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Lincoln's Ladder to the Presidency

Lincoln's Ladder to the Presidency

The Eighth Judicial Circuit

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Guy C. Fraker, with a foreword by Michael Burlingame


Hardcover (Other formats: E-book)
356 pages, 6 x 9, 34 illustrations


Additional Materials

About the Book

Univeristy Press Books for Public and Secondary Schools 2013 edition
Superior Achievement by the Illinois State Historical Society, 2013

Throughout his twenty-three-year legal career, Abraham Lincoln spent nearly as much time on the road as an attorney for the Eighth Judicial Circuit as he did in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois. Yet most historians gloss over the time and instead have Lincoln emerge fully formed as a skillful politician in 1858. In this innovative volume, Guy C. Fraker provides the first-ever study of Lincoln’s professional and personal home away from home and demonstrates how the Eighth Judicial Circuit and its people propelled Lincoln to the presidency. 

Each spring and fall, Lincoln traveled to as many as fourteen county seats in the Eighth Judicial Circuit to appear in consecutive court sessions over a ten- to twelve-week period.  Fraker describes the people and counties that Lincoln encountered, discusses key cases Lincoln handled, and introduces the important friends he made, friends who eventually formed the team that executed Lincoln’s nomination strategy at the Chicago Republican Convention in 1860 and won him the presidential nomination.  

As Fraker shows, the Eighth Judicial Circuit provided the perfect setting for the growth and ascension of Lincoln.  A complete portrait of the sixteenth president depends on a full understanding of his experience on the circuit, and Lincoln’s Ladder to the Presidency provides that understanding as well as a fresh perspective on the much-studied figure, thus deepening our understanding of the roots of his political influence and acumen.


Guy C. Fraker, an attorney in Bloomington, Illinois, has written extensively and lectures frequently on the Eighth Circuit.  He was the consultant on the award-winning PBS documentary, “Lincoln, Prelude to the Presidency,” and co-curated “Prologue to the Presidency: Abraham Lincoln on the Illinois Eighth Judicial Circuit,” a traveling exhibit also on permanent display at the David Davis Mansion, a state historic site in Bloomington.  He served as an advisor to the National Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.  A graduate of the University of Illinois College of Law, he is a past president of the McLean County Bar Association.


“Guy Fraker’s superb book about Abraham Lincoln and the Illinois Eighth Judicial Circuit provides an effective lesson on the importance of political networking. For more than twenty years, Mr. Lincoln rode the Circuit with other lawyers and judges. These were smart, influential and ambitious men. Lincoln made them his friends and, in time, they would help Mr. Lincoln climb the ladder to the presidency. Fraker’s book is great history but it is also an excellent primer for aspiring politicians.”—Jim Edgar, Illinois governor, 1991–1999

“It is obvious that attorney Guy Fraker has spent a lifetime examining Abraham Lincoln’s extensive legal practice on the Eighth Judicial Circuit. The results are an edifying, microscopic view of Lincoln the man, politician, and lawyer. If you want to understand why and how President Lincoln became the ‘lawyer in the White House,’ read this book. If you want to know how Lincoln was able to maintain the support of the people, read this book. And if you wish to see and feel Lincoln’s evolution to greatness, enjoy this book. No one has described the tedium of the Lincoln law practice as well as the author; his friends, enemies and associates, as well as the people they represented are all here.”—Frank J. Williams, retired chief justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court and founding chair of The Lincoln Forum

“Guy Fraker’s Lincoln’s Ladder to the Presidency is a refreshing and revisioning portrait of Lincoln the Illinois lawyer. As a central Illinois lawyer himself, Fraker knows the Eighth Judicial Circuit better than anyone. As a Lincoln scholar, he has an eye for the revealing legal story and an ear for the interplay of Lincoln’s legal and political ideas and language.”—Ronald C. White Jr., author of A. Lincoln: A Biography

“Guy Fraker traverses the ‘Lincoln Country’ of central Illinois in this richly detailed account of Abraham Lincoln’s life on the Eighth Judicial Circuit. Here he introduces the lawyers with whom Lincoln traveled or met on the circuit for over twenty years during his ever-growing practice of law, a pursuit that simultaneously gave him a network of friends who supported his political career. Drawing together both contemporary and reminiscent sources, and bringing a sense of place to each locale on the circuit, Fraker provides a comprehensive view of Lincoln’s life in law and politics on the Illinois prairie.”—John Hoffmann, Illinois History and Lincoln Collections, University of Illinois Library at Urbana-Champaign 

“Fraker has an excellent feel for the intricacies related to practicing law in Lincoln’s day, and a thorough understanding of the Eighth Circuit’s geography. Perhaps the most enjoyable and informative chapters of his book are those in which Fraker offers a detailed, almost step-by-step journey through the various towns and courthouses of the Eighth Circuit.”—Brian Dirck, Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association
“Packed full of fascinating history, this book is for those interested in Illinois, in Lincoln or in the art of making friends and influencing people, all the way to the Presidency of the United States of America.”—Larry Dunphy, Books on First
“Fraker, himself a Bloomington attorney, conveys a first-hand familiarity with the terrain of the Eighth Circuit. His excellent maps and rare old photos add to the distinction of this volume.”—Daniel W. Crofts, Presidential Studies Quarterly
“Guy C. Fraker’s fine, detailed study of Lincoln’s legal career in Lincoln’s Ladder to the Presidency: The Eighth Judicial Circuit reveals that Lincoln, a highly respected trial lawyer, actively assumed the role of peacemaker, mediator and settlor of lawsuits as the vagaries of his caseload demanded.”— Associate Justice Dennis J. Curran, Massachusetts Superior Court, and Emma Kingdon, Massachusetts Dispute Resolution Services