2 credits, Intensive writing credit
(American Legal History, Special Topics)
Including Barack Obama, our current president, twenty -six men who served as President of the
United States have been lawyers (can you name them?). That means that nearly one-third of the
men who served in the White House were lawyers. The American Legal History Special Topics
Seminar will look at how the vocation of lawyering may have had an impact on the highest office
in the land and the way the lawyers who served in that office had an impact on our country's
history. How well did lawyers do in the role of president? Did their legal training have an
observable impact on the way they performed in office? Can we credit the legal profession with
our country's success? We will also look at the also-rans _ candidates who lost the
presidential prize; how many of them were lawyers? In particular, we will look at the
quintessential lawyer president: Abraham Lincoln. Self taught but famously effective in court,
how much of his reputation as a lawyer is myth? Who was the better lawyer: Lincoln or his 1861
presidential (and 1858 senatorial) opponent Stephen Douglas? How did Lincoln's lawyer's
perspective impact his defense of the Union and his views on slave emancipation?
I am assigning two general books on the backgrounds and biographies of the presidents and the losing presidential candidates as an introduction to the topic. We will also read a biography of Abraham Lincoln as lawyer. Class discussions for the first several weeks will focus on these books. We will also discuss the process of researching and writing a seminar paper and its applicability to the practice of law. Students will research and write a seminar paper on one lawyer-president or one of the lawyer-presidential candidates who failed to win the office. They will also give a class presentation about their topic.