Lincoln Legal Briefs

April - June, 1996, Number 38

The Lincoln Calendar

The 11th Annual Lincoln Colloquium will take place on Saturday, October 26, on the campus of the University of Illinois at Springfield. This year's conference theme is "War, Politics and the Lincoln Administration," featuring presentations by Mark E. Neely, Jr., Harold Hyman, William C. Davis, Thomas Schwartz, and Hon. Paul Simon. Principal sponsor of the day-long event is the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. For further information and registration forms, contact Tim Townsend, LHNHS, 413 S. Eighth St., Springfield, IL 62701-1905; (217) 492-4241 ext. 241.

An expanded program for the Seventeenth Annual Illinois History Symposium will attract participants for three days, December 6-8, at the Holiday Inn East, Springfield, Illinois. The symposium will include three sessions (nine papers) on various Lincoln topics. For further information, contact the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, 1 Old State Capitol Plaza, Springfield, IL 62701-1507; (217) 782-2118.


In Memoriam

Students of Lincoln everywhere mourned the passing in May of James Hickey, of Elkhart, Illinois. Known to generations of scholars and admirers for his encyclopedic knowledge and generous manner, Jim presided over the Lincoln Collection of the Illinois State Historical Library for 26 years. He was an early and ardent champion of "the Lincoln Legals," and a constant source of encouragement and counsel during the six arduous years of our search for documents. Like hundreds of our peers, we are deeply in his debt and saddened by his death.


Good Tidings

Favorable action last spring on two major grant proposals has supplied vital editorial stage funds and also offered heartening evidence of peer approval of both our progress and our plans. The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) acted to renew its annual support, and with a welcome increase over its current level of support. This coming year we will receive $63,000 for work on both the CD-ROM and Book Editions.

In April the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) awarded a two year grant of $133,300, which will help shepherd us through publication of The Complete Documentary Edition and progress on book volumes I and II. This year's competition for drastically reduced NEH funds was extraordinarily intense, and The Lincoln Legal Papers was one of a handful of editorial projects to win a two-year grant.

Both funding agencies rely heavily upon expert critical review, so that awards are important to a documentary edition's credibility as well as its budget. Anonymous excerpts from ten scholars' critiques reveal the project's stature:

It is hard to imagine a project more worthy of public support than this one . . . The project has made superb use of modern computer technology . . . The time consuming courthouse search has yielded a gold mine of previously unknown Lincoln source material. . . The sources are rich; the insights should be plentiful . . . The quality and expertise of staff are exemplary . . . The project has all the ingredients for success. Its previous work and the work proposed appear to have been extraordinarily cost-effective . . . The Lincoln Legal papers will be of the utmost importance . . . This is a most compelling proposal . . . The discovery of the legal papers of Abraham Lincoln constitutes one of the great historical detective stories of recent years . . . This is an absolutely terrific proposal, one of the best I have ever read . . . The CD-ROM will be wonderfully useful to scholars in many fields . . . This project is exemplary, a truly first-class representation . . . The proposal is beautiful.

We immodestly concur and blushingly rejoice.

During the past three months friends and followers found their own way to register support. We acknowledge with deep appreciation the following recent donors: Molly M. Becker, Ben Becker, Peter Meyer Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Richard & Joy Drake, Mr. & Mrs. C. Daniel Eaton, Lawrence Elliott, Mr. and Mrs. David B. Finney, Jr., Anne Fuhrig, Edward & Nancy Huntley, Mr. & Mrs. Harold Katz, Joseph A. Lesak, Mr. & Mrs. John Lupton, Macon County Historical Society, Roxann F. Rhea, L.W. Robinson, Sangamon County Bar Association, Rayman Solomon, David Z. Stewardson, Leslie V. Tusup, and Kevin Edward White. In addition, the following donations were given in memory of James T. Hickey: Mr. & Mrs. Cullom Davis, Olive S. Foster, Susan K. Green, Mr. & Mrs. Jay Mogerman, Sally B. Schanbacher, Mrs. Benjamin R. Victor, and The Honorable & Mrs. Harlington Wood, Jr.


The Global Lincoln

We are pleased to report the publication of a Czech language biography, Poctiv Abe (Honest Abe), by Lincoln student and occasional correspondent Dr. Ivan Broz, of Prague, the Czech Republic. Dr. Bro first contacted us in 1989, seeking assistance for his proposed study. From the pages of this newsletter plus several of our other published reports he was able to generously cover Abraham Lincoln's quarter century career in law as an integral part of the full life story. The book has special merit because of Dr. Broz's resourcefulness with the limited sources available to him. We offer congratulations to him, and hope that his fellow Czech citizens will gain a heightened understanding of Lincoln.


Staff News

The serious literature about Lincoln's law practice recently grew in size and quality with publication of articles by research associates Susan Krause and John Lupton. Susan's article, Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed, Attorney and Client, appeared in the spring 1996 issue of the Illinois Historical Journal. This work, which began life as a symposium paper several years ago, is an ingenious retelling of the familiar story of Lincoln and his intimate friend Speed. Susan documents and illuminates a previously ignored dimension of their relationship: the series of lawsuits Lincoln filed on Speed's behalf when the latter was living in Kentucky.

John Lupton's research report, called Putting the Pieces Together, is in the June 1996 issue of Documentary Editing. Text and illustrations tell the story of his serendipitous discovery of the separate halves of a Lincoln legal document in two repositories, Harvard University's Houghton Library and the Illinois State Archives in Springfield. Torn apart and scattered many years ago, the fragments had been misidentified and of limited value until John cleverly matched them in a tour de force of memory and concentration.

This summer we welcome two advanced history students who will spend several months on special assignments. Phyllis McMillan was awarded an editorial internship to transcribe and edit the Stuart-Lincoln fee book for eventual publication in our multi-volume book edition. She is a high school history teacher and M.A. candidate in Public History at the University of Illinois at Springfield. Michael Bennett, a lawyer and Ph.D. candidate in History at St. Louis University, is conducting an intensive study of memoir sources on Lincoln's law practice. His report will be valuable as we refine plans for the book edition.  


Complete Documentary Edition Update

The initial testing of a prototype of the Complete Documentary Edition is finished. Over 50 people critically reviewed the design and the function of this electronic "story board" and made suggestions for improvements to screen designs, the search procedure, and general usability. The next step will be the creation of a usable product complete with index data and document images. This sample, which is expected early this fall, will permit thorough testing of the search capability.

The reviewers of the prototype included librarians, media specialists, educators, historians, lawyers, documentary editors, publishers, and students. Our thanks to the following people, who, in addition to project staff, critiqued the prototype: Michael Boudreau, Ernie Cowles, Charles Cullen, Larry Dale, Rose Anne Davis, Nancy Ford, Martha Friedman, Kathryn Harris, Larry Hickman, John Hoffman, John Holtz, Sherri Jenkins, Robert Johannsen, John Kaminski, Stanley Katz, Linda Kopecky, Tamara Kuhn, Michael Lanza, Bob Lawless, Patti Lawless, Barbara Levine, Beth Luey, John Lynn, Lynea Magnusson, Elizabeth Matthews, Eugene Mueller, Sally Mueller, Jenni Parrish, Joyce Ray, Jody Seible, Anne Sharpe, Harriet Simon, John Simon, Patti Sims, Rayman Solomon, Ned Wass, Richard Wentworth, and Tom Wood.  


New Series

One of the most popular features of the Complete Documentary Edition will certainly be its ability to identify cases that pertain to the same legal or historical subjects. This issue marks the first of what will be a continuing series that will highlight a particular topic. We will briefly discuss it relative to the period 1836-1861, and then summarize several Lincoln/partnership cases pertaining to it. This initiatory theme is sure to whet our reader's appetite for more--we invite you to suggest topics for forthcoming issues; please write, phone, or e-mail your suggestions to us (see addresses on back page).  


Divorce and Child Custody

The ideological and economic forces that emerged after the American Revolution, republicanism and market capitalism, challenged the eighteenth-century standard of the American family in which patriarchy, the rule of the family by its male head, ordered family and community relations. Those forces blended in the nineteenth-century to transform the legal status of husband and wife, parent and child. Judicial maintenance replaced patriarchy as judges and legislators became the custodians of the family, and the bearers of a new substantive law--the law of domestic relations.

One of the more rapid innovations involved child custody. Traditionally, the father gained custody of the children after separation or divorce, but out of courtrooms like those of Lincoln's eighth judicial circuit came a novel custody law in which judges and juries determined the child's best interests. In developing the "best-interest-of-the-child" doctrine, the courts took to its logical conclusion the republican vision of the family as a collection of individuals with their own needs and rights.

Cowls v. Cowls, April, 1845 - December, 1846, Edwards County Circuit Court; Illinois Supreme Court.

Ann Cowls had obtained a divorce from her husband, Thomas, but no provisions were made for the two children, who remained with their father. Later, Ann sued Thomas to gain custody and an alimony increase for the children's maintenance. She claimed he was living with a prostitute, whom he married two weeks before her custody suit began, that he fought with his new wife and swore in front of the children, and that he was habitually intoxicated. The court granted Ann custody, and allowed her maintenance of $60 per year for five years. Thomas Cowls retained Lincoln and appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court, which affirmed the decree. Cowls argued that the circuit court refused to allow him to take depositions, but the supreme court ruled the court allowed him to present any evidence, but the case did not warrant a continuance for depositions after the court had sufficient evidence for a ruling. The court also confirmed that a chancery court had an ancient right to interfere and control the estates, persons, and custody of all minors. The court implemented the "best-interest-of-the-child" doctrine which recognized that it was the special duty of a republican government to oversee the care and education of children so they may be useful citizens.

Miers v. Miers, November, 1850, Menard County Circuit Court.

Martha Miers retained Herndon and sued William Miers for divorce on the grounds of extreme cruelty. She also sought custody of their three children, restoration of 80 acres of her land of which her husband had used the rents and profits for his own benefit, and alimony. William Miers defaulted, and the court granted the divorce and custody, restored the land to her, and established alimony at $50 per year.

Ogden v. Ogden, May - November, 1851, Macon County Circuit Court.

Sarah Ogden retained Lincoln and sued Jonathan Ogden for divorce on the grounds of abuse and desertion. Jonathan answered that he was abused, and that she was difficult to live with. Sarah claimed Jonathan owned a large amount of real and personal property, but attempted to convey it to relatives to reduce his alimony. A jury granted Sarah's divorce, and, in lieu of alimony, awarded her bedding and $400. Jonathan received custody of the children.

Bennett v. Bennett, May - October, 1855, Menard County Circuit Court.

Maria Bennett retained Lincoln and sued Richard Bennett for divorce on the grounds of adultery. She was granted an injunction against Bennett and others enjoining them from liquidating Bennett's property. The jury granted the divorce, gave Maria custody of their two daughters, gave Richard custody of their two sons, and awarded Maria $100 per year in alimony.

Copyright, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency
Springfield, Illinois