Monday, December 24, 2018

William H. Herndon's, Lincoln's Law Partner, 200th Birthday was Christmas day, Tuesday, December 25, 2018.

Born in Greensburg, Kentucky, William H. Herndon was one of many Kentucky-born men who influenced Lincoln’s life. 
William H. Herndon - Lincoln's Law Partner.
While working at Joshua Speed’s store as a clerk in Springfield, Illinois, Herndon would end up getting to know and become close friends with Abraham Lincoln. Herndon, referred to as “Billy” by Lincoln, was invited by Lincoln to practice law in the law office of (Stephen) Logan and Lincoln in 1841. By 1844, Lincoln was ready to start his own practice and asked Herndon, who was nine years younger than Lincoln, to be his law partner.
Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, Springfield, Illinois.
Years later, Herndon explained, “I confess I was surprised when he invited me to become his partner. I was young in the practice and was painfully aware of my want of ability and experience; but when he remarked in his earnest honest way, ‘Billy, I can trust you, if you can trust me.’ I felt relieved and accepted his generous proposal.” Even though Lincoln was the senior partner, he split the fees evenly with Herndon throughout their partnership. They were law partners for sixteen years until Lincoln left for the White House in February of 1861.

On Sunday, February 10, 1861, before Lincoln left, he would pay one final visit to Herndon in their law office. They discussed the good old days and some unfinished legal work. Before Lincoln left, he requested that Herndon keep the sign of Lincoln and Herndon up. “Let it hang there undisturbed. Give our clients to understand that the election of a President makes no change in the firm of Lincoln and Herndon. If I live I’m coming back some time, and then we’ll go right on practicing law as if nothing had ever happened.” And as he left, he grabbed Herndon’s hand and said “good-bye.”

After Lincoln’s death, Herndon continued his law career and wrote a bibliography on Lincoln called "Herndon’s Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life. (in pdf)" In addition to a law partner, Herndon was also an important political ally throughout Lincoln’s public life. Both men were part of the Whig and Republican Parties and both were against the institution of slavery. There was a mutual respect between the two men, and Herndon wrote of Lincoln: “I was with Mr. Lincoln for about twenty-five years, and I can truthfully say I never knew him to do a wrong thing, never knew him to do a mean thing, never knew him to do any little dirty trick.”

Herndon died in Springfield, Illinois on March 18, 1891. He is buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery, the same cemetery in which his friend Abraham Lincoln lies.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

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