Lincoln Legal Briefs

July - September, 1990, Number 15

The Search Continues: Scott and Pike Circuit Courts

Apparently Lincoln never attended Scott Circuit Court in Winchester and made only two appearances in Pittsfield. A careful examination of docket books and case files has revealed no new Lincoln cases. At one point in Winchester, researchers uncovered the name Lincoln, but the attorney in question was William S. Lincoln, who soon left Illinois for the Minnesota territory. However, we were successful in finding the trial level material for four cases, two from each county, that Lincoln argued on appeal in the Illinois Supreme Court. Though our search of the Scott and Pike county records failed to match the "mother lode" of Lincoln legal documents found in Menard County, they represent a valuable source in American legal history. Both repositories have essentially complete records of the nineteenth-century criminal, common, chancery, and probate actions. These materials, and those in the other counties, tell the story of the settlement and development of Illinois. Tales of murder, larceny, adultery, and divorce abound, as do suits involving estate settlements, land transactions, investment, schemes gone awry, the ever present debt collections, and speculators suing to force payment on stock subscriptions for railroads which were never built. The court records portray the heroes and villains of a growing state and nation. And, most important, they enable historians to test the validity of Lincoln's "right to rise" political philosophy. Law and politics were not just two separate professions practiced by Lincoln. They were intricately connected. In Lincoln's mind, one could not survive without the other. All men and women were to have an equal chance to rise in society as far as their talents and ambitions allowed. This upward social mobility would be buttressed by a system of law that was living, active, and always changing in order that justice keep pace with society. As Lincoln said regarding the role of law in a republican society: "Legislation and adjudication must follow, and conform to, the progress of society."

The nineteenth-century court records in all Illinois counties tell a fascinating story about the growth of a nation. More of that story needs to be told.


Mounting Interest

Evidence grows of a renewed interest in Lincoln's law practice among scholars, archivists, and publishers. Among the latest indications is a recent seminar, "Lincoln's Legal Legacy," sponsored by the National Archives--Great Lakes Region. Participants, who were selected from a national pool of applicants, had a week-long intensive exposure to federal court records in Chicago and various downstate Illinois Lincoln sites. The seminar was conceived and administered by Director Peter Bunce and his colleagues, Shirley Burton and Kellee Green, in commemoration of the bicentennial of the federal court system. Seminar speakers included Mark E. Neely, Jr., Cullom Davis, and Lawrence McBride.

Forthcoming publications include a scheduled reprinting of John P. Frank, Lincoln as a Lawyer. This slender but perceptive study originally appeared in 1961 under the University of Illinois Press imprint. Also, early in 1991 Southern Illinois University Press will release a new work, Lincoln as a Lawyer: An Annotated Bibliography. Compiler and author of this 250 page work is Elizabeth Matthews, Special Projects and Preservation Librarian and Professor, Southern Illinois University School of Law Library.


Forthcoming Events

The fifth annual Lincoln Colloquium will bring distinguished specialists to Springfield on Saturday, October 20, for an afternoon of papers and dialogue. Speakers include Edwin C. Bearss, William E. Gienapp, Robert W. Johannsen, Harold Holzer, and Mark E. Neely, Jr. The conference will be at Sangamon State University, and is jointly sponsored by the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Eastern National Park and Monument Association, Sangamon County Historical Society, and Lincoln Group of Illinois. For further information and registration materials contact George Painter at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, 413 South Eighth Street, Springfield, Illinois 62701-1905 (telephone 217/492-4150).

The annual Illinois History Symposium will feature several Lincoln sessions when it convenes in Springfield on November 30 through December 1. Judge Harlington Wood will preside when William Beard and Joanne Walroth present papers on different aspects of Lincoln the lawyer, followed by comments from Arthur McEvoy of Northwestern University. Cullom Davis will comment on three papers dealing with sources and writings on Lincoln. Several other speakers will also touch on Lincoln. For further information contact Noreen O'Brien-Davis at the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.


Donors to the Project

Since the last newsletter, the following donors have provided financial support which qualifies for matching support from NEH: Joseph Michael Ayd, Herman J. Belz, John R. Chapin, Richard A. Chrisman, Martha M. Cox, Robert W. Dickerman, Mr. & Mrs. Michael Lennon, Martha G. Luthringer, Mr. & Mrs. Helen Mallow, Jeremiah Marsh, Samuel A. Perroni, Gary R. Planck, Dorothy B. Richardson, Louise Taper, Richard W. Tereba, Mr. & Mrs. Roger Yarbrough.


Staff Update

In September we welcomed former volunteer Susan Krause to the project in a new capacity. Susan is completing the M.A. requirements in Public History at Sangamon State University this semester. Instead of writing a traditional master's thesis, she is doing an internship in historical editing under the direction of Lincoln Legal Papers staff. She will research, transcribe, and edit the documents in two similar Lincoln cases that reached the Illinois Supreme Court. Adams v. County of Logan and Harris v. Shaw et al., a Tazewell County case, both involved the politically sensitive issue of relocating a county seat.


Illinois Bar Foundation Grant

In July the Illinois Bar Foundation approved a grant of $9,000 to support current efforts to locate circuit court records in 30 Illinois counties. This award is the largest IBF grant in 1990, and the second time it has supported project work. Several years ago the Foundation provided funds for some early microfilm and photocopy work.

IBF President Robert E. Jones commented, "We know much about Lincoln the political figure, but his outstanding career as a lawyer is less well documented. The Foundation is proud to play a part in bringing more insight to this historic information for the benefit of both the public and history scholars." Project Advisory Board president John Chapin accepted this important donation from IBF secretary Howard Braverman at a ceremony in August.


The Project Database

With nearly 20,000 documents already in hand, and five times that many expected by 1992, project staff require a complex yet efficient system of document control and information retrieval. Readers may be interested in an overview of the system we have developed and recently refined.

Every document that we acquire contains important factual information that we need to be able to retrieve, combine with other data, and otherwise manipulate for research and reference purposes. To achieve this, we use a relational database to logically categorize document data through a series of linked computer files. The system connects document information with the case to which it relates. Another file, roster, names the plaintiffs, defendants, attorneys, and other court officials for each case. A subject file identifies the legal topic(s) involved in each case, from a coded master list of such topics. The place file gives more information as to the location or area in which the case took place. A supplementary names file lists all other persons named in a document, or who were involved with it in some way (such as author or signer).

Documents that are not related to a case, but rather to Lincoln's office practice, are identified as Non-Litigation, and are handled in a manner similar to case files.

The following diagram reveals the kinds of information in each of these seven separate computer files, and how they are linked together for retrieval and research purposes. With an estimated total of 4,000 cases and 100,000 documents, this database will both store and yield an enormous amount of information.

Currently project staff are accessioning some 10,000 document copies from Menard County Circuit Court. This effort includes entering all pertinent document, case, roster, subject, place, and names information for each of the documents. It is painstaking but vital work.

Copyright, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency
Springfield, Illinois