan emerged early in the war as a Union hero, he failed to effectively prosecute the war in the East. McClellan graduated from West Point in 1846, second in his class. He served with more