Pekin County Courthouse Desk

Abraham Lincoln learned the law by borrowing books and training informally with practicing lawyers. He was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1836 and practiced law there for 25 years. Most of his work involved settling debts, contracts, business disputes, divorces, and some criminal cases. An occasional case would take him to a federal court or the Illinois Supreme Court. While his biggest single client was the Illinois Central Railroad, he was just as likely to oppose railroads in the courtroom as represent them.
Many of Lincoln’s cases were in central Illinois’ Fourteenth Circuit—known as the “mud circuit” for its poor roads. Stopping at county seats, the circuit judge and a traveling band of lawyers would quickly handle pending cases and disputes and then move on to the next town. Lincoln loved the circuit, the camaraderie, and the courtroom sparring.
This wooden desk is from the courthouse in Pekin, Illinois. Lincoln and his fellow circuit lawyers shared the work space as they prepared their cases. Most of the desk is not original—only the top rail survives from Lincoln’s time.
Sen. Everett Dirksen of Illinois purchased this desk for 10 dollars. As Republican minority leader, Dirksen played a crucial role in helping to write and pass civil rights legislation of the 1960s. It is likely he did some of this work on the same desk once used by Abraham Lincoln. After the senator’s death, Mrs. Dirksen donated the desk to the Smithsonian in 1970. “It was his pride and joy. . . ,” she wrote. “When he was at home in Pekin, instead of Washington, he would take his work upstairs to his Lincoln desk every evening after supper, rather than working in his downstairs study.”
Gift of Mrs. Everett M. Dirksen, 1970
Currently not on view
Dirksen, Everett
Physical Description
walnut (overall material)
overall: 35 in x 36 1/2 in x 26 1/2 in; 88.9 cm x 92.71 cm x 67.31 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Mrs. Everett M. Dirksen
See more items in
Political History: Political History, General History Collection
Government, Politics, and Reform
Selections from the Abraham Lincoln Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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