Most presidents of the United States were lawyers; a fact not all citizens know. We will spotlight three of them and focus on their career in law.
Born in 1743 as the third of ten children, Thomas Jefferson's boyhood school was one run by a local Presbyterian minister in the country wilderness of Virginia. He studied Latin, Greek, and French as well as history, science, and classic literature. At sixteen, Jefferson entered the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, where he met the first law professor in America: George Wythe. Jefferson studied under Wythe who became his mentor and a later signer of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson was introduced to British philosophers who would later influence his contribution to our nation's founding documents.
After college, Jefferson entered the bar of the General Court of colonial Virginia. This was a high-ranked position that served social elites. Specializing in land cases, his new position prompted travel to various Virginia districts. When he was in Shadwell, a fire destroyed his library, legal papers, and notes. Seeking consolation in his mentor George Wythe, he continued on, handling more than 900 matters in 9 years. His clients included common farmers and indentured servants as well as the most affluent of colonial plantation owners. In 1770 he fought for the freedom of a mixed-race man who had been illegally enslaved.
His professional attorney experience ushered him into the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1769; the first American legislature of representatives. Jefferson's fight for slavery reform early in his career waned as he inherited 150 slaves from his father. In 1775, his career at the House of Burgesses ended and his position in the Second Continental Congress began. A year later, he drafted the Declaration of Independence.
The famous 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809 in a one-room log cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky. Seven years later, his family moved to Perry County, Indiana (modern day Spencer County). Young Lincoln disliked the hard labor of frontier life. He was considered lazy because he spent his time reading and writing. With scattered formal education, Lincoln was largely self-educated. In 1830, his family moved to Macon County, Illinois, after a milk sickness scare. Raised mostly in slave-free states, Lincoln's first real exposure to slavery came when he was a teenager, hired to take a flatboat to New Orleans.
In 1832, Lincoln and a partner bought and managed a general store in New Salem, Illinois. He gained local popularity as a businessman and began his first political campaign for the Illinois General Assembly. Lacking an education, powerful contacts, and money, he lost the race. After serving briefly as a postmaster, Lincoln decided to try his hand at a legal profession. After teaching himself law, Lincoln won an election to the Illinois House of Representatives where he served four terms. He was admitted to the bar in 1836 and moved to Springfield, Illinois.
Lincoln always had a partner while practicing law. He gained a reputation and courtroom advantage for his ability to simplify cases. He reduced complex cases to basic matters to highlight the real issues. He was a talented orator who broke cases down in logical order. He was famous for his ability to observe and influence juries with his argumentation style.
The scope of Lincoln's practice was wide as he generally accepted any case, whether civil or criminal. He defended farmers arguing over cows as well as corporate railroad owners. Most of his cases related to broken contracts and debt repayment. He engaged in over 5,000 disputes.
Lincoln was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1846 for two years, after which he returned to Illinois to practice law. In 1854 he unsuccessfully tried for the U.S. Senate. His bid for presidency in 1860, however, proved successful.
Richard Nixon was born in 1913 in Yorba Linda, California. The next year, WWI broke out. He attended Whittier High School at the initiation of the Great Depression. He entered Whittier College in 1930, and gained entrance to Duke University's Law School four years later. After graduating, he returned to California and was admitted to the bar, handling litigation for petroleum companies at Wingert and Bewley. He also drafted will and testaments but avoided divorce cases. Opening up his own branch in 1938, he became a full partner of Wigert and Bewley. In 1940, WWII broke out, and the next year saw Nixon's marriage to Thelma Catherine.
In the year after Pearl Harbor's attack, Nixon moved to Washington D.C. to join the Office of Price Administration. He later became Navy Lieutenant, serving four years and being discharged in 1946. The same year he was elected as a Representative in Congress, then later a Senator. He was elected Vice-President under Eisenhower in 1952 and served two terms. In 1963, he returned to law practice in a move to New York City. In 1966, he argued a case before the Supreme Court, and two years later was elected the 37th President of the United States.
Today, Barack Obama is the 44th President and the 25th lawyer to become president. This being said, many past leaders had little training or education in any field. Our country's history is full of pauper-to-prince stories.