Lincoln Legal Briefs

April - June, 1991, Number 18

The Accelerating Document Search

Early this spring the total number of document photocopies added to the project's file cabinets passed 30,000. An intensified summer effort will add another 10-15,000 records.

Described elsewhere is the special initiative currently underway to photocopy all available files in the Illinois State Archives for more than 350 cases that Lincoln and his partners brought before the Illinois Supreme Court. This effort requires the full-time attention of two staff members, and is yielding an average of more than 300 records daily.

Courthouse field staff completed their searches in three more counties, (Morgan, Mason, Cass), and currently are at work in two others (Macoupin, Schuyler). Their painstaking scrutiny in Morgan and Mason counties was rewarded with several important discoveries that were widely noted in local and national media. We previously reported the two depositions taken by Lincoln while he still lived in New Salem. In the Mason County Courthouse in Havana, research associate Michael Bonansinga discovered Lincoln's plea and jury instructions for an unsuccessful case.

Meanwhile workers in the project office carry on related work. In May they sent letters to over 1,500 law firm libraries throughout the United States, inquiring about possible Lincoln-related documents. A steady stream of follow-up correspondence ensures that no possibility is neglected. Several project workers also manage the difficult task of extracting basic data from each document (case name, filing date, court jurisdiction, key persons involved, etc.) and then entering this information into the computer database. With boxes of new document copies arriving regularly, it is vital to process them in timely fashion.

Project field staff continue to enjoy generous cooperation and assistance from county officials. Our thanks go to Circuit Clerk Barb Baker and County Clerk Barbara Gross in Morgan County, Circuit Clerk Wilbur Brownfield in Mason County, and Circuit Clerk Kathy Trenter in Cass County.


Educational Project

A $2,000 grant from the Susan Cook House Education Trust of Springfield, Illinois, will sponsor preparation of several teaching packets designed to introduce high school history students to various Illinois history topics through copies of original legal documents. Professor Lawrence McBride of the History Department at Illinois State University is selecting illustrative records from the National Archives and our own collection. He envisions producing packets of document facsimiles, with accompanying explanation and study questions, on as many as ten subjects, such as women on the Illinois frontier, the rise of communities, and railroad development. Current funding will enable him to compile one demonstration unit, and then test it among peers and school groups. Eventually a comprehensive set of documents will illustrate how Lincoln's law practice touched on every facet of the young state's antebellum history.


Public and Private Support

The project's largest source of support is its share of the annual state appropriation to the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA). Our budget for the new fiscal year (beginning July 1) reflects the gloomy fiscal situation. While the numbers remain imprecise at press time, it is clear that state funding of The Lincoln Legal Papers will be substantially less over the next twelve months than it has been in recent years.

Partly counterbalancing that disappointment is a fortuitous $10,000 award from Encyclopedia Britannica to underwrite a special effort underway this summer to locate and copy all files of the cases Lincoln and his partners brought before the Illinois Supreme Court. A special project crew is carefully inspecting unprocessed case files in storage at the Illinois State Archives. This important work is the product of vital help from lawyer John P. Frank, Lincoln Curator Thomas Schwartz, Illinois Supreme Court Clerk Juleann Hornyak, and Director of the Illinois State Archives John Daly, plus the following members of his staff: Gloria Huston, Chuck Cali, and Dottie Hopkins-Rehan.

As always, private donations provide a crucial margin of difference for the project's momentum, and this is particularly true during a period of reduced state funding. One impressive measure of this generosity is our success in meeting the NEH matching funds challenge. We had two years to raise $25,000 in gifts that would qualify for equal NEH support. The job took only one year, thanks to private contributions and a grant from the Illinois Bar Foundation. Just how vital these funds are is evident from the fact that in 1991-92 most of the expenses related to our courthouse records search will be paid from private rather than public resources. We therefore acknowledge with deep thanks the following contributions during the second quarter of 1991: Brown, Hay & Stephens, Cullom Davis, James P. Giavrene, Patricia Henry, Harvey H. Lutske, Mr. & Mrs. Frederick I. Olson, Steven K. Rogstad, Dorothy B. Richardson, Benjamin Shapell, Frank J. Williams, and Harlington Wood, Jr.


The Lincoln Calendar

Lincoln students and enthusiasts should note an important date on their 1991 calendars. The Sixth Annual Lincoln Colloquium is set for Saturday, October 26, at Sangamon State University in Springfield. Colloquium organizer George Painter has assembled a notable roster of experts on the general theme of "Abraham Lincoln and the Crucible of War." Speakers include James M. McPherson, Richard N. Current, John Y. Simon, Frank J. Williams, and Paul Findley. The registration fee of $20 should be paid to Eastern National Park and Monument Association, and mailed to Lincoln Colloquium, Lincoln Home National Historic Site, 413 S. Eighth Street, Springfield, IL 62701-1905. For further information contact George Painter at the same address or by telephone: (217) 492-4150.

Looking further ahead, plan to attend the nineteenth annual Abraham Lincoln Symposium and the Annual Banquet of the Abraham Lincoln Association, both on Wednesday, February 12, 1992. Further details on these events will be announced in our next issue.


Staff Update

Diane Saarinen joined the project in late winter as secretary and receptionist. A welcome staff addition, she performs a variety of tasks related to project correspondence, file maintenance, financial paperwork, and data entry.

The spring and summer seasons have brought accelerated progress in our search for courthouse records. Joining the experienced team of Bill Beard, Joanne Walroth, Dennis Suttles, and Michael Bonansinga are several assistants who are working on a temporary basis. Former editorial intern Susan Krause and former graduate assistant Michael Duncan have provided important help in Mason, Cass, and Macoupin counties. Research assistants Dan Dixon and John Lupton are copying and sorting the voluminous Illinois Supreme Court case files in the State Archives, and occasionally joining the courthouse teams. John is a Master of Arts candidate in history at Sangamon State University, and will hold the project's graduate assistantship during the 1991-92 academic year.

Research assistant Erin Bishop was rewarded for her valuable data entry and research services with a change in status. Formerly engaged on a contractual basis, she became a salaried employee in early summer.


The Antebellum Illinois Bar

In the course of nearly twenty-five years of legal practice, Abraham Lincoln became a familiar and highly regarded figure of the Illinois bar. His partners, cooperating and opposing attorneys, judges, law clerks, and circuit companions comprised a generous portion of the state's burgeoning legal community. Many of these individuals are well known among students of Lincoln and Illinois political history: John Todd Stuart, Stephen T. Logan, John M. Palmer, David Davis, Ward Hill Lamon, Mason Brayman, and Samuel H. Treat. Others are somewhat obscure, due either to their limited association with Lincoln or to an unremarkable career in Illinois.

While Lincoln and his law practice are the single focus of our project, it is necessary to compile biographical information about as many of his fellow Illinois practitioners as possible. One obvious reason is our continuing discovery of previously unrecognized professional relationships that Lincoln developed with local attorneys in neighboring and distant counties. Our progress to date in nearly a dozen counties' dockets and case files has revealed patterns of collaboration and opposition that will shed important light on the structure and breadth of Lincoln's practice. Further, we must learn about the local practitioners in over 30 counties who for some reason referred their trial-level cases to Lincoln and his partners for appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court. Finally, a detailed knowledge of the entire Illinois bar will provide valuable comparative and contextual insights for any comprehensive and definitive understanding of Lincoln's career.

Project associate Mary Jane MacDonald is employing her considerable bibliographic and research experience to launch the massive task of identifying the antebellum Illinois bar. Using Livingston's Law Register (1850's) as a beginning list, she is methodically combing published and other reference sources for bibliographic and biographical data on several thousand Illinois lawyers of Lincoln's time. This painstaking effort will take much time, but it already is yielding important information. One striking impression from Mary Jane's early work is the complex series of professional, social, political, and familial interrelationships that linked many of these disparate figures. Marriage, partnerships, business ventures, and political affiliations were just some of the ties that bound two and often more attorneys together. If it were feasible to portray graphically all of these linkages, the resulting picture would be a bewildering but revealing three-dimensional portrait of a dynamic professional body in a time of accelerating opportunity.

Tackling the long list by county, Mary Jane already has uncovered useful information about Lincoln's peers in Sangamon County. As this newsletter issue went to press, she had identified over 110 lawyers who lived in Lincoln's home county at some time between 1837 and 1861. In addition to the familiar names, this effort has revealed curious personalities like William S. Hamilton, the restless and adventuresome son of Alexander Hamilton. Although Hamilton's quest for fame and riches prompted him to leave Sangamon County before Lincoln settled there, he managed to gain early notoriety through an unsuccessful effort to deny Springfield the county seat.

When completed, Mary Jane's Illinois bar file will be an invaluable research and reference source for project editors. Even in its undigested form, it will appeal to future scholars as raw material for a fascinating prosopography, or collective biography, of an entire generation of Illinois lawyers.

Copyright, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency
Springfield, Illinois