A Brief History of Lincoln’s Eighth Judicial Circuit

The Birth of Lincoln the Lawyer       Lincoln Practicing the Law       Lincoln the Lawyer’s Political Life

Abraham Lincoln was away from Springfield riding the Eighth Judicial Circuit for nearly six months of the year, three months each spring and three months each fall. Lincoln had traveled the circuit to a lesser degree before serving in the US Congress, but rededicated himself to the full ride of the circuit following his return in March of 1849. By 1849, this circuit had fourteen counties in central Illinois, and Lincoln was the only attorney, besides the state‘s attorney and the judge, who traveled the circuit in its entirety with any consistency.

Click here to see the stops on the circuit.

At its peak from 1841 to 1847, the Eighth Judicial Circuit of Illinois consisted of fifteen counties and as roads were incredibly difficult to travel during rainy weather, itinerant court members traveled on horseback or by horse and buggy. Additionally, while in a county seat, they stayed at local taverns, ate at common tables, and shared beds, sometimes staying in the homes of friends and associates. When travel was particularly hazardous or lengthy, the group stayed at rural farmhouses along the way. By the end of the 1850s, railroads had become a popular mode of transportation, and Lincoln was able to travel to each of the county seats by rail. Similarly, many county seats along rail lines had grown in population and had hotels in which traveling lawyers and judges stayed.

From this, there developed a dynamic interaction between the circuit itself and the communities in which these legal proceedings and peripheral events between great men played out. Stories, artifacts, and connections abound between Abraham Lincoln, the great men of the Eighth Judicial Circuit, and the communities in which this magnificent history was staged.

“From Prelude to the Presidency”

Click here to view Maps of the 8th Judicial Circuit.