Before becoming our nation’s sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln was a practicing attorney in the state of Illinois. A self-educated lawyer, Lincoln began his career as an attorney during The Panic of 1837, a time of extreme financial crisis in the United States that lasted until the mid-1840s. During this period in history, banks collapsed, unemployment skyrocketed and businesses failed. Americans were unable to repay their loans and creditors sued to collect. In 1841, Congress passed its second bankruptcy law, allowing overwhelmed debtors a chance to start fresh and come out from under their financial burdens.
Upon opening a law firm in 1841 with well-known attorney Stephen T. Logan in Springfield, Illinois, Lincoln began working on mostly debt-related cases. During the time in which the Bankruptcy Act of 1841 was in effect, Logan and Lincoln handled more than seventy bankruptcy cases. One such case was In re West, in which the debtor, Amos West, owed creditors over $18,000. Upon petitioning the court for bankruptcy relief, West listed 436 acres of land and $1,700.00 in notes and accounts as assets. After setting aside $200.00 in property for West’s family, his remaining assets were sold at auction for only $39.00. West’s creditors did not receive any money once the bankruptcy fees of $37 were paid.
Although Lincoln is most known for being our country’s greatest president, he was also a well-respected attorney that many considered to be one of the finest lawyers in Illinois. While Lincoln went on to represent railroad companies and even appear before the United States Supreme Court, it has been said that the bread and butter of Lincoln’s practice revolved around cases related to debt and collection.