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632. Henry C. Whitney (Jesse W. Weik Interview) .


"Mr. Lincoln would advise with perfect frankness about a potential case," he once said, "but when it was in esse, then he wanted to win as badly as any lawyer; but unlike lawyers of a certain type he would not do anything mean, or which savored of sharp practice, or which required absolute sophistry or chicanery in order to succeed. In a clear case of dishonesty he would hedge in some way so as not himself to partake of the dishonesty. In a doubtful case of dishonesty, he would give his client the benefit of the doubt, and in an ordinary case he would try the case so far as he could like any other lawyer except that he absolutely abjured technicality and went for justice and victory denuded of every integument.


As attorney for the Illinois Central Railroad I had authority to employ additional counsel whenever I chose to do so, and in Judge Davis's circuit I frequently applied to Lincoln when I needed aid. I never found him unwilling to appear in behalf of a great ‘soulless corporation.’ In such cases he always stood by me, and I always, of course, tried to win. There was nothing of the milksop about him, nor did he peer unnecessarily into a case to find some reason to act out of the usual line; but he had the same animus ordinarily as any other lawyer. I remember a murder trial in which he was joined with Leonard Swett and myself for the defense. Swett was a most effective advocate, and when he closed in the afternoon I was full of faith that our client would be acquitted. Lincoln followed the next morning, and while he made some good points the honesty of his mental processes forced him into a line of argument and admission that was very damaging. We all felt that he had hurt our case. In point of fact our client was convicted and sent to the penitentiary for three years. Lincoln, whose merciless logic drove him into the belief that the culprit was guilty of murder, had his humanity so wrought upon that he induced the Governor to pardon him after he had served one year."

Weik, 194-95



1. JWW explained: "After Lincoln became President, Mr. Whitney removed to Chicago, where, in the eighties, I spent a good deal of time with him" (Weik, 193).

2. Probably refers to the Patterson case, described by Whitney for WHH in §521.