Did you know that America’s 16th President was a divorce lawyer? I didn’t, but according to the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War of Middle Tennessee, he was.
And who are they? An organization founded to “Preserve the Memory of the Grand Army of the Republic and our ancestors who fought to preserve the Union 1861-1865″.
The Sons of Union hosted a program in Nashville Tennessee in 2012 that explored how Lincoln’s divorce practice impacted who he was as a leader and offered a glimpse of the society he lived in.
Researcher Stacy Pratt McDermott found that between 1837 and 1861 Lincoln and his three law partners handled 131 divorce cases in 17 Illinois county circuit courts. The state of Illinois was one of the first in America to grant divorces, make custody orders and provide alimony for women.
Grounds for divorce in Illinois included desertion, adultery, habitual drunkenness, repeated cruelty, impotency, bigamy, and felony conviction.
One case in particular reveals Lincoln’s approach to the business of divorce, which he apparently disliked but considered a necessary evil. In Rogers v. Rogers Lincoln was retained to act for Sam Rogers who sought a divorce on the basis of his wife’s desertion and her adultery. Lincoln persuaded his client that he didn’t need to rely on two grounds for divorce and recommended the divorce proceed under the ground of desertion.
The reason Lincoln chose not to pursue a divorce on the basis of adultery was to avoid any unnecessary embarrassment to his client’s wife. His sensitive approach, however, backfired, as his client was ordered to pay $1000.00 in alimony to his wife. Had he also plead adultery, his client would have paid nothing or a nominal amount.
Fortunately for his client Lincoln was able to reverse the alimony ruling and undoubtedly learned a lesson in the process.
Lincoln was not only a great leader and an advocate for the abolition of slavery, but was a sensitive, pragmatic man who practiced law for 25 years. While he handled railroad cases, tax cases and murder cases, his “bread and butter” was divorce law.
Historians now rank him among the top three United States Presidents and his Gettysburg Address on liberty, equality and democracy is one of the most often quoted political speeches.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang