Lincoln Legal Briefs

July - September, 1995, Number 35

Model Editions Partnership

Eight documentary editing projects, including The Lincoln Legal Papers, are collaborating to offer models for the newest form of documentary edition--the electronic edition. Led by David Chestnutt, Editor of the Papers of Henry Laurens, and in cooperation with Susan Hockey, Director of the Rutgers-Princeton Center for Electronic Text in the Humanities, and Michael Sperberg-McQueen, Editor of the Text Encoding Initiative, the Model Editions Partnership (MEP) consists of representatives from the following projects: The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, Documentary History of the First Federal Congress, Papers of General Nathanael Greene, Papers of Henry Laurens, The Lincoln Legal Papers, Margaret Sanger Papers, Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, and The Papers of George Washington.

The partnership is funded through a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) to lay the groundwork for the development of electronic editions of the future that can be made available on the Internet. Several models are being developed for editors of future electronic editions. One model of an "image edition" will be a sample from The Lincoln Legal Papers Complete Edition. Other models will show "live" text (searchable text) editions, and combined image and live text editions. A prospectus is being written that will define the principles to be used for electronic historical editions and detail intellectual and format standards for electronic publications so that eventually a national database of historical documentary editions can be compiled that permits users to search for information over a multitude of scholarly editions and provide users with "links" from one document to another across editions.

The coordinators of MEP visited projects individually in August to explain the goals of the Partnership and to outline its work plan. The Partnership then assembled in late September in Columbia, South Carolina, to begin examining issues about electronic publications. The Partnership will present a session at the annual meeting of the Association of Documentary Editors in Baltimore in October to get additional input from other editors. Readers who want to follow its progress should plan to visit the MEP home page on the World Wide Web--it will be available by the end of October.

Cullom Davis and Marty Benner represent The Lincoln Legal Papers on the MEP steering committee. Marty attended the South Carolina conference and will be on a MEP panel session at the Baltimore Association for Documentary Editing annual meeting.


Staff News

We report with deep regret the resignation late in the summer of Associate Editor Mark E. Steiner. During the very productive year he spent with us, Mark significantly reshaped the projected contents of our selective book edition, began the arduous task of writing case summaries for The Complete Edition, helped with the preparation of our pending NEH grant application, and conducted path breaking research on Lincoln's bankruptcy and slander case work. Mark and his family have returned to Texas, where he holds a professorship at the South Texas College of Law, in Houston.

Joining the staff in August was Peg Hankins, who previously worked for the Center for Legal Studies, University of Illinois at Springfield. Peg is performing data-entry work to help us keep up with the increased volume of document accessioning. A temporary summer clerk Kelly Ongman, left in August to attend Southern Illinois University.

Marty Benner described The Lincoln Legal Papers Complete Edition at the international conference of the Association for History and Computing in Montreal, Quebec, in late August. Her design of the CD-ROM edition and its user interface continues to attract widespread interest and expressions of support.

Cullom Davis addressed a session on "Lincoln at the Bar" at the annual American Bar Association convention in Chicago. Earlier in the summer his address, "A. Lincoln on Appeal," appeared in the [Illinois] Appellate Law Review. He continued speaking on selected aspects of Lincoln's legal career at various organizational gatherings.



The summer and early fall months are a relatively quiet interlude between spring grantwriting and the annual winter fundraising campaign. An exception was preparation and submission of our annual grant request to the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). For 1996-97 we are seeking a substantial increase over the current funding level of $60,000.

We acknowledge with gratitude the generosity of the following recent donors: Albert J. Beveridge, III, Bond County Historical Society, John Chapin, Mr. & Mrs. Keith Griffin, Lincoln Land Community College Elderhostel, Elizabeth Matthews, Friends of Aurelia Pucinski in honor of Judge Abraham Lincoln Marovitz, Paul Serup, Bernard VanDenBerg, Barth R. Zurkammer.


Noteworthy New Titles

One useful measure of the project's growing importance, even before publication, is the growing shelf of serious books that focus attention on Abraham Lincoln's law practice. Earlier in 1995 Dan Bannister published his Lincoln and the Illinois Supreme Court, a careful analysis of the published opinions, in Illinois Reports, of several hundred appellate cases that Lincoln and/or his partners argued. Based in part on his earlier work, Lincoln and the Common Law, this study arranges and then analyzes the case material according to broad legal and historical themes. Available in some bookstores, it also can be ordered directly from the author, 22 Washington Place, Springfield, IL 62702. The price is $23.95, plus $2.50 postage and handling.

Just published by Simon & Schuster is the eagerly awaited biography, Lincoln, by Pulitzer Prize historian David Herbert Donald. A major reinterpretation based on meticulous primary-source research and decades of reflection, it already is regarded by early reviewers as the definitive study for this generation of Lincoln students and admirers. One singular feature of the work is Donald's generous attention to and assessment of Lincoln's legal career. The author was among the first scholars to examine project document photocopies, and he has generously described The Lincoln Legal Papers as "the most important documentary project underway in the United States."

Another recent publication does not concentrate on the law practice, but will interest the general audience of Lincoln readers. The Universal Lincoln, edited by Yu-Tang D. Lew, assembles selected papers from the 1989 International Conference on Abraham Lincoln, held in Taipei, Taiwan. Among the contributors familiar to newsletter readers are Herbert Mitgang, Cullom Davis, and Frank J. Williams. The book costs US $24.95, and can be ordered from the Chinese Culture University Press, No. 55 Hwa Kang Road, Yangmingshan, Taipei, Taiwan.


Lincoln Case Summaries

Work is well underway on a significant feature of The Lincoln Legal Papers Complete Edition. Sensing a broad public interest in the forthcoming (late 1997) CD-ROM edition, staff editors are taking pains to make this massive compilation readily useful and usable to diverse readers. One previous announced step is Editor Marty Benner's design and testing of a "friendly" user interface that will make it as simple and efficient as possible for researchers to find selected cases and documents. This draft interface will present CD-ROM production vendors with the features we require of the interface. This winter a prototype will be produced (based on one county's cases and records) that staff, Advisory, and Editorial Board members will then thoroughly test.

Another feature, requiring substantial staff effort, will be short narrative descriptions of every case. With some 6,000 cases to summarize, this task will require the full-time effort of at least two experienced editors for more than one year. They must carefully review each case's records, draft a succinct factual description, and then select appropriate indexing entries. Assistant Editor Bill Beard began work this summer on the summaries, and was recently joined by Research Associate John Lupton. They have completed nearly 1,000 case summaries, and expect to complete the job by early 1997.

This undertaking is a heavy drain on staff resources, but will amply justify itself by broadening and enriching use of The Lincoln Legal Papers Complete Edition. Historians and biographers not versed in antebellum law, plus any users who have difficulty reading old handwriting, will be able to quickly learn the essence of a case through facts presented on the case, its participants, and especially the summaries. This in turn will enable them to concentrate their detailed textual research on only those cases and documents that most interest them. Moreover, the comprehensive electronic index will provide ready access to cases by legal and historical subject headings. In short, the heavy one-time investment in staff time will appreciably enhance the CD-ROM product and pay continuing dividends over the years.


Samples of Case Summaries

Illinois Central Railroad Company v. McGinnis

McGinnis sued the Illinois Central Railroad in JP court for assessment of damages for right of way. The JP ruled for McGinnis, and the railroad, retaining Lincoln, appealed to the circuit court. The jury there awarded McGinnis $37.50. Lincoln received a $25 fee for his first recorded case for the Illinois Central.

People v. Armstrong

People v. Armstrong is more commonly known as the Almanac Trial. Armstrong and Norris were indicted for the murder of Metzker at a camp revival in Mason County. Norris was tried, convicted of manslaughter, and sentenced to prison. Armstrong was granted a change of venue to Cass County, where he was defended by Lincoln and found not guilty.

Christian County v. Overholt & Squier

Overholt and Squier contracted with three judges of Christian County to construct a courthouse. The $15,000 contract was to be paid in installments upon completion of specific projects. Overholt completed the foundation, but Judge Vandeveer refused payment stating the job failed to meet agreed specifications. Overholt and Squier halted construction and sued to recover the anticipated profits. After a change of venue, the jury awarded them $657.87, and Christian County officials retained Lincoln to appeal the case to the Illinois Supreme Court. It reversed and remanded the case, ruling that Overholt and Squire could not sue for anticipated profits unless they were prevented from completing construction, which did not happen. Lincoln received a $50 fee for his work in the trial and the appeal.

People v. Weaver

Weaver, drunk, was arrested for shooting and killing Hiltibran for no apparent reason. Lincoln was assigned by the court to defend Weaver, whom the jury found guilty and sentenced to hang. However, Weaver escaped from jail, fled to Wisconsin, and was never apprehended.

Lincoln v. Alexander

In 1852, Lincoln defended John Crockett in Moultrie County for murder. John's father, Elliott, apparently gave Lincoln a note for his services. Elliott died in 1855, but had not paid Lincoln. Lincoln sued Crockett's administrator (Alexander) for payment. The court ruled for Lincoln and awarded him $64.12. Elliott Crockett was the nephew of Davy Crockett, who died at the Alamo in 1836.

Gatewood & Co. v. Illinois Central Railroad Company

Gatewood & Co. shipped 110 cattle on the railroad from Loda, Iroquois County, to Chicago. Two cows, valued at $145, fell off the train while passing through Champaign County and were killed. The Illinois Central retained Lincoln after Gatewood & Co. sued it for $600 in damages. The parties agreed to waive a jury, and the court awarded Gatewood & Co. $130.

Ford v. Thorpe

Thorpe agreed to castrate Ford's bull and insured its recovery for $25. The bull died but Thorpe refused to pay the insurance claim. Ford sued in JP court to recover the money. The JP ruled for Ford for $25. Thorpe retained Lincoln and appealed to the circuit court. Lincoln argued the bull did not belong to Ford before or "after his change of condition by which he ceased to be a bull." The jury ruled for Ford for $20.

Cunningham v. Fithian & Juneau

In 1836, Cunningham bought a lot in Milwaukee, Wisconsin Territory, from Fithian for $3000. In 1841, Cunningham sued Fithian to halt the sale, alleging fraud. The court found for Fithian, and Cunningham appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court. The court questioned Cunningham's motives for suing Fithian, that if the land speculation had been profitable there would be no reason to escape the deal. The court ruled that there was an established rule in equity that if a party sought to rescind a contract for fraud, they must ask the aid of the court in a reasonable time, and be in a situation to restore to the opposite party whatever they may have received at the time. Cunningham waited five years after "suspecting fraud" to file suit, and he was unable to return equal consideration because the land had depreciated. He also held questionable title since he had failed to pay taxes on the property in three of the five years before the suit. Lincoln represented Fithian at the trial and appeal.

People v. Davis

William Davis was indicted for cutting timber on Christian County property owned by the State Bank of Indiana, but the Attorney General dismissed further prosecution. Lincoln represented Davis.

Copyright, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency
Springfield, Illinois