Did Abraham Lincoln Engage In The Unauthorized Practice Of Law?

I recently learned that I’m supposedly related to a certain Joshua Short, late of Sangamon County, Illinois.  I don’t know much about Mr. Short other than he was a farmer who couldn’t write his own name and wasn’t feeling very well in the summer of 1836.  Infirmity has a way of turning one’s thoughts to mortality.  And so it seems to have been with Mr. Short.  Being illiterate, he asked a young man in the neighborhood to write up a will.  The young man’s name?  Abraham Lincoln.  Other than the witness’ signature and my relations’ mark, the will is entirely in Mr. Lincoln’s hand.

The problem is that the will was signed (with Mr. Short’s X) on August 22, 1836.  It turns out, however, that Mr. Lincoln wasn’t admitted to the bar until September 9, 1836, some 17 days later.  Although will recites that Mr. Short is “infirm in body”, both he and Mr. Lincoln could have waited.  It turns out that Mr. Short didn’t pass away until 1841.


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