Abraham Lincoln and the Duty of Zealous Representation: The Matson Slave Case
50 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2015
Date Written: April 23, 2015
“Abraham Lincoln, lawyer for the slave-owner, Robert Matson,” does fit the description of a Great Emancipator. The fact remains that he did work zealously for Matson. This article argues that the Matson case does not contradict Lincoln’s well-known reputation for hatred of slavery. Rather, in that case he acted in the tradition of John Adams who risked his reputation to represent the British soldiers who perpetrated the Boston Massacre.
The article first describes Lincoln’s participation in the Matson case, including an analysis of the habeas corpus hearing that preceded it. It continues with a description of Lincoln’s skills as a trial lawyer. It then discusses the antebellum ethical rule enunciated by Lord Brougham and other leading scholars who said that zealous advocacy was required for even the most odious clients. The article concludes that Lincoln was following this rule and that the rule is still valid today. It maintains that Lincoln was acting on the highest level of professionalism in the sole case where he represented a slave owner.
Keywords: Abraham Lincoln, Matson, advocacy
JEL Classification: K10
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation