Abraham Lincoln to James Adams, 18 October 1837
TO THE PUBLIC.
Such is the turn which things have lately taken, that when Gen. Adams writes a book, I am expected to write a commentary on it. In the Republican of this morning he has presented the world with a new work of six columns in length: in consequence of which I must beg the room of one column in the Journal.1 It is obvious that a minute reply cannot be made in one column to every thing that can be said in six: and, consequently, I hope that expectation will be answered, if I reply to such parts of the General’s publication as are worth replying to.2
It may not be improper to remind the reader that in his publication of Sept. 6th. General Adams said that the assignment charge was manufactured just before the election; and that in reply I proved that statement to be false by Keyes, his own witness. Now, without attempting to explain, he furnishes me with another witness (Tinsley) by which the same thing is proved, to wit, that the assignment was not manufactured just before the election:3 but that it was seen some weeks before. Let it be borne in mind that Adams made this statement—has himself furnished two witnesses to prove its falsehood, and does not attempt to deny or explain it. Before going farther, let a pin be stuck here, labelled, “one lie proved and confessed.” On the 6th of Sept, he said he had before stated in a handbill that he held an assignment dated May 20th, 1828, which in reply I pronounced to be false, and referred to the hand bill for the truth of what I said. This week he forgets to make any explanation of this. Let another pin be stuck here, labelled as before. I mention these things, because, if, when I convict him in one falsehood, he is permitted to shift his ground, and pass it by in silence, there can be no end to this controversy.
The first thing that attracts my attention in the General’s present production, is the information he is pleased to give to “those who are made to suffer at his (my) hands.” Under present circumstances, this cannot apply to me, for I am not a widow nor an orphan; nor have I a wife or children who by possibility might become such. Such, however, I have no doubt, have been, and will again be made to suffer at his hands!! Hands! yes, they are the mischievous agents.—The next thing I shall notice is his favorite expression, “knot of lawyers, doctors and others,” which he is so fond of applying to all who dare expose his rascality. Now, let it be remembered that when he first came to this country, he attempted to impose himself upon the community as a lawyer and actually carried the attempt so far, as to induce a man who was under a charge of murder to intrust the defence of his life in his hands, and finally took his money and got him hanged. Is this the man that is to raise a breeze in his favor by abusing lawyers? If he is not himself a lawyer, it is for the lack of sense, and not of inclination. If he is not a lawyer, he is a liar, for he proclaimed himself a lawyer, and got a man hanged by depending on him.4
Passing over such parts of the article as have neither fact nor argument in them, I come to the question asked by Adams whether any person ever saw the assignment in his possession. This is an insult to common sense. Talbott has swore once, and repeated time and again, that he got it out of Adams’ possession and returned it into the same possession. Still, as though he was addressing fools, he has assurance to ask if any person every saw it in his possession.—Next I quote a sentence “Now my son Lucian swears that when Talbot called for the deed, that he, Talbott, opened it and pointed out the error.” True. His son Lucian did swear as he says; and in doing so, he swore what I will prove by his own affidavit to be a falsehood. Turn to Lucian’s affidavit, and you will there see, that Talbott called for the deed by which to correct an error on the record. Thus it appears that the error in question was on the record, and not in the deed. How then could Talbott open the deed and point out the error? Where a thing is not, it cannot be pointed out. The error was not in the deed, and of course could not be pointed out there. This does not merely prove, that the error could not be pointed out, as Lucien swore it was; but it proves, too, that the deed was not opened in his presence, with a special view to the error, for if it had been, he could not have failed to see that there was no error in it. It is easy enough to see why Lucien swore this. His object was to prove that the assignment was not in the deed, when Talbott got it; but it was discovered he could not swear this safely, without first swearing the deed was opened—and if he swore it was opened, he must show a motive for opening it, and the conclusion with him and his father was, that the pointing out the error, would appear the most plausible.
For the purpose of showing that the assignment was not in the bundle when Talbott got it, is the story introduced in Lucian’s affidavit, that the deeds were counted. It is a remarkable fact, and one that should stand as a warning to all liars and fabricators, that in this short affidavit of Lucian’s, he only attempted to depart from the truth, so far as I have the means of knowing, in two points, to wit, in the opening the deed and pointing out the error; and the counting of the deeds,—and in both of these he caught himself. About the counting, he caught himself thus—After saying the bundle contained five deeds and a lease, he proceeds, “ and I saw no other papers than the said deed and lease.” First he has six papers, and then he saw none but two. For “my son Lucian’s” benefit, let a pin be stuck here.
Adams again adduces the argument, that he could not have forged the assignment, for the reason that he could have had no motive for it. With those that know the facts there is no absence of motive. Admitting the paper, which he has filed in the suit to be genuine, it is clear that it cannot answer the purpose for which he designs it. Hence his motive for making one that he supposed would answer, is obvious.— His making the date too old is also easily enough accounted for. The records were not in his hands, and then there being some considerable talk upon this particular subject, he knew he could not examine the records to ascertain the precise dates without subjecting himself to suspicion; and hence he concluded to try it by guess, and as it turned out, missed it a little. About Miller’s deposition, I have a word to say. In the first place, Miller’s answer to the first question shows upon its face, that he had been tampered with, and the answer dictated to him. He was asked if he knew Joel Wright5 and James Adams; and above three-fourths of his answer consists of what he knew about Joseph Anderson, a man about whom nothing has been asked, nor a word said in the question—a fact that can only be accounted for upon the supposition, that Adams had secretly told him what he wished him to swear to.
Another of Miller’s answers I will prove both by common sense and the court of record is untrue. To one question he answers, “Anderson brought a suit against me before James Adams, then an acting Justice of Peace in Sangamon County, before whom he obtained a judgment.
Q.[Question] Did you remove the same by injunction to the Sangamon Circuit Court? Answer. I did remove it. Now mark—it is said he removed it by injunction. The word “injunction” in common language imports a command that some person or thing shall not move or be removed; in law it has the same meaning. An injunction issuing out of chancery to a Justice of the Peace, is a command to him to stop all proceedings in a named case till further orders. It is not an order to remove, but to stop or stay something that is already moving. Besides this, the records of the Sangamon Circuit Court show, that the judgement of which Miller swore was never removed into said court by injunction or otherwise.
I have now to take notice of a part of Adam’s address which in the order of time should have been noticed before. It is in these words, “I have now shown, in the opinion of 2 competent judges that the hand writing of the forged assignment differed from mine, and by one of them that it could not be mistaken for mine.” That is false. Tinsely no doubt is the judge referred to; and by reference to his certificate it will be seen, that he did not say the hand writing of the assignment could not be mistaken for Adams’—nor did he use any other expression substantially, or any thing near substantially the same. But if Tinsley had said the hand writing could not be mistaken for Adams’, it would have been equally unfortunate for Adams: for it then would have contradicted Keyes, who says, “I looked at the writing and judged it the said Adams’ or a good imitation.”
Adams speaks with much apparent confidence of his success on the pending law suit, and the ultimate maintainance of his title to the land in question. Without wishing to disturb the pleasure of his dream, I would say to him that it is not impossible, that he may yet be taught to sing a different song in relation to the matter.
At the end of Miller’s deposition, Adams asks, “Will Mr. Lincoln now say that he is almost convinced my title to this ten acre tract of land is founded in fraud?” I answer, I will not. I will now change the phraseology so as to make it run—I am quite convinced, &c.[etc.] I cannot pass in silence Adams’ assertion that he has proved that the forged assignment was not in the deed when it came from his house by Talbott, the Recorder. In this, although Talbott has sworn that the assignment was in the bundle of deeds when it came from his house, Adams has the unaccountable assurance to say that he has proved the contrary by Talbott.—Let him, or his friends attempt to show, wherein he proved any such thing by Talbott.
In his publication of the 6th of Sept. he hinted to Talbott, that he might be mistaken. In his present, speaking of Talbott and me, he says “They may have been imposed upon.”—Can any man of the least penetration fail to see the object of this? After he has stormed and raved till he hopes or imagines that he has got us a little scared, he wishes to softly whisper in our ears, “If you’ll quit I will.” If he could get us to say, that some unknown, undefined being had slipped the assignment into our hands without our knowledge, not a doubt remains but that he would immediately discover, that we were the purest men on earth. This is the ground he evidently wishes us to understand he is willing to compromise upon. But we ask no such charity at his hands. We are neither mistaken nor imposed upon. We have made the statements we have, because we know then to be true—and we choose to live or die by them.
Esq. Carter, who is Adams’ friend, personal and political, will recollect, that, on the 5th of this month, he, (Adams) with a great affectation of modesty, declared that he would never introduce his own child as a witness. Notwithstanding this affectation of modesty, he has in his present publication, introduced his child as a witness; and as if to show with how much contempt he could treat his own declaration, he has had this same Esq. Carter to administer the oath to him. And so important a witness does he consider him, and so entirely does the whole of his present production depend upon the testimony of his child, that in it he has mentioned “my son,” “my son Lucien,” “Lucien my son,” and the like expressions no less than fifteen different times. Let it be remembered here, that I have shown the affidavit of “my darling son Lucien,” to be false by the evidence apparent on its own face; and I now ask if that affidavit be taken away, what foundation will the fabric have left to stand upon?
General Adams’ publications and out-door manoevring, taken in connection with the editorial articles of the Republican, are not more foolish and contradictory than they are ludicrous and amusing. One week the Republican notifies the public that Gen. Adams is preparing an instrument that will tear, rend, split, rive, blow up, confound, overwhelm, annihilate, extinguish, exterminate, burst asunder, and grind to powder all his slanderers, and particularly Talbott and Lincoln—all of which is to be done in due time. Then for two or three weeks all is calm—not a word said. Again the Republican comes forth with a mere passing remark that “public opinion has decided in favor of Gen. Adams,” and intimates that he will give himself no more trouble about the matter. In the mean time Adams himself is prowling about, and as Burns says of the devil, “For prey, a’ holes and corners tryin,6” and in one instance, goes so far as to take an old acquaintance of mine several steps from a crowd, and apparently weighed down with the importance of his business, gravely and solemnly asks him if “he ever heard Lincoln say he was a deist.” Anon the Republican comes again, “ We invite the attention of the public to Gen. Adams communication,” &c., “The victory is a great one.” “The triumph is overwhelming.” (I really believe the editor of the Ill. Republican is fool enough to think General Adams is an honest man.)7 Then Gen. Adams leads off.— “Authors most egregiously mistaken,” &c.— “most wofully shall their presumption be punished,” &c. (Lord have mercy on us.) “The hour is yet to come, yes nigh at hand—(how long first do you reckon?)—when the Journal and its junto shall say, I have appeared too early.”— “then infamy shall be laid bare to the public gaze.” Suddenly the Gen. appears to relent at the severity with which he is treating us and he exclaims, “The condemnation of my enemies is the inevitable result of my own defence.” For you health’s sake, dear Gen. do not permit your tenderness of heart to afflict you so much on our account. For some reason (perhaps because we are killed so quickly) we shall never be sensible of our suffering.
Farewell, General. I will see you again at court, if not before—when and where we will settle the question whether you or the widow shall have the land.8A. LINCOLN.Oct. 18, 1837.
1Simeon Francis, editor of the Sangamo Journal, announced in its October 21, 1837 edition, that he had received responses from Abraham Lincoln and Archer G. Herndon to Adams’s publication of October 18, but not in time to publish them in the October 21 edition. Francis did not publish Herndon’s response, but he did include one from Stephen T. Logan in columns before and adjacent to Lincoln’s missive.
Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 28 October 1837, 2:3-4.
2The Adams-Lincoln controversy commenced in May 1837. Law was at the center of the conflict. The legal issue involved a lawsuit filed by the heirs of Joseph Anderson against Adams. Lincoln, John T. Stuart, Stephen T. Logan, and Edward D. Baker were attorneys for the plaintiffs. For a full summary of the case and supporting documentation, see 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), http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Details.aspx?case=139662. See also Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 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.
3Politics also served as a catalyst to the Adams-Lincoln controversy. In 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. Lincoln backed his friend Henry and felt obliged to challenge what he perceived were strident attacks on Henry--Lincoln believed coming from Adams and his supporters, in the Democratic press. When the ballots were tallied on August 7, Adams defeated Henry by a vote of 1,025 to 792.
Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 17 June 1837, 3:1; 24 June 1837, 2:4; 12 August 1837, 2:7; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, 1:133-36.
4Adams was one of the attorneys who defended Nathaniel Van Noy who, in a “fit of drunken frenzy,” murdered his wife on August 27, 1826. He went on trial the next day, and on August 29 was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. He was executed on November 26.
John Carroll Power and S. A. Power, History of the Early Settlers of Sangamon County, Illinois (Springfield, IL: Edwin A. Wilson, 1876), 40; Kent L. Walgren, “James Adams Early Springfield Mormon and Freemason,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 75 2 (Summer 1982), 122.
7John S. Roberts and George R. Weber were the editors of the Illinois Republican newspaper in Springfield.
Franklin W. Scott, "Newspapers and Periodicals of Illinois, 1814-1879" (PhD diss., University of Illinois, 1910), 322.
8Controversy over the particulars of the Anderson case continued to rage in the press after Lincoln bid farewell. On October 25, 1837, Benjamin Talbott offered his own rejoinder to Adams’s publication of October 18. Archer G. Herndon followed with his own account on November 13, which included a sworn statement from Mary Anderson. On November 25, the Sangamo Journal revealed that in 1818, Adams had been indicted in Oswego County, New York, for forging a deed. In May 1838, the Sangamo Journal further alleged that Adams, instead of standing trial, absconded from New York, leaving behind his wife and young daughter and a glut of unpaid debts.
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; Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 4 November 1837, 2:3-4; 18 November 1837, 1:5-7; 12 May 1838, 2:7; 26 May 1838, 2:4; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, 1:133-36.
Printed Transcription, 1 page(s), Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 28 October 1837, 2:4-5.