Lincoln Legal Briefs

October - December, 1994, Number 32

The Lincoln Calendar

As always, winter brings flurries of both snow and Lincoln commemorative events. Again this year the Lincoln Home National Historic Site will sponsor several activities, beginning with performances at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, February 11 and 12 of "Abraham Lincoln: A Biography in Words and Music." This program, which features actor Fritz Klein and members of the Illinois Symphony Chorus, will be in the Visitor's Center on Seventh Street. On February 12 the annual "Lincoln Heritage Lecture" series will occur, beginning at 9:30 a.m. in the Visitor's Center. Featured speakers (who will sign copies of their books beginning at 8:15) include Harold Holzer, William Hanchett, and George Painter. Call (217) 492-4148 for further information. The public is invited.

Also on February 12 will be the 22nd annual "Abraham Lincoln Symposium," which begins at 2:00 p.m. in the Old State Capitol in Springfield. The public is invited to hear papers on the general subject of "Abraham Lincoln and American Religious Thought" by Professors Mark Noll (Wheaton College), Richard J. Carwardine (University of Sheffield), and Allen Guelzo (Eastern College), with commentary by Nathan O. Hatch (University of Notre Dame).

Culminating the day's events will be the annual banquet of the Abraham Lincoln Association at 7:00 p.m. (cocktails at 6:00) in the Springfield Renaissance Hotel. Special guests include the celebrated actor Jason Robards, who will deliver an address, and Brian Lamb, founder of C-SPAN and originator of its recent broadcast of reenactments of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Tickets cost $40 and may be ordered through Linda Potts at First of America Bank, (217) 753-7123.

Another noteworthy event will occur in Champaign-Urbana on February 26. The University of Illinois chapter of Zeta Psi fraternity, which has a tradition of interest in Lincoln, will host a 1:00 p.m. dinner in Illini Union to raise funds for the renovation of UI's historic Lincoln Hall. Speaking on Lincoln's war years will be Professor Robert W. Johannsen, noted antebellum and Civil War historian. Dinner tickets are $35 per couple. Call (217) 344-4288 for further information.


Staff News

The December 1994 issue of Documentary Editing has an article by Martha L. Benner, "The Abraham Lincoln Legal Papers: The Development of the Complete Facsimile Edition on CD-ROM." The essay reports on our decision to publish The Complete Lincoln Legal Papers on optical disc, analyzing all of the factors and considerations involved. Publication of this article is a measure of the widespread and enthusiastic response our decision has prompted among documentary editors.

Following her stint as a search assistant to John Lupton in Washington, D.C., Abigail Sutton joined us in Springfield for several months during the fall. Abigail helped us on various assignments, and has our thanks and best wishes as she moves on to other work.

Autumn brought publication of four papers that Cullom Davis has delivered before Lincoln conference audiences during the past several years. Their titles are "Abraham Lincoln and the Golden Age of American Law," "Abraham Lincoln, Esq. The Symbiosis of Law and Politics," "The 'Little Engine that Knew No Rest!: Lincoln's Career in Law," and "In Search of the Missing Lincoln." He also maintained a busy schedule of speaking engagements, delivering more than a dozen addresses during the final quarter of 1994.


The First Shall be Last

Over 130 years after Lincoln bid a reluctant farewell to the courtrooms of the Eighth Judicial Circuit, staff researchers are conducting their search of the last remaining venue on the circuit, Sangamon County. Arguably, Sangamon is the most significant county on the search docket because it was Lincoln's "home" county, and nearly half of his 5,800 cases originated there. Several years ago senior staff members decided that it should be the last county to search because the records were readily available and in a secure location at the Illinois Regional Archives Depository at Sangamon State University.

Last fall researchers began an extensive search of all city, county court, circuit court, county commissioner, probate, and recorder's records for the years 1833-1865. As a result of the large quantity of records, the search in Sangamon County is arduous. In the other counties on the Eighth Circuit, staff researchers could determine with some degree of accuracy from his known travel schedule when Lincoln was likely to appear in the court records; however, with 25 years of "home" practice it is impossible to specify when or where Lincoln or his partners might surface in the massive records.

The first phase of this exhaustive examination began with the creation of a database designed specifically for Sangamon County. Known as "jdock," this database was developed by recording every case name that ever appeared on the Judge's Docket in Sangamon County. A field in the database entitled "ours" was employed to distinguish Lincoln or Lincoln partnership cases. Without the aid of "jdock" and the "allcases" database, a detailed search of Sangamon County would be even more exacting and time consuming.

Next, researchers pored over the Sangamon County Circuit Court Record, a daily account of all court orders and decrees. Using the "allcases" database search program, they entered every case name from the court record to determine whether or not it was a Lincoln case. It was not uncommon for staff researchers to find that 12 of the 13 cases entered on a page were Lincoln cases. Consequently, the 26 volumes of the Sangamon County Circuit Court Record took one staff researcher slightly over three months to inspect. To illustrate the magnitude of the entire effort in Sangamon County, compare it with Tazewell County where three researchers took four months to examine case files and 33 volumes of bound court records pertaining to 247 cases. In Sangamon County, staff researchers will inspect more than 150 volumes of bound court records.

Although this final task will take several months to complete, staff researchers have already identified over 1,200 new cases, bringing the total number of Lincoln cases in Sangamon County to 2,828. This total is a surprise considering the amount of research that has been conducted over the years on Lincoln's Sangamon County practice. One major disappointment in this work is the paucity of case files. Years ago the old common and criminal law case files in Sangamon County disappeared, leaving only chancery and probate files. County officials have tried valiantly to locate them, but evidently they had been discarded long ago. Our thanks to Circuit Clerk Carl Oblinger and SSU Archivist Tom Wood for their splendid cooperation and assistance in this daunting last step in the search for documents.


The Thanksgiving Season

Fundraising is a year-long project effort, but it intensifies every fall, when several foundation grant deadlines occur. November brought heartening news from the Shelby Cullom Davis Foundation, which awarded its largest grant, $26,400, in the four successive years that it has supported The Lincoln Legal Papers. The funds will underwrite expenses to enhance the CD-ROM edition with case abstracts and a comprehensive index. In December the Illinois Bar Foundation acted favorably on our request for $7,800 to help pay for case briefs. This is the third IBF grant we have received in eight years.

At press time, solicitation of Abraham Lincoln Association members and Lincoln Legal Briefs subscribers was still underway, so final results will not be known for several months. In the campaign's first month, receipts reached $2,800.00, which is good progress toward our goal of $20,000. We acknowledge with deep appreciation the generosity of the following recent donors: Dennis Antonie, Mr. & Mrs. Charles F. Becker, Mark R. Boeche, Robert C. Bray, Mr. & Mrs. James E. Brown, Glenn F. Burton, Mr. & Mrs. Charles A. Chapin, Arthur Ben Chitty, Mike Combs, Albert B. Cooper, Daniel Custeau, Dr. & Mrs. John A. Davidson, Cullom Davis, Robert W. Dickerman, Lloyd H. Efflant, Luann Elvey, Lenore Farmer, John M. Field, Olive S. Foster, Mrs. & Mrs. Donald Funk, Mr. & Mrs. Jeffrey Gaynes, Joseph George, Jr., Eric L. Grenzebach, Hart & Southworth, Kevin M. Helmich, James T. Hickey, Mr. & Mrs. G. William Horsley, Harry P. Jeffrey, Robert W. Johannsen, Kurt M. Kausler, Gerald D. Kluetz, Susan Krause, Victor M. Lary, Michael Lennon, Keith Letsche, Harry C. Lichman, Claude B. Lilly, Arthur F. Loux, Hon. Abraham Lincoln Marovitz, Hon. Ben Miller, David B. Miller, Hon. Richard Mills, Mark Moore, Larry L. Morris, William D. Mulliken, Margit S. Olsen, Mr. & Mrs. Robert Oxtoby, William D. Pederson, Mr. & Mrs. Don Raymer, Kim Robinson, Sally B. Schanbacher, John H. Schirding, Jack L. Smith, Richard H. Suhs, John Taylor, Ila Jean Tobin, John T. Trutter, Bernie VanDenBerg, Clyde C. Walton, Dean R. Warner, Evelyn T. Wehrle, Robert F. Wernle, Walter E. Weisman, Frank J. Williams, Wayne D. Williams, Wisconsin History Foundation, Louise F. Wollan, and Hon. Harlington Wood, Jr.

Contributions in memory of Mary O. Stewart Hart, who passed away in December, were received from Darrel R. Anderson, Capitol Group, Bruce and Janice Hart, Kathleen A. Hogge, Louise Keckler, McGladrey & Pullen, Melotte-Morse-Leonatti, Ltd., Mr. & Mrs. Timothy J. Rigby, Joseph R. Victor.


Lincoln and Bankruptcy Law

Research conducted by Lincoln Legal Papers staff will shed new light on Lincoln's federal bankruptcy practice. It has been over fifty years since Lincoln scholar Harry Pratt published an article on Lincoln's bankruptcy practice. Pratt went through the legal notices published in the Sangamo Journal to reconstruct the bankruptcy cases handled by Lincoln and his partner Stephen T. Logan. Pratt found that Logan and Lincoln handled seventy-seven cases, more than any other Springfield firm, and the fourth largest number of cases in the state. He concluded that Logan and Lincoln "found bankruptcy cases an important source of income in the thirteen months the law was in effect."

Nothing new on Lincoln's bankruptcy practice has appeared since Pratt's work in 1943. During a recent search of federal court records in Chicago, staff researchers Michael Duncan and Chris Schnell uncovered complete transcripts of twelve Logan and Lincoln bankruptcy cases. In these transcripts, found in the Great Lakes Regional Depository of the National Archives, the clerk copied the complete file of all twelve cases, including the petition, schedules of debts and assets, commissioner's reports, and orders by the judge. For the first time, researchers will be able to retrace the exact steps taken by Lincoln and Logan in their bankruptcy practice.

Congress had considered a bankruptcy measure in the 1840 session but it had failed to pass in the House. The Whigs campaigned for a federal bankruptcy law during the presidential election of 1840. The law subsequently passed in the summer of 1841 along strict party lines. The law was only in effect from February 1, 1842 to March 3, 1843. Logan and Lincoln continued to wrap up bankruptcy cases throughout 1844.

A search of the Sangamo Journal has also uncovered another interesting piece of evidence that highlights Lincoln's involvement in bankruptcy work. The Journal regularly published the rules for bankruptcy practice adopted by the United States District Court Judge Nathaniel Pope. On July 1, 1842, the Journal noted one district court rule necessitated the filing of a certificate from the assignee in bankruptcy before the final hearing. The Journal included a sample form of an assignee's report, "for a copy of which we are indebted to A. Lincoln, Esq."

Lincoln's extensive bankruptcy work is an important part of any assessment of the Logan and Lincoln partnership. Unlike Stuart, Logan practiced heavily in federal court. The six volumes of McLean's Reports, which contain the opinions of United State Supreme Court Justice John McLean on circuit, include thirty-two cases involving Logan, and none involving Stuart. Lincoln, in fact, was not licensed to practice in the United States District Court until March 1842.

Copyright, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency
Springfield, Illinois