Lincoln Legal Briefs


July - September, 1994, Number 31

A Straw in Popular Culture's Shifting Breeze

Ever alert to our possible impact on public knowledge about Lincoln the lawyer, we cautiously report one recent and highly unscientific clue. For over five years we have encouraged generous press coverage of our progress, especially numerous document discoveries. Often these accounts have noted the deeply imbedded stereotypes of Lincoln as an indifferent, careless and inconsequential prairie lawyer. Has this mythical view begun to erode as a result of all our media attention?

The July 11 issue of Newsweek offered a hint that old stereotypes have begun to change. A cover story featured the three celebrated lawyers--Robert Shapiro, Alan Dershowitz, and F. Lee Bailey--who enlisted in the defense of O. J. Simpson on charges of double murder. Extolling this array of courtroom talent, Newsweek asserted, "Simpson's Dream Team Defense is the best legal squad put together since Abe Lincoln practiced alone."

With this bit of hyperbole, one longstanding and unfair stereotype has been replaced by an effusive and equally inaccurate one. Are we to blame for a 180 shift in popular culture's estimate of lawyer Lincoln? In journalism's parlance: "Get me rewrite!"


On the Road, Off the Circuit

After five years re-riding the Eighth Judicial Circuit, project researchers in August completed their travels to 87 of the state's 102 counties. Circuit court records have supplied the bulk of all documents accessioned by The Lincoln Legal Papers: more than 60,000 of the latest total of 86,000. One final swing around the circuit will occur early in 1995, when researchers return to selected county seats to find trial records for a small number of newly discovered cases that surfaced from our inspection of Illinois Supreme Court dockets.

Circuit travels may have ended, but staff researchers remain busy with two final search tasks. One is a careful look for federal court records at the U.S. Supreme Court and also the National Archives facilities in Washington and Chicago. The other consists of visits to several dozen major manuscript libraries, to inspect the correspondence of Lincoln's professional and political contemporaries. During the late summer and fall months that work got underway at the Library of Congress and Georgetown University Library in Washington, and the Chicago Historical Society, Newberry Library, and University of Chicago Library in Chicago.

The final series of courthouse visits focused on northeastern Illinois. As always, we received cooperation and assistance from public officials, including: Hon. Julie M. Kleive (Boone County), Hon. Joel Kagann (DuPage County), Hon. Jan Carlson and John Nickles (Kane County). Special thanks are also due Professor Robert J. Nye of John Marshall Law School, who arranged inexpensive and convenient Chicago hotel accommodations for our extended time there.


Staff News

In September we welcomed Mark E. Steiner as Associate Editor of The Lincoln Legal Papers. Mark's appointment was made possible by federal funding announced last winter, and resulted from a national search for a scholar with interests in antebellum legal history, Abraham Lincoln, and editorial work. He has J.D. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Houston, experience in both practicing and teaching law, and several articles in American legal history. Mark and his wife Lee (a professional artist) have infant twin daughters.

For the current academic year August Lamczyk is serving as Graduate Assistant. A recent graduate of Eastern Illinois University, Gus has begun graduate study in history at Sangamon State University, where the Center for Legal Studies has allocated the project an assistantship.


Mr. Lupton Goes to Washington

Research Associate John Lupton and temporary colleague Abigail Sutton (M.A., Western Illinois University) recently completed a highly successful search of manuscript collections at the Library of Congress and federal court records at the National Archives and U.S. Supreme Court. The inspection took three months and was logistically complex, but the results more than repaid the effort.

At the Library of Congress Lupton and Sutton identified over 200 "Lincoln legals" in the Rare Books Room's Alfred Whital Stern Collection. In the Manuscripts Division they inspected over three dozen separate collections of Lincoln's contemporaries. Most fruitful were the John Dean Caton Papers, the Robert R. Hitt Journal, and the Robert Todd Lincoln Collection (which yielded several hundred letters written to Abraham Lincoln). Among the many staff librarians and curators who provided guidance and assistance, special recognition and appreciation are due to Clark Evans, John Sellers, and Mary Wolfskill.

The U.S. Supreme Court houses printed transcripts and original printed briefs of cases that reached the nation's highest court. Conspicuous among the valuable items there were the 1,100 page transcript for McCormick v. Manny (a celebrated patent case in which Lincoln was snubbed by his future Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton), and detailed maps for the famous "Sandbar Case," which consumed some seven federal trials to determine title to valuable accreted land at the mouth of the Chicago River. Librarians Mark Plotkin and Shelly Dowling were especially helpful with this work.

The remainder of U.S. Supreme Court records (dockets, case and correspondence files) are in the National Archives. Careful inspection there revealed that Lincoln was attorney of record in six U.S. Supreme Court cases, considerably more than previous tallies. The cases were: U.S. v. City of Chicago (1849); Wm. Lewis for use of Nicholas Longworth v. Thomas Lewis administrator. of Moses Broadwell (1849); Joshua J. Moore v. James Brown, Alfred Brown, Harmon Hogan & Joseph Froward (1850); John Winters, interpleaded with Charles Dolick, Valentine Kissel & William Lorrey v. Margaret B. Lane (1852); Robert Forsyth v. John Reynolds, Josiah McClure, & John McDougall (1853); George Rugg v. Jonathan Haines (1861). Helping Lupton and Sutton with this search were Timothy Connelly (NHPRC staff) and John Van Dereedt. In addition, NHPRC officials generously provided work space and other assistance.

Two other research visits completed the Washington effort. At the Smithsonian Institution, Keith Melder provided help, as did Nicholas Scheetz at Georgetown University. General advice and support came from Donald Ritchie (U.S. Senate Historical Office). George and Patricia Le Comte and Mr. and Mrs. Tom White generously provided housing and transportation for John Lupton.


Accessing the CD-ROM Edition

Work is well underway on The Complete Lincoln Legal Papers, a CD-ROM edition scheduled for release in 1997. Digitizing and storing document images (a process called scanning) began in early April. After six months, the scanning phase is on schedule, with nearly 25,000 documents (46,573 images) entered.

Several parallel tasks also are underway. One major job is the design and development of a suitable "user interface" for the CD-ROM edition. Persons who want to find a particular Lincoln case or document, or a certain kind of case, must be able to rapidly sift through 100,000 documents and over 5,000 cases. The edition's user interface will enable them to convey their needs progressively, by keyboard. The ideal user interface must be comprehensive and complex in its scope, yet simple ("user friendly") in its application. This daunting challenge is the responsibility of CD-ROM Editor Marty Benner, with help from staff colleagues and various consulting specialists.

One such consultant, John Kaminski, spent several valuable days conferring with staff in September. John is director of a distinguished edition, The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution. He also serves on our Editorial Board, and was one of two original consultants to the project in 1985-86. Among Dr. Kaminski's many talents is considerable experience with indexing. His advice helped clarify staff thinking about the appropriate components of an index database for the CD-ROM edition.

The user interface will feature index entries for carefully selected legal and general subject headings, plus all proper names. In addition, it will provide users with brief (50-70 word) abstracts of all cases, thereby considerably simplifying each user's search for a particular kind of case. An illustration of the appearance and factual detail of this interface accompanies this report.

It will take twelve months for one experienced staff member to write over 5,000 case abstracts and select legal and subject descriptors for the index. Final planning is complete, and work will begin in November on this important step. The marriage of CD-ROM's inherent advantages with a specially designed user interface will make The Complete Lincoln Legal Papers a major publishing event and an important contribution to Lincoln students and legal historians.


Lincoln or Bust

Collectors of Lincolniana may want to inspect a recent addition to the arts and crafts for sale at Tinsley Dry Goods Store, a not-for-profit shop operated by the Old State Capitol Foundation. "Trial Lawyer" is a handsome bust of Lincoln cast in bonded bronze, mounted on a walnut base, and measuring 8 inches high, 5 inches wide. The sculptor is John McClarey. Visit the store at 209 S. Sixth Street (site of the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices) in Springfield, or telephone (217) 525-1825.


Financial Support

Cash problems during August prompted a special appeal for help from directors of the Abraham Lincoln Association and members of The Lincoln Legal Papers Advisory Board. The response was prompt and generous, with nearly two dozen donations totaling over $7,000. As this issue went to press, several other grant proposals were awaiting action.

We acknowledge with deep gratitude the generosity of the following recent donors: American Blue & Gray Association, Georgine Baker, Dan W. Bannister, Judith W. Barringer, Martha L. Benner, Willard Bunn, Jr., Norman D. Callan, Cass County Historical Society, Richard N. Current, Gordon E. Dammann, Cullom Davis, Nancy L. Ford, Olive Foster, Donald H. Funk, Mattie Grant, Richard E. Hart, Victor Lary, McLean County Bar Association, Georgia Northrup, William D. Pederson, Richard W. Peterson, Janice Petterchak, Donald G. Richter, Sally Schanbacher, Rayman L. Solomon, Don Tracy, Elizabeth U. Trent, John Trutter, Andy Van Meter, Clyde C. Walton, Louise F. Wollan, Betsy Wong, Harlington and Cathryn Wood in memory of Robert C. Lanphier, Jr., and Kathleen Xidis.

Copyright, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency
Springfield, Illinois