Abraham Lincoln to John D. Johnston and Sarah Lincoln, 4 November 18511Shelbyville, Novr 4. 1851Dear Brother:
When I came into Charleston day-before yesterday I learned that you are anxious to sell the land where you live, and move to Missouri–2 I have been thinking of this ever since; and can not but think such a notion is utterly foolish– What can you do in Missouri, better than here? Is the land any richer? Can you there, any more than here, raise corn & wheat & oats, without work? Will any body there, any more than here, do your work for you? If you intend to go to work, there is no better place than right where you are; if you do not intend to go to work, you can not get along any where– Squirming & crawling about from place to place can do no good– You have raised no crop this year, and what you really want is to sell the land, get the money and spend it– part with the land you have, and my life upon it, you will never after, own a spot big enough to bury you in– Half you will get for the land, you spend in moving to Missouri, and the other half you will eat and drink, and wear out, & no foot of land will be bought– Now I feel it is my duty to have no hand in such a piece of foolery– I feel that it is so even on your own account; and particularly on Mother's account– The Eastern forty acres I intend to keep for Mother while she lives– if you will not cultivate it, it will rent for enough to support her– at least it will rent for something– Her Dower in the other two forties, she can let you have, and no thanks to
<Page 2>me–3 Now do not misunderstand this letter– I do not write it in any unkindness– I write it in order, if possible, to get you to face the truth– which truth is, you are destitute because you have idled away all your time– Your thousand pretences for not getting along better, are all non-sense– they deceive no body but yourself– Go to work is the only cure for your case–
A word for Mother:
Chapman tells me he wants you to go and live with him– If I were you I would try it awhile– If you get tired of it (as I think you will not) you can return to your own home– Chapman feels very kindly to you; and I have no doubt he will make your situation very pleasant–4Sincerely your SonA. Lincoln
2Lincoln had traveled to Shelbyville, Illinois to attend to business at the Shelby County Circuit Court, which convened on November 3, 1851. While there, he wrote and signed pleas and affidavits related to two cases: Mercer v. Evans and Noland v. Evans.
The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln, 3 November 1851, http://thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1851-11-03; Mercer v. Evans, 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=135629; Noland v. Evans, 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=135631.
3Dower was a form of estate that provided for a widow’s needs out of her husband's real and personal property, and such property was not subject to creditor’s demands. In antebellum Illinois, the widow of a man with children received one-third of the land that her husband owned at any time during their marriage for the rest of her life, unless she relinquished her dower rights in the prescribed manner. If her deceased husband had no children, the widow received outright ownership of one-half of the estate.
In Sarah Lincoln’s case, since Lincoln was his father’s sole heir, she was due one-third of the land that her husband, Thomas Lincoln, had owned during their marriage. In a deed dated August 12, 1851, Abraham and Mary Lincoln gifted John D. Johnston the land which Lincoln had inherited from his father. However, Sarah Lincoln’s right of dower passed along with this transfer of property, meaning that the land Abraham and Mary Lincoln gifted Johnston in the deed was still subject to her right of dower. She remained entitled to one-third of the land that Thomas Lincoln had owned during their marriage.
“Dower,” Reference, Glossary, 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/Reference.aspx?ref=Reference%20html%20files/Glossary.html.
4No reply to this letter from either Johnston or Sarah Lincoln has been located. However, Lincoln wrote Johnston at least two additional letters on this topic, both of which indicate that Johnston indeed corresponded with Lincoln further.
Sarah Lincoln did, eventually, go to live with Augustus H. Chapman, and his wife, Harriet, who was her granddaughter.
Autograph Letter Signed, 2 page(s), Box 4, Lincoln Collection, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, IL).