The Abraham Lincoln Exception to the Hearsay Rule

8 Pages Posted: 17 Jun 2019

See all articles by James J. Duane

James J. Duane

Regent University - School of Law

Date Written: June 5, 2018


President Abraham Lincoln once famously said: "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time."

This article explains how this famous aphorism is a surprisingly accurate summary of the logic and the limitations of Federal Rule of Evidence 803(21), the venerable hearsay exception that allows a witness to testify about what he has learned from others concerning the "reputation among a person's associates or in the community concerning the person's character."

The article shows how this remarkable connection is illustrated by both the law applied in federal court today and by the 19th century Illinois courts where Lincoln practiced as a trial lawyer for years. Indeed, it is quite likely that Lincoln's famous remark was based on his understanding of the legal theory behind this hoary hearsay exception as it was developed by the courts of his time.

Keywords: Evidence, Trials, Hearsay, Abraham Lincoln

Suggested Citation

Duane, James, The Abraham Lincoln Exception to the Hearsay Rule (June 5, 2018). American Journal of Trial Advocacy, Vol. 42, No. 143, Fall 2018, Available at SSRN:

James Duane (Contact Author)

Regent University - School of Law ( email )

1000 Regent University Drive
Virginia Beach, VA 23464
United States


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