Handbill Regarding James Adams, 5 August 1837
TO THE PUBLIC.
It is well known to most of you, that there is existing, at this time, considerable excitement, in regard to General Adam’s titles to certain tracts of land, and the manner in which he acquired them. As I understand, the General charges, that the whole has been gotten up by a knot of Lawyers and others to injure his election;1 and as I am one of the knot to which he refers, and as I happen to be in possession of facts connected with the matter, I will in as brief a manner as possible make a statement of them, together with the means by which I arrived at the knowledge of them.
Some time in May or June last,2 a widow woman, by the name of Anderson, and her son, who reside in Fulton county, came to Springfield for the purpose, as they said of selling a ten acre lot of ground lying near town,3 which they claimed, as the property of the deceased husband and father.—
When they reached town they found the land was claimed by Gen. Adams. John T. Stuart and myself were employed to look into the matter, and if it was thought we could do so with any prospect of suceess, to commence a suit for the land.4
I went immediately to the Recorder’s office to examine Adams’ title, and found that the land had been entered by one Dixon,5 deeded by Dixon to one Thomas,6 by Thomas to one Miller,7 and by Miller to Gen. Adams.8 The oldest of these three deeds was about ten or eleven years old, and the latest more than five, all recorded at the same time, and that within less than one year.9 This I thought a suspicious circumstance, and I was thereby induced to examine the deeds very closely, with a view to the discovery of some defect by which to overturn the title, being almost convinced then it was founded in fraud. I finally discovered that in the deed from Thomas to Miller, although Miller’s name stood in a sort of a marginal note on the record book, it was no where in the deed itself. I told the fact to Talbott, the Recorder, and proposed to him that he should go to Gen. Adams’ and get the original deed, and compare it with the record, and thereby ascertain whether the defect was in the original, or there was merely an error in the recording. As Talbot afterwards told me, he went to the General’s, but not finding him at home, got the deed from his son, which, when compared with the record, proved what we had discovered was merely an error of the Recorder.—After Mr. Talbott corrected the record, he brought the original to our office, as I then thought and think yet, to show us that it was right. When he came into the room, he handed the deed to me, remarking that the fault was all his own. On opening it, another paper fell out of it, which on examination, proved to be an assignment of a judgement in the Circuit Court of Sagamon County, from Joseph Anderson, the late husband of the widow above named, to James Adam’s, the judgement being in favor of said Anderson against one Joseph Miller. Knowing that this judgement had some connection with the land affair, I immediate took a copy of it, which is word for word, letter for letter and cross for cross as follows:
|vs.||Judgment in Sangamon Circuit Court against Joseph Miller obtained on a note originally 25 dolls and interest thereon accrued.|
I assign all my right, title and interest to James Adams, which is in consideration of a debt I owe said Adams.
May 1oth, 1827.
As the copy shows, it bore date May 10, 1827; although the judgement assigned by it was not obtained until the October afterwards, as may be seen by any one on the records of the Circuit Court. Two other strange circumstances attended it which cannot be represented by a copy. One of them was, that the date “1827” had first been made “1837” and without the figure “3” being fully obliterated, the figure “2 had” afterwards been made on top of it; the other was that, although the date was ten years old, the writing on it, from the freshness of its appearance was thought by many, and I believe by all who saw it, not to be more than a week old. The paper on which it was written had a very old appearance; and there were some old figures on the back of it which made the freshness of the writing on the face of it, much more striking than I suppose it. otherwise might have been.
The reader’s curiosity is no doubt excited to know what connection this assignment had with the land in question The story is this: Dixon sold and deeded the land to Thomas. Thomas sold it to Anderson; but before he gave a deed, Anderson sold it to Miller and took Miller’s note for the purchase money. When this nole became due, Anderson sued Miller on it, and Miller procured an injunction from the court of Chancery to stay the collection of the money until he should get a deed for the land.11 Gen. Adams was employed as an attorney by Anderson in this chancery suit, and at the October term, 1827,12 the injunction was dissolved, a judgement given in favor of Anderson against Miller; and it was provided that Thomas was to execute a deed for the land in favor of Miller, and deliver it to Gen. Adams to be held up by him, till Miller paid the judgement, and then to deliver it to him. Miller left the county without paying the judgement. Anderson moved to Fulton County, where he has since died. When the widow came to Springfield last May or June. as before mentioned, and found the land deeded to Gen. Adams by Miller, she was naturally led to enquire why the money due upon the judgement had not been sent to them, inasmuch as he, Gen. Adams, had no authority to deliver Thomas’ deed to Miller until the money was paid. Then it was the Gen. told her, or perhaps her son, who came with her, that Anderson, in his life time, had assigned the judgement to him, Gen. Adams. I am now told that the General is exhibiting an assignment of the same judgement bearing date “1828,” and in other respects, differing from the one described;13 and that he is asserting that no such assignment as the one copied by me, ever existed; or if there did, it was forged between Talbott and the lawyers, and slipped into his papers, for the purpose of injuring him.—14Now I can only say that I know precisely such an one did exist, and that Ben. Talbott, Wm. Butler, C. R. Matheny[,] John T. Stuart, Judge Logan, Rober. Irwin, P. C. Canedy, and S. M. Tinsley, all saw and examined it; and that at least one half of them will swear that IT WAS IN GENERAL ADAMS’ HANDWRITING. And further, I know that Talbott will swer that he got it out of the Generel’s possession and returned it into his possession again.—The assignment which the General is now exhibiting purports to have been signed by Anderson in writing. The one I copied was signed with a cross. I am told that Gen. Neale, says that he will swear, that he heard Gen. Adam’s tell yonng Anderson that, the assignment made by his father was signed with a cross.
The above are facts, as stated. I leave them without comment. I have given the names of persons who have knowledge of these facts, in order that any one who chooses may call on them and ascertain how far they will corroborate my statements. I have only made these statements because I am known by many to be one of the individuals against whom the charge of forging the assignment and slipping it into the General’s papers, has been made; and because our silence might be construed into a confession of its truth. I shall not subscribe my name; but I hereby authorise the editor of the Journal to give it up to any one that may call for it.15
1In the summer of 1837, Dr. Anson G. Henry challenged Adams for the latter’s job as probate justice of the peace--a campaign that became increasingly contentious in the press and eventually culminated in violence. When the ballots were tallied on August 7, Adams defeated Henry by a vote of 1,025 to 792.
Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 12 August 1837, 2:7; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:133-35.
3The tract was located two miles north of the statehouse in the hills on which sits Oak Ridge Cemetery.
4Joel Wright, administrator of Joseph Anderson’s estate, retained Lincoln, Stuart, and Stephen T. Logan and sued Adams for the land. Stuart, Lincoln, and Logan entered into a contingent fee agreement with Mary and Richard Anderson that they would receive half of the land if they recovered a judgment against Adams and would receive nothing if they did not recover the land.
Wright et al. v. Adams, Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, 2d edition (Springfield: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, 2009), Document #5253, http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Details.aspx?case=139662.
5Dixon entered the land on November 17, 1823.
Illinois Public Domain Land Tract Sales, Sangamon County, 68:6, Illinois State Archives, Springfield, IL.
6Deeded November 29, 1825.
Sangamon County Deed Book J, 33-34, Illinois Regional Archives Depository, University of Illinois at Springfield (Springfield, Illinois).
7On September 17, 1825, Miller had given a promissory note for $25 to Joseph Anderson for this land. Anderson got Thomas to convey it to Miller, which was done on November 1, 1826.
Sangamon County Deed Book J, 34-35; Wright et al. v. Adams, Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, Document #135083, http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Details.aspx?case=139662.
8Deeded on October 1, 1832. Adams, as an attorney, helped Anderson recover a debt against Miller. Miller conveyed the land to Adams in consideration of Anderson’s judgment against him, which, Adams claimed, Anderson had assigned to Adams in discharge of a debt that Anderson owed Adams.
Sangamon County Deed Book J, 35-36; Wright et al. v. Adams, Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, Document #135090, http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Details.aspx?case=139662.
10According to Roy P. Basler, the Sangamon County Circuit Court records do not show any such judgment.
Roy P. Basler, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 1:91.
Sangamon County Circuit Court Records, Book A, 323; Wright et al. v. Adams, Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, Document #s 135084 and 135086, http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Details.aspx?case=139662.
13On July 5, 1837, Adams filed what he claimed was the original assignment, to which Anderson’s name was signed in writing.
Sangamon County Circuit Court Records, Book C, 421.
14The bill in chancery against Adams, filed by Lincoln and Stuart and Logan and Baker, attorneys for the heirs of Anderson, on June 22, 1837, made no mention of either of these assignments, but charged fraudulent collision between Adams and Miller.
Roy P. Basler, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln 1:92.
15In a reprint of the handbill in the Sangamo Journal, the paper’s editor Simeon Francis issued the following statement in an adjacent column: “It having been stated this morning that the subscriber had refused to give the name of the author of the hand bill above referred to (which statement is not true): to save any farther remarks on this subject, I now state that A. Lincoln, Esq. is the author of the handbill in question. SIMEON FRANCIS August 7, 1837”
Francis published not only Adams’s reply to the handbill, but also statements from Talbott, Matheny, William Butler, and Logan.
Prior to the appearance of Lincoln’s handbill, there appeared in the Sangamo Journal on June 17 and 24, and July 8, 15, 22, and 29, six letters signed “Sampson’s Ghost,” in which the author or authors condemned Adams for defrauding Mary Anderson out of her husband’s land. (“Sampson” was Andrew Sampson, who had leased property to Adams with the understanding that the latter would pay the property taxes and that Sampson would be allowed to reclaim the land if he compensated Adams for any improvements he might make to the land. Adam eventually claimed the tract for himself, though it clearly belonged to Sampson. The author conflated Sampson and Anderson.) The author or authors also accused Adams of writing and planting letters in the Democratic press to injure Anson G. Henry, his opponent in the election for probate justice of the peace. Given the Anderson case and the contentious circumstances surrounding the election, these letters were possibly the work of Lincoln and his colleagues Stuart, Baker, and Logan. Charges that Lincoln made explicit in his handbill and subsequent replies to Adams’s rejoinders were more cloaked in the Sampson Ghost letters, but it is obviously that only the attorneys and their associates defending Mary and Richard Anderson would have been abreast of the evidence upon which the author or authors made their accusations and insinuations. Some contemporaries believed that the letters originated with Lincoln alone, and some modern scholars have also assigned Lincoln sole authorship, including the editors of the The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, who included the Sampson’s Ghost letters as part of the case file for Wright et al. v. Adams. Roy P. Basler, editor of The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, did not include them, believing that Lincoln scholars had been “somewhat precipitous in assigning Lincoln’s authorship.” In the instance of pseudonymous or anonymous articles published in newspapers, Basler and his editors excluded all but those which they could prove were “incontrovertibly Lincoln’s.” Adams believed the letters came from a group rather than one individual, and Basler could find no internal evidence within the letters to determine conclusively that they came from Lincoln’s pen.
Subsequent to the publication of the handbill and Lincoln’s replies to Adams’s rejoinders, the Sangamo Journal on September 30 and October 7 published letters from “An Old Settler” offering evidence of Adams’s dubious character and improper conduct in a land transaction with Elijah Iles. These missives may or may not have come from Lincoln, but incontrovertible evidence to his authorship could not be found, so Basler left them out of this edition. The editors of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln have largely followed Basler’s policy in regard to the Sampson’s Ghost letters and other pseudonymous or anonymous articles found in the press.
Wright et al. v. Adams languished in the Sangamon County Circuit Court, the Schuyler County Circuit Court, and again in the Sangamon County Circuit Court until Adams died, whereupon the Sangamon County Circuit Court abated the case.
Wright et al. v. Adams, Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Details.aspx?case=139662; Roy P. Basler, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 1:89; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, 1:133-36; Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 17 June 1837, 3:1; 24 June 1837, 2:4; 8 July 1837, 2:4; 15 July 1837, 3:1, 2; 22 July 1837, 2:3; 29 July 1837, 2:7; 5 August 1837, 2:1; 12 August 1837, 2:1; 30 September 1837, 2:6; 7 October 1837, 2:7.
Printed Document, 2 page(s), Lincoln Collection, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, IL)