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Book focuses on Lincoln's lawyer years

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012 11:00 a.m. CDT
This Sept. 25, 2012 photo shows Guy Fraker, an attorney in Bloomington, with his new book "Lincoln's Ladder to the Presidency." The book is about Abraham Lincoln's years as a circuit-riding lawyer in Central Illinois. (AP Photo/The Pantagraph, Steve Smedley)

BLOOMINGTON (AP) — In a roundabout way, Central Illinois saved the United States.

That's among the conclusions Bloomington attorney Guy Fraker reached in researching his book, "Lincoln's Ladder to the Presidency," about Abraham Lincoln's years as a circuit-riding lawyer in Central Illinois.

The book goes on sale next month.

"If Lincoln had not come from Central Illinois and the circuit, he would not have been nominated (for president). ... I really believe Central Illinois made Abraham Lincoln president and I believe Abraham Lincoln is the only man who could have saved the country," Fraker said.

A lot has been written about Lincoln's early log cabin days, the Lincoln-Douglas debates and his presidency. Less detailed were references to his 23-year legal career. That intrigued Fraker.

"I always was proud of the fact that I practiced law in a lot of the counties where Lincoln practiced," he said.

Former Illinois Wesleyan University President Minor Myers Jr. arranged for Fraker to meet noted Lincoln historian Michael Burlingame in 2001. Burlingham encouraged him and eased Fraker's concerns about whether it was "foolish" to write such a book when he was neither a writer nor a historian.

"One reason the book hasn't been written before is because so much of it rests in the towns of the circuit. You have to go to the towns to get the stories," Fraker said.

In Lincoln's day, the 8th Circuit stretched from the Illinois River to the Indiana border. Lawyers and judges, such as Judge David Davis of Bloomington, would ride together from county seat to county seat, often staying in the same hotel, getting to know each other well.

"The people who elected him president ... were the lawyers in the circuit, led by David Davis at the convention in Chicago in 1860," Fraker said.

In addition to Davis, other key players in Lincoln's rise up the ladder were also from McLean County and included Jesse Fell, Leonard Swett, Asahel Gridley and Ward Hill Lamon, he said.

In writing the book, Fraker said he was surprised by how "intentional" Lincoln was.

"From the very beginning, when he came to Decatur in 1830, from that day forward, he was always reaching and aspiring. . He was a humble man, but always aspiring," Fraker said.

Lincoln was also a man who didn't make enemies or, as Fraker said, quoting Lincoln's friend and fellow attorney Swett, "He was a very poor hater."

Being a "very poor hater" contributed to another quality Fraker learned about in his research: "his incredible ability to network and to meet the right people."

Fraker was surprised by "how mundane Lincoln's cases were. Half of his cases were collection cases."

But he was also pleasantly surprised that "everything we heard about his talent, integrity and vision, it turns out, it's all true. ... He belongs on that pedestal."

There were some surprises in writing the book, too.

"I totally underestimated the difficulty in writing a book," Fraker said. He thanked the editors at SIU Press who "put up with me" and helped him write a better book.

The actual writing began with a series Fraker wrote for The Pantagraph in 2003, called "Our Link to Lincoln." He had talked to then-publisher Henry Bird about his idea and Bird embraced it. Fraker said it gave him experience with meeting writing deadlines and dealing with editors.

"If Henry had said 'no,'... I'm not sure the book would've been written," he said.


Online: http://bit.ly/VHvt73

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