Lincoln Legal Briefs

January - March, 1991, Number 17

The Courthouse Search

Document collection and accessioning concentrated in Morgan County (Jacksonville) during the winter months, with additional progress in Sangamon and Cass counties. Staff shortage delayed plans to send a second two-person team into the field. The work in neighboring Morgan County yielded one major discovery, a three-page set of two depositions in Lincoln's hand and signed by him. What makes this document particularly interesting is the date (late 1836), when Lincoln was still living in New Salem and just entering legal practice. He prepared the depositions for Robert Davidson, who sued Isham Reavis for fraud and misrepresentation in the sale of farmland in present-day Cass County.

Counterbalancing this steady progress was the identification of seven additional Illinois counties that will require visits, because trial cases there later went to Lincoln on appeal before the Illinois Supreme Court. The latest additions bring to 70 the total of Illinois counties (out of 99 in 1861) whose circuit courts conducted business relating to Lincoln's legal practice. Thus, the 19 counties of the Eighth Judicial Circuit may have been the heart of Lincoln's practice, but it stretched to every corner of the state.

Plans are underway to acquire all remaining file records of Lincoln's 355 or more Illinois Supreme Court cases through a special effort this coming summer. This will add several thousand additional documents to the 21,000 already in hand.

Advisory Board members John Daly, John Frank, James Hickey, Hon. Ben Miller, Tom Schwartz, and John Taylor have been especially helpful in these various efforts. We also appreciate the cooperation of Morgan County Circuit Clerk Barbara Baker and her staff.


New Books

Two spring releases offer an opportunity to expand your personal library of books on Lincoln the lawyer. Out-of-print for many years, John P. Frank's Lincoln as a Lawyer has been reissued with a new foreword. It remains very useful as a balanced study by a gifted legal scholar. A new title is Elizabeth W. Matthews, Lincoln as a Lawyer: An Annotated Bibliography. This 250-page reference work lists and describes over 500 monographs, articles and other writings on the subject.

Interested readers may order these books from the Illinois State Historical Society, Old State Capitol, Springfield, IL 62701: John P. Frank, Lincoln as a Lawyer, $33.88/non-member price (includes sales tax, postage and handling) or $26.00/ISHS member price; Elizabeth W. Matthews, Lincoln as a Lawyer: An Annotated Bibliography, $33.82/non-member price (Includes sales tax, postage and handling) or $25.96/ISHS member price.


Staff Update

Ann Jenkins, secretary, and Leslie Wright, research associate, resigned early in 1991. Those positions will remain unfilled until the state funding picture becomes clearer. We extend thanks and best wishes to Ann and Leslie.

Two new volunteers are helping perform vital research assistance. Mary Jane MacDonald, emeritus professor at Sangamon State University and experienced librarian, is handling several tasks, notably biographical and bibliographic research on several thousand Illinois lawyers who were contemporaries of Lincoln. We welcome her prodigious expertise and energy. Daniel Willenborg, a local college student, has agreed to examine period newspapers on microfilm for references to pending court actions.


Financial Support

Early in March the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) announced renewal of its grant support at the increased level of $32,000 for 1991-92. Mead Data Central, a leading supplier of information products and services, has agreed to provide a valuable on-line legal database at no cost to the project. The service, called LEXIS and NEXIS, will simplify and streamline staff research tasks. This generous support, which Advisory Board member Robert Willard helped arrange, is renewable on an annual basis.

Individual donations were unusually substantial during the winter quarter. Our thanks to: Abraham Lincoln Book Shop, Charles A. Bane, William D. Beard, David H. Belkin, Donald G. Benham, Joseph L. Block, Willard Bunn III , John R. Chapin, George M. Craig, Donald M. Cravens, Max and Donna Daniels, Duane Diedrick, David H. Donald, Mrs. Lee Ensel, J. Robert Flandrick, John P. Frank, Robert S. French, Henry C. Friend, William G. Fuller, W. Joseph Gibbs, Arthur G. Hailand Jr. , Shelby Harbison, Janine D. Harris, Richard Hart, Hon. James D. Heiple, Frederick B. Hoffmann, Stanley N. Katz, Channing Kury, Harvey E. Lemmen, Lincoln Memorial University, Harold B. MacMahon, Mr. and Mrs. Daniel McCalmont, Dannie Melson, Janet Meyer, Hon. Richard Mills, Ralph G. Newman, Mr. & Mrs. Paul Olsen, Donald T. Phillips II, Jerome D. Quinn, Mark O. Roberts, Josephine B. Saner, Sally Schanbacher, John Schirding, Barry and Louise Taper, Frank J. Williams, and Mrs. Harold Wright.

A special solicitation of Springfield law firms resulted in three important gifts, notably a major pledge from Brown, Hay & Stephens, which was founded in 1828 by Lincoln's first partner, John Todd Stuart.

Special recognition of generous and sustained support comes in the form of two honorary designations, "Partner" and "Senior Partner," for cumulative support of $1,500 and $5,000 respectively. On February 12 the first honorees were announced: John B. Hannum (Senior Partner); Donald Funk, Richard Hart, Sally Schanbacher, and Frank Williams (Partners). Since then three additional Partners have joined the list: Ralph Newman, Barry and Louise Taper, and Brown, Hay & Stephens. We are grateful for these extraordinary gestures of support.


Lincoln, Herndon, and Divorce

When Eliza K. Thorpe first filed her bill for a divorce from her husband Moses, her attorneys, Abraham Lincoln of Springfield and Charles Emerson of Decatur, may have assumed this would be another routine chancery lawsuit. They may have even felt the same at the conclusion of their work on the case. But to the Lincoln Legal Papers staff, the case of Thorpe v. Thorpe provides some important evidence of how Lincoln worked with his partner, William H. Herndon. The documents from the case also tell a fascinating story about family life in antebellum Illinois.

The Thorpes lived in Piatt County, where the case was filed. Eliza Thorpe's bill for divorce has not been located yet, so the original charges against her husband cannot be verified. The depositions of Moses Thorpe's witnesses, however, suggest that Eliza alleged that her husband failed to supply her with necessary provisions. In his answer, Moses denied all of her charges. He claimed further that Eliza repeatedly used "foul and abusive Language" towards him, despite his unvarying kindness to her. Moses said he was more inclined to do this because he had been married previously and, "through the influence of Enemies" his first wife had been induced to leave him.

But Eliza, his second wife, continued to mistreat him over time. Moses believed she behaved in this way in order to establish grounds for a divorce. In August of 1851, Eliza began to leave home against his will and "frequent bad company." She would remain overnight in other houses, and she would stop men on the road and ask them for whiskey. After returning home from an all-night "frolic," she would frequently complain of illness and ask that a doctor be called. This Moses would not do, because he believed "nothing was the Matter but fatigue from loosing Rest, and running from house to house in the neighborhood and refusing to cook and provide for himself and hands."

About September 1, Eliza informed Moses that she had been corresponding with other men, and she refused to share his bed from that time. Moses also alleged that both before and after leaving him, Eliza had said publicly that she would "Make a pile of Money out of him; Clearly Showing her incinserity in becoming his wife." Finally, Moses claimed that at the time of their marriage, Eliza held $759.00 worth of farm livestock and a share in a Madison County, Indiana, farm that she had inherited from her first husband. All of this property she shared only with the children of her first marriage.

Lincoln then wrote and filed Eliza's replication. The Piatt County Circuit Court transcript reveals that Moses was then ordered to pay the plaintiff $50.00 in two installments for support and to pay the costs of the suit. At the October 1852 term, Moses stated that the judge (probably David Davis) was prejudiced against him, and he applied for a change of venue, which was granted. The case was moved to Menard County for trial.

Lincoln and Emerson then ceased to figure in the case, probably because both had too many other cases on the eighth circuit. Eliza Thorpe's lawsuit was turned over to Lincoln's partner Herndon to prosecute. Herndon had been regularly representing the firm at the Menard County sessions since it was transferred to the first judicial circuit in 1847. In that way the partners could maximize their caseload by attending two circuits whose sessions met concurrently. This case thus provides evidence that Lincoln and Herndon did collaborate on selected cases. In the Menard County docket books, Henry B. Evans of Fulton County was also listed as one of Eliza's attorneys, but most of the surviving documents were written by Herndon.

At the May 1853 term, Eliza Thorpe filed an amended bill. She charged that Moses had committed adultery with Emily Cox the previous February. Cox had written to Eliza Thorpe, and this letter was admitted into evidence in the divorce suit. Briefly, Cox charged that Moses Thorpe had represented himself to her as a widower. On the second occasion of their meeting, he stayed with her about a month, and the two made plans to marry. Emily was apparently much younger than Moses, and he asked her to keep the relationship secret until the wedding so that his grown children would not hinder their plans. After Moses left, however, Cox was informed by a third party that Thorpe was married, but his wife had filed for divorce. As a result, she wrote to Eliza Thorpe, explaining the circumstances.

No answer of Moses Thorpe to this charge has been located. The Menard County docket for the May 1853 term indicates that Moses moved to strike the cause, but Eliza filed a cross motion to amend the certificate of the Piatt County circuit clerk. In the October 1853 term, the cause was stricken from the docket for want of prosecution. From these bare facts it is impossible to determine at this time what caused Eliza Thorpe to drop her suit. Perhaps the search for further Lincoln legal documents will reveal more about this interesting case.

Copyright, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency
Springfield, Illinois