Abraham Lincoln to Joshua F. Speed, 22 October 18461Springfield, Octr 22nd 1846Dear Speed:
Owing to my absence, yours of the 10th Inst was not received until yesterday–2 Since then I have been devoting myself to arive at a correct conclusion upon your matter of business–3 It may be that you do not precisely understand the nature and result of the suit against you and Bell's estate– It is a chancery suit, and has been brought to a final decree, in which, you are treated as a nominal party only– The decree is, that Bell's administrator pay the Nelson Fry debt, out of the proceeds of Bell's half of the store– So far, you are not injured; because you are released from the debt, without having paid any thing, and Hurst is in no way left liable to you, because the debt he & Bell undertook to pay, is, or will be, paid without your paying it, or any part of it–4 The question, then, is, "How are you injured?"– By diverting so much of the assetts of Bell's estate, to the payment of the Fry debt, the general assets are lessened, and so, will pay a smaller dividend to general creditors; one of which creditors I suppose suppose you are, in effect, as assignor of the note to W. P. Speed– It incidentally enlarges your liability to W. P. Speed; and to that extent, you are injured– How much will this be? I think, $100– or $120– being the dividend of 25 or 30 per cent, that Hurst's half of the Fry debt, would
<Page 2>would pay on the W. P. S. debt– Hurst's undertaking was, in effect, that he would pay the whole of the Fry debt, if Bell did not pay any part of it; but it was not his undertaking, that if Bell should pay the whole of it, he would refund the whole, so that Bell should be the better able to pay his other debts– You are not losing on the Fry debt, because that is, or will be paid; but your loss will be on the W. P. S. debt,– a debt that Hurst is under no obligation to indemnify you against– Hurst is bound to account to Bell's estate, for one half of the Fry debt; because he owed half, and Bell's estate pays all; and if, upon such accounting any thing is due the estate from Hurst, it will swell the estate, and so far enlarge the dividend to the W. P. S. debt– But when Bell's estate shall call Hurst to account, he will will ^I am informed^ show that the estate, after paying the whole of the Fry debt is still indebted to him– If so, not much, if any thing can come from that quarter—nothing, unless it can be so turned, as to compel him pay he owes the estate, and take a dividend only, upon what the estate owes him– If you had paid the Fry debt yourself, you could then turn on Hurst and make him refund you; but this would only bring where you started from, excepting it would leave Bell's estate able to pay a larger dividend, and
<Page 3>Hurst would then turn upon the estate to contribute one half, which would enlarge the indebtedness of the estate in the same proportion, and so reduce the dividend again– I believe the only thing that can be done for your advantage in the matter, is for Bell's administrator to call Hurst to account for one half the Fry debt, and then fight off, the best he can, Hurst's claim of indebtedness against the estate–
I should be much pleased to see [you] here again; but I must, in candour, say I do not perceive how your personal presence would do any good in the business matter–
You, no doubt, assign the suspension of our correspondence to the true philosophical cause, though it must be confessed, by both of us, that this is rather a cold reason for allowing a friendship, such as ours, to die by degrees– I propose now, that, on the receipt of this, you shall be considered in my debt, and under obligation to pay soon, and that neither shall remain long in arrears hereafter– Are you agreed?–
Being elected to Congress, though I am very grateful to our friends, for having done it, has not pleased me as much as I expected–5
We have another boy, born the 10th of March last– He is very much a child as Bob was at his age—rather of a longer order– Bob is "short and low," and, I expect, always will be– He
<Page 4>talks very plainly—almost as plainly as any body– He is quite smart enough– I some times fear he is one of the little rare-ripe sort, that are smarter at about five than ever after– He has a great deal of that sort of mischief, that is the offspring of much animal spirits– Since I begun this letter a messenger came to tell me, Bob was lost; but by the time I reached the house, his mother had found him, and had him whiped—and, by now, very likely he is run away again–
Mary has read your letter, and wishes to be remembered to Mrs S. and you, in which I most sincerely join her–As ever Yours–A. Lincoln
3Speed had been a partner in the mercantile firm of James Bell & Co. in Springfield. James Bell and Speed failed to pay a promissory note to Nelson Fry, and Bell subsequently died, so Fry sued Speed and William H. Herndon, the administrator of Bell’s estate, for payment of the debt. Speed defaulted, and the court awarded Fry $810, to be paid out of the proceeds of a land sale that Herndon made on behalf of Bell’s estate.
Fry v. Herndon & Speed, 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=138291.
4Charles R. Hurst had purchased Speed’s interest in the store in 1841.
Joshua F. Speed to William H. Herndon, 17 September 1866, Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, eds., Herndon’s Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998), 342.
5On August 3, 1846, Lincoln defeated Peter Cartwright to win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives representing the Seventh Congressional District.
Theodore C. Pease, ed., Illinois Election Returns, 1818-1848, vol. 18 of Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1923), 159.
Autograph Letter Signed, 4 page(s), Lincoln Collection, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, IL)