Lincoln Legal Briefs

April - June, 1995, Number 34

Important Discovery

Late in June staff researcher John Lupton found 59 previously unknown Lincoln signatures in Department of Treasury records at the National Archives in Washington. The evidence reveals that Lincoln occasionally acted as pension attorney for veterans, their widows, or their children. Pensioners had served in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, or the Mexican War. Under federal law, a pension attorney could receive funds on the recipient's behalf from a pension agent, then deliver or transmit the money to the beneficiary. For this service pension attorneys received a modest fee.

Lincoln signed his name on receipts and on affidavits claiming that he had no interest in the money. Particularly significant are five full "Abraham Lincoln" signatures, rare for the pre-presidential years, and two "Abram Lincoln" signatures. For pensioner Thomas Threlkeld, Lincoln wrote an entire document in addition to signing his name. Lincoln received money from Threlkeld on fourteen separate occasions. These pension records provide an excellent example of Lincoln's office practice, or non-litigation work.

Substantial credit for this discovery belongs to Lincoln scholar Paul Verduin of Silver Spring, Maryland. Readers may recall his report in our last issue about solving a mystery over Lincoln's celebrated lawsuit in support of a widow's pension claim. Verduin's disclosure of several pension records by Lincoln prompted our decision to conduct a full search at the National Archives, and he also provided valuable advice on searching those records. We are indebted to Paul and to staff members of the National Archives and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission for this welcome and unusual addition to our holdings.


Archives Group Award

At its annual meeting in Chicago early in May, The Midwest Archives Conference presented its President's Award to the Abraham Lincoln Association, an early cosponsor of The Lincoln Legal Papers. This distinctive honor is conferred upon non-archival organizations and individuals that make significant contributions to "the preservation and accessibility of historically valuable documents." The Abraham Lincoln Association was recognized for its steadfast support of the search for Lincoln legal records, an effort that has stimulated public appreciation of the archives profession, and also has helped preserve historically valuable court records. Instrumental in obtaining this honor were Advisory Board member John Daly and his colleague at the Illinois State Archives, Charles Cali.


Volunteer Help

We welcome two valued specialists who have consented to serve and guide us. Jenni Parrish has agreed to join our distinguished Editorial Board. She brings to that diverse body singular expertise in legal bibliography, 19th Century law treatises, and library usage of electronic publications. Ms. Parish is Professor of Law and Director of the Law Library at the University of California Hastings College of Law. She holds advanced degrees in both law and library science, and has written articles on the history of legal publishing, slavery, legal history methodology, and abortion law.

Jason Turner is a University of Illinois law graduate and clerk to Hon. Harlington Wood, Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Mr. Turner will spend a year researching cited precedents in Lincoln's Illinois Supreme Court cases. This is laborious work, but of critical value to our analysis of a significant component of Lincoln's legal career.



Founder and principal sponsor of The Lincoln Legal Papers is the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA), whose trustees and director have steadfastly honored their commitment to its successful completion. IHPA funding levels have varied over the years, but always have been the project's largest single source of support. In addition, the Agency provides valuable work space and related in-kind services.

In recent years IHPA financial support had diminished relative to the project's total budget, leading Director Susan Mogerman and the Trustees to seek an increased appropriation from the Illinois General Assembly. With support from Governor Jim Edgar, the legislature in May approved a significant 34 per cent increase. In the coming fiscal year direct IHPA fiscal support will be $175,000, more than one-half of the project's total budget from all sources. This boost ensures timely progress on a costly and ambitious editorial work plan.

Additional good news came from the Joyce Foundation of Chicago, which acted favorably on our special request for a $10,000 grant. These funds will support the current task of drafting brief summaries of more than 5,000 Lincoln cases for incorporation in the Complete Edition on CD-ROM, scheduled for release in 1997.

Our 1994 Annual Report inadvertently omitted mention of Mr. and Mrs. Joe Luttrell in its list of donors. For this oversight we apologize and reiterate our thanks to the Luttrells. We also acknowledge with gratitude the generosity of the following recent donors: A T & T Foundation, Christian County Title Company, Leslie Cowell, C. Cullom Davis, Rodney O. Davis, Mr. & Mrs. C. Daniel Eaton, Richard E. Hart, Teresa E. Holahan, Robert M. Lawless, Gregory M. Perry, Quad Cities Civil War Roundtable, Terry L. Shoptaugh, Brandt N. Steele, Leroy Thomas, and Leo Vogel.


Staff News

Historical societies, clubs, and civic organizations frequently request informal talks by staff members, either on Lincoln's career and record as a lawyer or our ongoing venture to fully document it. Space does not permit a complete quarterly listing of such engagements, but it is worth reminding readers of this service by all professional staff associates, and of our readiness to accommodate your future requests.

There is space, however, to report featured presentations and formal papers. During the spring quarter Marty Benner and John Lupton addressed a special Lincoln Legal Papers session at the annual Midwest Archives Conference in Chicago. Editorial and Advisory Board member Robert Johannsen was commentator, and Shirley Burton of the National Archives-Great Lakes Region was moderator.

Dennis Suttles won praise for two talks delivered in Taylorville at the request of the Christian County Title Company. Similarly appreciated was a formal address by John Lupton before the Lincoln Group of (Washington) D.C., where he spent six weeks completing several search tasks and related research.

In Detroit early in April, Cullom Davis was featured luncheon speaker at the annual Michigan History Conference, where he also addressed an afternoon session. Mark Steiner presented a paper on antebellum Illinois slander cases at the annual convention of the Law and Society Association, in Toronto, Canada. His related article on Lincoln's slander cases is scheduled for a forthcoming issue of the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association.

Every summer the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) sponsors a highly regarded two-week intensive institute on documentary editing at the University of Wisconsin. Representatives from The Lincoln Legal Papers have participated every year since 1988. This year Marty Benner is one of the guest lecturers, while Chris Schnell and Mark Steiner are invited participants.

We welcome Kelly Ongman, who has joined the staff as a summer clerk and receptionist. Kelly recently graduated from Pawnee High School and will enter Southern Illinois University this fall.

Cullom Davis has retired from his faculty position at Sangamon State University, where he taught for 25 years. This step does not affect the university's commitment as a project cosponsor, or Cullom's continued service as Director.


Lincoln Bits and Pieces

Interesting and amusing references to Lincoln's legal reputation occasionally surface in the correspondence of his contemporaries. Two recent discoveries are of only modest importance, but they nevertheless illustrate the value of our careful search of more than 100 manuscript collections in repositories throughout the United States.

The A. B. Clough Papers at the Chicago Historical Society yielded several items, including Clough's dismissive reference to Lincoln's record and reputation in Champaign County:

I have seen and heard "Old Abe" at the legal bar, (and other kinds) in this county during every term of the Circuit Court since the Spring of 57 and I never saw him do a good thing yet in his profession, and I have seen him whipped several times by young lawyers of no great pretensions and he is certainly not considered a third rate Lawyer . . . .

More flattering was William Gilbert of Phoenix (near Syracuse), New York, whose October 17, 1860 letter to Lincoln is in the Robert Todd Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Anticipating the presidential election results just three weeks away, Gilbert (a lawyer) announced he was "desirous of changing my location, and have for some time past thought of going into the Western States." He continued, "It is well understood that you have a large practice in your profession, and that some one will soon have to attend to the business which you will leave. . .I would like to know whether I could make arrangements with you. I can give you good references as to my ability & success in practice." There is no evidence of a reply, but we do know that Lincoln was content to entrust his remaining work to his partner of 17 years, William Herndon.

A coincidental postscript: Gilbert's letter reached Lincoln nearly the same day he received different advice from another New Yorker, young Grace Bedell of Westfield, several hundred miles southwest of Phoenix. Miss Bedell, as all Lincoln students know, had the fateful audacity to suggest he grow a beard. Thus, in the closing days of his presidential race, lawyer Lincoln rejected one New Yorker's job quest and accepted another's grooming tip. Herndon inherited the practice, and hirsuteness forever altered the Lincoln image.

Copyright, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency
Springfield, Illinois