Lincoln Legal Briefs

October-December, 1991, Number 20

The Lincoln Calendar

As always, February 12 will be a busy day for Lincoln students, especially those who can get to Springfield, Illinois. That morning the Lincoln Home National Historic Site will sponsor addresses by Richard N. Current and Paul H. Verduin in its Lincoln Heritage Lecture series. At 1:30 p.m. the Abraham Lincoln Association's 19th annual symposium will feature papers by Gabor S. Boritt and Harold Holzer on the general theme, "The Lincoln Image in Popular Culture." Commentary will be by Walter L. Arnstein and Olivia Mahoney. That evening the Honorable Jack Kemp will address the association's annual banquet.

From February 7 to 12 there will be reprise performances in Jacksonville, Illinois of "The Shadow of Giants," a documentary play about Lincoln's law practice and notably his role in a famous Morgan County trial, Selby v. Dunlap. For ticket information call (217) 243-5678.

The Lincoln Group of Florida will hold its eighth annual meeting in Orlando on February 15. Banquet speaker is Linda Levitt Turner. That afternoon, the LGF's Basler Memorial Lincoln Symposium will feature presentations by Delbert Allen ("A Visit with Abe Lincoln") and Dan W. Bannister ("Lincoln's Illinois Supreme Court Practice").

Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois will sponsor a conference, "Remembering Lincoln," on April 11. Featured speakers on a variety of topics include Thomas Schwartz, Frank Williams, and Cullom Davis. To register, contact Dean Hammer, Department of Political Science, Augustana College, Rock Island, IL, 61201 (309) 794-7676.

The annual spring meeting of the Lincoln Fellowship of Wisconsin will take place in Milwaukee on April 12. Cullom Davis will speak on "Abraham Lincoln and the Golden Age of American Law." For further information write Steven K. Rogstad, 1923 Grange Avenue, Racine, WI, 53403-2328.


Staff News

Assistant Editor Joanne Walroth resigned in November to move to Des Moines, Iowa, where she will marry Will Page and continue her career in historical research, editing, and teaching. A staff mainstay for two years, she leaves many friends who wish her well.

Assistant Editor William Beard commented on two Lincoln papers at the Illinois History Symposium, December 6. His article, "Procuring Bread: A New Lincoln Survey," appeared in the Winter 1991 issue of The Lincoln Newsletter. Research Associate Dennis Suttles managed to juggle field work, an address on Lincoln before the Pike County Historical Society, and the birth of his and Bonnie's third child.

Assistant Director Martha Benner divided her time during the fall between intensive research on CD-ROM publishing technology and periodic stints with the county courthouse field staff. The former task has involved careful review of the technical literature and extensive consultation with electronic publication specialists.

Director Cullom Davis published an article on "Abraham Lincoln and the Medical Profession," and also delivered the Sydney Berger Commemorative Lecture in October at the University of Southern Indiana, in Evansville. In November he addressed a conference at Arizona State University in Tempe on history and litigation.


A New Book

Available in February will be Lincoln and the Common Law, by project associate Dan W. Bannister. This book is a byproduct of Dan's extensive volunteer service in drafting briefs of more than 300 Lincoln-related Illinois Supreme Court cases. It is a paperback edition, and sells for $12.95. To order or obtain further information, write Human Services Press, Box 2423, Springfield, IL, 62705.


The Financial Picture

The project's principal source of funds is state appropriations, so the deteriorating fiscal situation in Illinois is a source of great concern to us. This year our state funding declined by 15%, and there could be further mid-year cuts soon. We already know that next year's support will shrink by another 11%. In practical terms this reduces our field staff by nearly one-third, and thus prolongs our document search by the same percentage.

The only short-term recourse is to at least partly compensate for the shortfall through increased grant and private support. Awaiting action is our request to the National Historical Publications and Records Commission for renewed funding at a higher level. We also are preparing a major editorial stage proposal for submission to the National Endowment for the Humanities.

During the final quarter of 1991 we received a generous $10,000 grant from the Shelby C. Davis Foundation. In addition, the following individuals sent contributions: Mr. and Mrs. William J. Alley, Joseph M. Ayd, Judith H. Bartholf, Molly M. Becker, Willard Bunn, Jr., Willard Bunn, III , Mr. and Mrs. Glenn F. Burton, Sheldon S. Cohen, George M. Craig, Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Coulter, Mr. and Mrs. Richard A. Chrisman, Linda S. Culver, Hon. John A. Davidson, Cullom Davis, Mr. and Mrs. Robert W. Dickerman, Mrs. John B. Dixon, Mr. and Mrs. David Herbert Donald, Richard W. Dyke, Robert S. French, Mr. and Mrs. Donald H. Funk, Harold Gross, Mr. and Mrs. William Hanchett, Hart & Southworth Law Firm, James T. Hickey, Clifford R. Hope, Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Robert W. Johannsen, Mr. and Mrs. Stanley N. Katz, Hon. John R. Keith, Mr. and Mrs. Gerald Kluetz, Jeffrey Lehmann, Harvey E. Lemmen, Mr. and Mrs. J. Michael Lennon, Mr. and Mrs. Claude B. Lilly, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Maass, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis P. Mallow, Jr., Marine Bank of Springfield, Janet W. Meyer, Dan Miller, David B. Miller (In Memory of Robert E. Miller), Basil Ward Moore, Lee C. Moorehead, Jodi L. Murphy, Ralph G. Newman, Mr. and Mrs. Clayton A. Newton, Pike County Historical Society, Mr. and Mrs. Mark O. Roberts, Sr., Greogry Romano, Mr. and Mrs. John H. Schirding, Mr. and Mrs. Alto Sneller, Mr. and Mrs. John E. Staudt, George M. Stevens, Jr. , Mrs. Richard Stewart, Dennis E. Suttles, Salome K. Thomas, John T. Trutter, William Kent Tucker, University of Southern Indiana, Mr. and Mrs. Leon K. Walters, Frank J. Williams, Michael J. Wisdom, Louise F. Wollan, Mr. and Mrs. Robert J. Wyllie.

We acknowledge with gratitude the continuing support of our many friends and followers. In October, special awards for aggregate contributions in excess of $1,500 each went to Ralph Newman, Barry and Louise Taper, and the Springfield law firm of Brown, Hay & Stephens.


Lincoln Legals Apparel

Admirers of Lincoln now can express their convictions and keep fashionably warm at the same time. Handsome "Lincoln Legal Papers" sweatshirts and T-shirts are available at reasonable cost. Lincoln's famous "Almanac Trial" photo portrait is reproduced on a distinctive peach background. Order them in quantity for family and friends for $20 (sweatshirt) and $11 (T-shirt), tax and handling charges included. Available sizes are adult large and extra large. Send your orders to The Lincoln Legal Papers, Old State Capitol, Springfield, IL, 62701.


Collection Update

By year-end, project researchers had been to 17 of the 71 Illinois county courthouses they eventually must visit. Their effort in neighboring Christian County identified nearly twice as many Lincoln cases as previous investigations had indicated. It also produced another new discovery in Lincoln's hand: his annotation on the defendant's plea in a case described elsewhere in this issue. Circuit Clerk Robert Zueck and his staff were generous with their assistance and cooperation.

Moving steadily eastward, the search then shifted to Decatur (Macon County). Meanwhile, final work is underway on Illinois Supreme Court case files in the Illinois State Archives.


A Lincoln Case in Christian County

Abraham Lincoln traveled to Taylorville on August 22, 1850, to argue a case for Horatio M. Vandeveer, businessman, lawyer, and former Christian County Circuit Clerk. Vandeveer claimed that Ahijah Whitecraft and others knowingly cut down some sixty trees located on his property. An Illinois statute provided that anyone who felled the trees of another "without having first obtained permission so to do" should pay a fixed sum per tree. The statutory penalty set the price at $8 for quality timber - oak or cherry - and $3 for those of lesser quality. This was a high price as the legislature intended to stop timber trespass.

The jury found for Vandeveer, and Judge David Davis awarded a judgment of $476, which was near the statutory limit.

William J. Ferguson, the defendants' attorney, appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court on a pleading error. He alleged that Lincoln, in his declaration or bill of complaint, failed to state that the defendants had cut the trees without permission, stating only that they had cut the trees. Hence, the complaint was defective and the case would have to be retried. This technical oversight by Lincoln was enough, according to the strict procedural rules of the time, to lose the case.

In his argument before the Illinois Supreme Court, Lincoln avoided responding directly to Ferguson's technical argument, but the court decided the case upon those grounds. Lincoln argued for strict enforcement of the statute in order to stop timber trespassing. This conservationist's approach, however, was not popular in a community still struggling to clear the land. Lincoln lost on the technical point and argued against common practice by demanding affirmation of the costly judgment. The court reasoned that the cutting was an accident as the defendants believed they were on their own land, and should pay only the true market value of the trees.

Technically, Lincoln lost the case on appeal, but he still obtained a fair settlement for his client.

Copyright, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency
Springfield, Illinois