Summary of Legislative Debate on Bill for Relief of William Dormody, 21 December 1840
Mr. Murphy of Cook, from the select committee to which was referred the petition of Mr. Dormandy for remuneration for the destruction of certain notes, of the State Bank, reported a Bill for his relief—authorising the auditor to issue his warrant in favor of Mr. Dormandy in the proportion to $600 that the amount of stock owned by the Bank, is to the whole stock.1
Mr. Gridley moved to refer the Bill to the Judiciary Committee.
Mr. G. doubted the propriety of Legislation upon this case. The petitioner had his remedy at law, and the courts were his proper resort. It was ruinous policy for the Legislature to interfere in matters belonging to the judicial tribunals of the country—the precedent was a bad one.
Mr. Murphy of Cook objected to the reference. This was a notorious case throughout the State. The facts were simply these, that the petitioner by the misfortune of a fire in his dwelling house got these Bank notes destroyed, there being only enough of them left to establish their identity as notes of the State Bank. He had presented these at the Bank and demanded payment, which was fraudulently and ungratefully refused. He had since twice resorted to the courts of law; but by the chicanery of the law and lawyers, he had been defeated. He had other notes destroyed at the same time, on the Indiana and Kentucky Bank, which had been promptly paid. He comes now to demand that justice at the hands of the State, who is the principal stock-holder, which the Bank and the Courts have fraudulently witheld.
Mr. Webb inquired how the gentleman from Cook came in possession of those facts? Had witnesses been examined under oath?
Mr. Murphy answered—no witnesses had been examined; the facts were notorious.
Mr. Lincoln said, as wholesale charges of fraud had been dealt out by the gentleman from Cook, which involved many of his constituents, he felt it his duty to say something in regard to this case.2
It was not true, as the gentleman had stated, that the petitioner had been defrauded through the chicanery of the law, or of the courts. He would inform the House that since this Legislature had met, the naked question of fact, of the actual destruction of these notes, accompanied by any question of law, had been submitted to a jury, of the petitioner’s own choice, and that a majority of this jury had solemnly decided that it was an attempt on the part of Dormady to impose upon the Bank. Under such circumstances, was it not assuming too much for the gentleman from Cook to get up here and tell us, without examination on his part, that the facts were as he had stated them, and that there was fraud and perjury on the part of the Bank, the court, and the jury?
Mr. Murphy, in reply, said, it was somewhat strange the gentleman should impute fraud to one of his own constituents. He supposed Mr. Dormady was a loco, and did not vote for the gentleman, (Mr. Lincoln) which accounted for his offering the petition. He did not charge the jury with perjury—it was nothing unusual for a jury to disagree about a just claim, especially where they had the instructions of a judge to help them, against right. It might be that Mr. Dormady was unable to procure such testimony as was necessary in a court of law. Mr. M. recapitulated the circumstances of the case which he contended were sufficient to justify the House in passing the bill.
Mr. Lincoln said, he did not know whether Mr. D. voted for him or not—he presumed he did not. If there were those in this House who thought this fact would have any influence on his conduct in regard to this bill, he should not stop to enlighten them as to his motives; he was careless of the opinion of such. The gentleman from Cook persisted in reciting what he termed the facts of this case. He would say to the House that the trial, to which he had before alluded, was presided over by Judge Breese, whom the gentleman would not charge with partiality to the Bank—that this jury was composed in part by Mr. D.’s own political friends—that he had able counsel to assist him, and that upon the naked question, as to whether these notes were burnt or not, a majority of that jury had determined, after hearing under oath all the testimony, and the arguments of counsel, that these notes were not burnt.3—And yet the gentleman, without investigation, assumed that for granted, which the jury found otherwise, and upon this assumption charged fraud and dishonesty upon the Bank, and all who had any thing to do with the case. He thought it better that one man should rest under the imputation of fraud than one hundred.
Mr. Kitchell supported the bill. He was one of the committee to which the petition had been referred, and was satisfied of Mr. Dormady’s right.
Mr. Minshall remarked that the question here presented was a serious one. It was whether the Legislature was to interfere with the judicial tribunal, and give relief, where they would not. The precedent was a bad one—every disappointed suitor would be at our doors in a few years, if this was countenanced.
Mr. Gridley said we should not set the precedent of allowing claims, which the courts refused to allow. If it were true that by any technical or legal hindrance, this petitioner had been unable to recover upon the merits of his case, then there would be some propriety for legislative interference. But he had every opportunity for presenting his case upon its merits, and had failed to make out an equitable claim.
The bill was then referred to the judiciary.4
1On June 6, 1839, a fire in Dormody’s house allegedly damaged six, $100 State Bank of Illinois notes. When the bank refused to reissue the paper, Dormody sued the bank in Sangamon County Circuit Court. After he lost the case on appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court in June 1840, he turned to the General Assembly for remittance. On December 16, 1840, Murphy of Cook in the House of Representatives presented Dormody’s petition, which the House referred to the select committee that reported back the bill.
Dormody v. State Bank of Illinois, 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=138806; Illinois House Journal. 1840. 12th G. A., 122, 138.
2Abraham Lincoln’s law partner Stephen T. Logan was the attorney for the State Bank in Dormody’s case against the bank.
Dormody v. State Bank of Illinois, 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=138806.
3Dormody’s attorneys in his suit against the bank were John C. Doremus, Stephen A. Douglas, and Schuyler Strong.
Dormody v. State Bank of Illinois, 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=138807, http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Details.aspx?case=138806.
4The Committee on the Judiciary reported back the bill on February 15, 1841, recommending its rejection. On February 19, the House resumed debate on the issue. The House rejected the bill by a vote of 30 yeas to 45 nays, with Lincoln voting nay.
Illinois House Journal. 1840. 12th G. A., 399, 417, 444-45..
Printed Document, 1 page(s), Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 25 December 1840, 2:4-5.