His first case at the bar will never be forgotten by ex-Senator John C. S. Blackburn, of Kentucky, for Abraham Lincoln played a conspicuous part in helping the young Kentuckian to win his suit. Lincoln was merely an attorney, waiting for one of his cases to be called, when the incident occurred.
Ex-Senator Blackburn was but 20 years old when he began the practice of law, having graduated at Center College, Danville, Ky. His first case was in the United States court in Chicago, presided over by Justice John McLean, then on the circuit, says the Chicago Times-Herald. The opposing counsel was Isaac N. Arnold, then at the head of the Chicago bar, and subsequently a member of congress and author of the first biography of Lincoln. Young Blackburn had filed a demurrer to Mr. Arnold’s pleadings in the cause, and when the case was reached on the calendar the young Kentuckian was quite nervous at having such a formidable and experienced antagonist, while the dignity of the tribunal and the presence of a large number of eminent lawyers in court served to increase his timidity and embarrassment. In truth, the stripling barrister was willing to have any disposition made of the cause, in order to get rid of the burden of embarrassment and "stage fright." He was ready to adopt any suggestion the opposing counsel should make.
Arnold made an argument in which he criticized the demurrer in a manner that increased the young lawyer’s confusion. However, Blackburn knew that he had to make some kind of an effort. He proceeded with a few remarks, weak and bewildering, and was about to sit down when a tall, homely, loose-jointed man sitting in the bar arose and addressed the court in behalf of the position the young Kentuckian had assumed in a feeble and tangled argument, making the points so clear that the court sustained the demurrer.
Blackburn did not know who his volunteer friend was, and Mr. Arnold got up and sought to rebuke the latter for attempting to interfere in the case, which he had nothing to do with. This volunteer was none other than Abraham Lincoln, and this was the first and last time the Kentuckian ever saw the "rail-splitting President." In replying to Mr. Arnold’s strictures, Mr. Lincoln said he claimed the privilege of giving a young lawyer a helping hand when struggling with his first case, especially when he was pitted against an experienced practitioner.