The Lawyers: Stephen Trigg Logan

Stephen Trigg Logan

Stephen Trigg Logan

“This letter is written by Judge Stephen T. Logan, one of my most distinguished, and most highly valued friends, who now, for the first time, makes a request of and about an office. I wish him to be gratified if possible.” wrote President Lincoln in 1861 as an endorsement on a letter from Judge Stephen T. Logan, who was his second law partner and who had served as an Illinois circuit judge from 1835 to 1837.1

Logan was a brilliant and blunt attorney from whom Mr. Lincoln had learned much. Mr. Lincoln’s regard for Logan was also reflected in a note he sent Logan, inviting him to Washington to visit with his son-in-law, Ward Hill Lamon, and to attend the dedication of the Gettysburg battlefield cemetery: “Col. Lamon had made his calculation, as he tells me, to go to Illinois and bring Mrs. L. home this month, when he was called on to act as Marshal on the occasion of dedicating the Cemetery at Gettysburg Pa on the 19th. He came to me, and I told him I thought that in view of his relation to the government and to me, he could not well decline. Now, why would it not be pleasant for you to come on with Mrs. L. at that time? It will be an interesting ceremony, and I shall be very glad to see you. I know not whether you would care to remain to the meeting of congress, but that event, as you know, will be very near at hand. Your friend as ever”.2

Mr. Lincoln remained grateful for the legal education and discipline which the three-year partnership with Logan had provided. Logan may have lacked the political skills and instincts of some of Mr. Lincoln’s other friends, but he did not display their petty disloyalty either. The elder Logan was a consistent supporter of his younger friend and Mr. Lincoln returned the favor. In late 1861, President Lincoln appointed Logan as part of a three-person panel to manage claims procurement claims against the government from the early years of the war. Logan fell sick and was replaced by another Springfield lawyer, Shelby M. Cullom. Although he did not seek an office, top Republican state officeholders recommended him to President Lincoln in 1862: “We have reason to beleive [sic] that Judge Logan would accept the Judgeship of this Circuit now vacant, if tendered to him. It is needless for us to tell you how much pleasure his nomination would give us.”3

Lincoln biographer Benjamin Thomas wrote that Logan “was recognized as the best all-round lawyer in Sangamon County, if not the State.”4 Lincoln colleague James C. Conkling wrote that Logan “was universally recognized by the bench and the bar as the great nisi prius lawyer of the State, and clients, who were fortunate enough to secure his services considered it as a sure presage of victory.”5 Logan and Mr. Lincoln shared a Kentucky background and a strong sense of principle. For about three and a half years, they also shared a law practice, beginning on March 1, 1841. The date of the dissolution of their practice is less clear.

Lincoln legal scholar Frederick Trevor Hill wrote that Mr. Lincoln’s standing in the Illinois bar was reflected by the fact that “Stephen Logan, the leading lawyer of the circuit, if not of the State, a former judge, and one of the canniest businessmen at the bar, singled him out from all his contemporaries and offered him a partnership.”6 Hill wrote: “Not only was he better equipped by education and training than most of the Illinois practitioners, but he was unusually well endowed by nature for the practice of his profession, and he speedily took high rank at the bar of Illinois. Indeed, such was his reputation for ability and learning that he was appointed judge of the Fifth Circuit less than three years after his arrival at Springfield…”7

“I never saw Lincoln until he came up here to make a speech [in 1832]. I saw Lincoln before he went up into the stand to make his speech,” Logan said later. He was a very tall and gawky and rough looking fellow then; his pantaloons didn’t meet his shoes by six inches. But after he began speaking I became very much interested in him. He made a very sensible speech.”8 Logan knew little else about Mr. Lincoln – he had the impression that he was a sort of “loafer” in New Salem.

“My partnership with him in the practice of law was formed in 1841. I had [Edwin D.] Baker before that. But I soon found I could not trust him in money matters,” said Logan. Unlike Mr. Lincoln’s first law partner, John T. Stuart, Logan was a stickler for preparation and knowledge of the law. “After Lincoln went in with me he turned in to try to know more and studied to learn how to prepare his cases,” said Logan, who lacked Mr. Lincoln’s common touch. “Both he and Baker were exceedingly useful to me in getting the good will of juries. Lincoln seemed to put himself at once on an equality with everybody – never of course while they were outrageous, never while they were drunk or noisy or anything of the kind.”9

Lincoln legal scholar Albert Woldman was critical of Logan’s compatibility with Mr. Lincoln: “Various reasons have been given for the termination of the Logan-Lincoln partnership. Perhaps the conflicting ambitions of both men to go to Congress brought them to the parting of the ways. Unsatisfactory financial arrangements by which Logan retained the greater share of the firm income might have been the cause; or the fact that Lincoln, naturally easy-going and independent, chafed under the restraints imposed upon him by the senior partner and could not at all times accommodate himself to Logan’s methods.” Woldman wrote: “Logan and Lincoln had but little in common. Two such conflicting, ambitious, and independent personalities could not exist together indefinitely in one small office, and the partnership came to an end.”10 Logan himself said the partnership dissolved because “I wished to take in my son David with me who had meanwhile grown up, and Lincoln was perhaps by that time quite willing to begin on his own account. So we talked the matter over and dissolved the partnership amicably and in friendship.”11

Logan and Mr. Lincoln were indeed different. Certainly Logan lacked Mr. Lincoln’s loquacious charm. Logan’s intellect impressed people even when his presence and personality did not. His legal brilliance was matched with his crabby personality. Unlike Logan, Mr. Lincoln had a well-developed sense of humor. Elihu B. Washburne recalled that Logan “had even more simplicity of character, and was more careless in his dress than Mr. Lincoln. I shall never forget the first time I ever saw him. It was in the Hall of the House of Representatives, on February 10, 1843, and when he was a member of that body. He had a reputation at that time as a man of ability and a lawyer second to no man in the State. I was curious to see the man of whom I had heard so much, and I shall never forget the impression he made on me. He was a small, thin man, with a little wrinkled and weazened face, set off by an immense head of hair, which might be called ‘frowzy.’ He was dressed in linsey-woolsey, and wore very heavy shoes. His shirt was of unbleached cotton, and unstarched, and he never encumbered himself with a cravat or other neck wear. His voice was shrill, sharp and unpleasant, and he had not a single grace of oratory – but yet, when he spoke he always had interested and attentive listeners.”12

Neither lawyer was a paragon of sartorial elegance. Mr. Lincoln once took advantage that Logan had his shirt on inside-out when he faced Logan before a jury: “Judge Logan has made the mistakes with the best of us. He has arrived at an age when he should know how to put on his clothes as well as the most tidy of us, and I presume the Judge has just as firm a conviction that he put his clothes on right this morning as that he stated the law correct in this case. Have you not, Judge?”

When Logan replied in the affirmative, Mr. Lincoln said: “Well now, gentlemen of the jury, if I should accuse Judge Logan with a lack of judgment necessary to distinguish the right from the wrong side, the front from the back, or one end from the other of his coat, you might think it was I and not the Judge that was in error; but if I should point to you the fact that Judge Logan has actually put his shirt on with the bosom behind, you might think he could make mistakes just like the rest of us.”13

Both Mr. Lincoln and considered the 1843 race for Congress, but Logan put his own ambitions aside and three years later nominated Mr. Lincoln at the Whig convention with the following resolution: “Resolved, that we present to the Whigs of this District Abraham Lincoln as the Whig candidate for Congress; that in his past firm and undeviating attachments to and his active and able support of Whig principles, his abilities and integrity, entitle him to their cordial and active support in the approaching election.”14

Mr. Lincoln won and two years later, Logan ran unsuccessfully to succeed Congressman Lincoln. “Logan’s loss of the congressional seat did not spring, at least not primarily, from the position on the war of his Whig predecessor Lincoln. Logan lost by only 106 votes out of 18,000 cast. Logan’s Democratic opponent, Thomas Harris, was a popular hero of the Battle of Cerro Gordo, and gained because of his military glory,” wrote Historian William Lee Miller. “Most important, Logan was a spectacularly inept campaigner. Lincoln would remark of a later campaign that Logan was ‘worse beaten than any other man since elections were invented.”15 Judge David Davis remembered: “Logan was beat for Congress by his own folly in connection with Lincolns momentary unpopularity. Logan told his friends at and around Delevan that his Election was sure – That they need not go to the polls.”16 William H. Herndon wrote: “Judge Logan tried his hand as successor of Lincoln, but Logan was a failure, and a fizzle. He was a cold, avaricious, and little mean man….”17

Logan however, attributed his loss in part to Mr. Lincoln’s own “unpopularity” from his opposition to the Mexican-American War.18 According to attorney James C. Conkling, Logan was “utterly destitute of those qualities which win the popular heart, and being opposed by a gallant soldier, who had achieved success upon the battlefield, he was signally defeated. He was too honest in the declaration of his principles to succeed in political life, and would never condescend to the arts and chicanery by which demagogues are accustomed to clamber into office.”19

The political lives of Logan and Mr. Lincoln continued to intersect for the next two decades. Logan joined the State Legislature when Mr. Lincoln was retiring from it in the early 1840s; he served three terms. Congressman Lincoln sought, unsuccessfully, to have Logan appointed to a U.S. District Court judgeship in 1849. He and Mr. Lincoln both ran successfully for the State Legislature in 1854. In early 1855, Logan floor-managed Mr. Lincoln’s legislative supporters for the election to unseat Democratic Senator James Shields. At Mr. Lincoln’s instigation, Logan finally switched the votes of Abraham Lincoln’s supporters to anti-Nebraska Democrat Lyman Trumbull, resulting in Trumbull’s election to the Senate. Logan recalled that he had gone “to Lincoln & said to him ‘The next ballott [sic]- Matteson will be Elected if we stick to you…”20 Logan told William Herndon:

During that canvass – race, Mr. Lincoln was in a fix – [Owen] Lovejoy and others in the Legislature; they wanted Lincoln to say that he would go for the doctrine that there should be no Slavery in the Territories: Lincoln came to me and asked me about the matter. Saying to me Knowing my politics, will it tramp your toes – I Said ‘No – whatever you do, though I don’t agree to the doctrine it won’t tread on my toes. Lincoln made the pledge. Lincoln and I had supported the wilmot proviso, but this pledge was broader – more radical —21

One occasion in which Mr. Lincoln substituted for Judge David Davis presented an unusual dilemma, according to Davis biographer William L. King: “Lincoln sat as judge, one Saturday morning in November 1854, in a civil suit for assault and battery in Sangamon County. It appears also that Lincoln & Herndon were the lawyers for the plaintiff in the case. One may ask how Lincoln could sit as judge in a case where he was also the lawyer. His opponent was Judge Logan, an ardent admirer of Lincoln, and it may be surmised that Logan himself expressed his willingness to try the case before Lincoln, with Herndon on the other side. Logan, as it turned out, lost nothing by his magnanimity: Lincoln’s laconic entry on the Judge’s docket reads, ‘Trial by Jury. Jury of eleven by agreement. Verdict for deft.'”22

In 1855, Mr. Lincoln boosted Logan for the Illinois Supreme Court. Along with lawyers John T. Stuart and Benjamin Edwards, he wrote Orville H. Browning: “When it became probable that there would be a vacancy on the Supreme Bench, public opinion, on this side of the river, seemed to be universally directed to Logan as the proper man to fill it. I mean public opinion on our side in politics, with very small manifestation in any different direction by the other side. The result is, that he has been a good deal pressed to allow his name to be used, and he has consented to it, provided it can be done with perfect cordiality and good feeling on the part of all our own friends. We, the undersigned, are very anxious for it; and the more so now that he has been urged, until his mind is turned upon the matter. We, therefore are very glad of your letter, with the information it brings us, mixed only with a regret that we can not elect Logan and Walker both. We shall be glad, if you will hoist Logan’s name, in your Quincy papers.” Unfortunately for Logan, he was “worse beaten than any other man ever was since elections were invented.”23

Logan’s lack of charisma made him a limited political asset for Mr. Lincoln’s later campaigns. Unlike Lincoln’s other lawyer friends, Logan was little help at the Republican National Convention in Chicago in May 1860, according to Judge David Davis. He “was not the kind of a man to go to men and order” or coax men “to do what he wanted them to do.”24 However, Mr. Lincoln endowed Logan with a special confidence, he later told William Herndon. Mr. Lincoln, he said, authorized him to to “withdraw Lincoln’s name if thought prudent so to do according to the rules & regulations of the Conventions proceedings.”25

Logan did not expect a major Lincoln Administration appointment, according to Clinton L Conkling, whose father was a legal colleague of Logan’s. The senior Conkling and the wealthy Logan were among those who raised $5000 in the summer of 1860 to fund Lincoln’s correspondence expense. Logan was not one of those Springfield lawyers who pestered President Lincoln by paper and in person. He did serve as one of five Illinois delegates to the Peace Conference held in Washington in February and early March 1861. Logan was asked to comment on the President-elect Lincoln’s proposed inaugural address and urged modification of a phrase he thought might incite the South. “After I finished, Lincoln said: ‘It is not necessary for me to say to you that I have great respect for your opinion, but the statements you think should be modified were carefully considered by me and the probable consequences as far as I can anticipate them. The statements express the convictions of duty that the great office I shall endeavor to fill will impose upon me, and if there is patriotism enough in the American people, the union will be saved; if not, it will go down and I will go with it.”26

At a memorial for Mr. Lincoln in Springfield on April 15, 1865, Logan told his fellow lawyers that if Mr. Lincoln “believed his client was right, especially in difficult and complicated cases, he was the strongest and most comprehensive reasoner and lawyer he had ever met – or if the case was somewhat doubtful but could be decided either way without violating any just, equitable or moral principle, he was very strong – but he thought his client was wrong he would make very little effort.” According to fellow attorney Charles Zane, “Judge Logan declared Lincoln a man of very profound and comprehensive views, and as free from narrowness as any man he had ever known.”27

Logan’s contemporaries emphasized his small size and large intelligence. According to William H. Herndon, Logan was “frailly built – a froth network – nervous – quick – uneasy, restless, full of action and energy. His eye is keen and penetrating; his voice is sharp and shrill – ‘squeaky and squealy.’ His gestures are angular – seesaw sharply up and down.”28 Attorney James C. Conkling recalled that Logan “was small ln stature and frail in constitution, but a piercing deep-set eye and a large cranial development, imparted a highly intellectual appearance to his almost infantile features.”29

Contemporary I. M. Short wrote that Logan “was a small, thin, dried-up looking man, thin in the face and with reddish features. His hair usually worn long, was of light color, and his voice was sharp and shrill, yet not disagreeable. The men could scarcely have been more opposite in looks than in the character and natural quality of their make-up. Both men were careless in the attention they paid to dress, which varied in the two, and both gentlemen were rather pleasant and agreeable, but unlike in their manners.” According to Short, “Logan was a hair-splitter in points of the law as notorious in local fame as was the junior partner as a rail-splitter, whose fame as such later spread near and far. Logan loved money and made it. Lincoln did not care for it, only for its use, neither did he made much of it. Logan cared for the law. Lincoln did not, only as a means to an end – his living.”30

Hezekiah Morse Wead was less complimentary: “Sometimes he approaches a subject boldly, probes it to the bottom and handles it like a man of intellect, but such instances are rare, and only occur where the subject itself is not deep or obscure, He has always, an argument calculated to draw the mind from deep and useful investigation – he plays around the true question, raising collateral issues, and deceiving men with straws and chaff, while the grain is not seen….His mind is limited to a certain sphere, but in that limit he is superior. Quick of apprehension, possessing a happy faculty of compassion, and great knowledge of the prejudices of men, he is calculated to exercise & does exercise a great influence: but with all his influence and all his tact he is utterly unable to comprehend the strength of a powerful intellect or the superiority of a mind which towers immensely above his own.”31


  1. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, First Supplement, p. 98 (Endorsement on letter from Stephen T. Logan, September 9, 1861).
  2. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VII, p. 7 (Letter to Stephen T. Logan, November 9, 1863).
  3. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from Ozias M. Hatch, William Butler, and Jesse K. Dubois to Abraham Lincoln, August 11, 1862).
  4. Michael Burlingame, editor, “Lincoln’s Humor” and Other Essays, p. 75.
  5. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Lincoln Among His Friends: A Sheaf of Intimate Memories, p. 109 (James C. Conkling, “Some of Lincoln’s Associates at the Bar”).
  6. Frederick Trevor Hill, Lincoln the Lawyer, p. 111.
  7. Frederick Trevor Hill, Lincoln the Lawyer, p. 112-113.
  8. Michael Burlingame, editor, An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln, John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays, p. 35 (Conversation with Stephen T. Logan, July 6, 1875).
  9. Michael Burlingame, editor, An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln, John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays, p. 37-38 (Conversation with Stephen T. Logan, July 6, 1875).
  10. Albert A. Woldman, Lawyer Lincoln, p. 45.
  11. Michael Burlingame, editor, An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln, John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays, p. 39 (Conversation with Stephen T. Logan, July 6, 1875).
  12. Allen Thorndike Rice, editor, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln, p. 11.
  13. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, p. 94 (Thomas W. S. Kidd, speech to the Bar Association of Sangamon County, Illinois, April 25, 1903).
  14. Paul Findley, A. Lincoln: The Crucible of Congress, p. 31.
  15. William Lee Miller, Lincoln’s Virtues, p. 178.
  16. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, p. 348 (David Davis interview with William H. Herndon, September 20, 1866).
  17. Emanuel Hertz, The Hidden Lincoln, p. 172 (Letter from William H. Herndon to Jesse W. Weik, February 11, 1887).
  18. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, p. 468 (William H. Herndon interview with Stephen T. Logan, ca. 1865-1866).
  19. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Lincoln Among His Friends: A Sheaf of Intimate Memories, p. 108-109 (James Cook Conkling, speech to Chicago Bar Association, January 12, 1881).
  20. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, p. 467 (William H. Herndon interview with Stephen T. Logan, ca. 1865-1866).
  21. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, p. 467 (William H. Herndon interview with Stephen T. Logan, ca.. 1865-1866).
  22. Willard L. King, Lincoln’s Manager, David Davis, p. 95.
  23. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume II, p. 309-310 (Letter to Orville H. Browning, March 23, 1855).
  24. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume II, p. 313 (Letter to Henry C. Whitney, June 7, 1855).
  25. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, p. 348 (David Davis interview with William H. Herndon, September 20, 1866).
  26. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, p. 468 (William H. Herndon interview with Stephen T. Logan, ca. 1865-1866).
  27. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Lincoln Among His Friends: A Sheaf of Intimate Memories, p. 133 (Charles S. Zane, Sunset Magazine, October 1912).
  28. Abraham Lincoln Quarterly, [Vol. 1, no. 8], p. 437-438.
  29. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Lincoln Among His Friends, p. 109 (James C. Conkling, Chicago Bar Association, January 12, 1881).
  30. I.M. Short, Abraham Lincoln: Early Days in Illinois: Reminiscences of Different Persons who Became Eminent in American History, p. 54.
  31. Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume I, p. 185.