In all the elements that constitute the great lawyer,
he had few equals. He was great both at nisi prius and before an
appellate tribunal. He seized the strong points of a cause, and
presented them with clearness and great compactness. His mind was
logical and direct, and he did not indulge in extraneous discussion.
Generalities and platitudes had no charms for him. An unfailing vein of
humor never deserted him; and he was always able to chain the attention
of court and jury, when the cause was the most uninteresting, by the
appropriateness of his anecdotes.
His power of comparison was large, and he rarely
failed in a legal discussion to use that mode of reasoning. The
framework of his mental and moral being was honesty, and a wrong cause
was poorly defended by him. The ability which some eminent lawyers
possess, of explaining away the bad points of a cause by ingenious
sophistry, was denied him. In order to bring into full activity his
great powers, it was necessary that he should be convinced of the right
and justice of the matter which he advocated. When so convinced, whether
the cause was great or small, he was usually successful. He read
lawbooks but little, except when the cause in hand made it necessary;
yet he was usually self-reliant, depending on his own resources, and
rarely consulting his brother lawyers, either on the management of his
case or on the legal questions involved.
To his honor be it said, that he never took from a
client, even when the cause was gained, more than he thought the service
was worth and the client could reasonably afford to pay. The people
where he practiced law were not rich, and his charges were always
His presence on the circuit was watched for with
interest, and never failed to produce joy and hilarity. When casually
absent, the spirits of both bar and people were depressed. He was not
fond of controversy, and would compromise a lawsuit whenever
DAVID DAVIS IN SPEECH GIVEN AT INDIANAPOLIS,
QUOTED IN WARD H. LAMON, The Life of Abraham Lincoln.