Abraham Lincoln to Orville H. Browning and Nehemiah Bushnell, 28 March 18511Springfield, March 28. 1851Messrs[Messieurs] Browning & BushnellGentlemen
The new act of Congress provides that all cases begun here shall be tried here, & not go to Chicago at all– All our Patent cases were begun here–
It also fixes the summer term here in July, instead of June as heretofore–4
So no trouble is created in our Patent cases by the new law–5In haste
Yours as everA. Lincoln
<Page 2>SPRINGFIELD Ill.[Illinois]
5Messrs Browning & BushnellQuincyIllinois–
1Abraham Lincoln wrote and signed this letter, including the address on last sheet, which was folded to create an envelope.
2No letter from either Orville H. Browning or Nehemiah Bushnell to Lincoln in 1851 has been located.
3This is a reference to evidence used in the case Parker v. Hoyt, in which Lincoln was an attorney for the defendant, along with Grant Goodrich and George W. Meeker. In the case, Zebulon Parker sued Charles Hoyt in the U.S. Circuit Court, District of Illinois, for violating Parker’s patent, which he secured in October 1829.
In the initial trial, the jury found for Parker. However, Hoyt motioned for a new trial, which the court granted. During the second trial, which took place July 9-24, 1850, the defense provided evidence via experiments conducted on Hoyt’s water wheels. These experiments demonstrated that the modifications Hoyt had made to his water wheels produced no effect on the movement of water through them. This called into question Parker’s fundamental claim that Hoyt’s modifications to his water wheels represented an infringement upon Parker’s patent. When Parker’s legal team conducted their own experiments, they only bolstered the defense team’s evidence by demonstrating that the technology Parker patented did not actually function. The jury found for Hoyt. Parker then motioned for a new trial, which the court granted, and the case lingered on through the early 1850s. In July 1855, Lincoln succeeded in having the case dismissed in the U.S. Circuit Court, Northern District of Illinois.
Parker v. Hoyt, 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=137697; List of Patents for Inventions and Designs, Issued by the United States, From 1790 to 1847 (Washington, DC: J. & G. S. Gideon, 1847), 234; H.R. Exe. Doc. No. 59, 33rd Cong., 2nd Sess. (1855); The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln, 9 July 1850, http://thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1850-07-09; 24 July 1850, http://thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1850-07-24; Abraham Lincoln to Orville H. Browning and Nehemiah H. Bushnell; Charles Hoyt to Abraham Lincoln; Charles Hoyt to Abraham Lincoln; Abraham Lincoln to Charles Hoyt.
4On March 3, 1851, the U.S. Congress passed an act that, among other things, set new terms for the U.S. Circuit Court, District of Illinois in Chicago. The court had previously met annually on the first Monday in June and the first Monday in December but would thereafter meet annually on the first Monday in July and the third Monday in December. The act also added additional terms, on the first Tuesday of October and third Tuesday of April each year.
Lincoln appears to have interpreted the section of the act that discusses “return of process” to mean that lawsuits originating in Springfield would remain there for trial and could not be transferred to Chicago, even if the volume of lawsuits meant that they would be pushed to a later court session for trial.
“An Act Providing for an Additional Term of the United States Circuit and District Courts at Chicago, in the District of Illinois,” 3 March 1851, Statutes at Large of the United States 9 (1862):636-37.
5Browning and Bushnell’s reply, if they penned one, has not been located. Lincoln wrote them again on June 5, 1851, informing them that they would be able to use the Hoyt evidence in the “Rock Island cases.” These three patent cases were also subsequently dismissed.
Unknown v. Unknown, 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=141126.
Autograph Letter Signed, 2 page(s), Box 4, Lincoln Collection, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, IL).