Abraham Lincoln to John D. Johnston, 9 November 18511Shelbyville, Novr 9. 1851Dear Brother:
When I wrote you before I had not received your letter–2 I still think as I did; but if the land can be so sold so that I get three hundred dollars to put to interest for mother, I will not object if she does not– But before I will make a deed, the money must be had, or secured, beyond all doubt, at ten per cent–3
As to Abram, I do not want him on my own account; but I understand he wants to live with me so that he can go to school, and get a fair start in the world, which I very much wish him to have– When I reach home, if I can make it convenient to take, I will take him, provided there is no mistake between us as to the object and terms of my taking him–4In haste
As everA. Lincoln
2Lincoln had written John D. Johnston a letter November 4, 1851. Johnston’s letter to him, referenced here, has not been located.
3Johnston wanted to sell both the land that he owned and the land that his mother, Sarah Lincoln, owned as part of her dower inherited after her husband, Thomas Lincoln, died. Dower 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 Abraham Lincoln was his father’s sole heir, she was due one-third of the land that Thomas Lincoln had owned during their marriage. In a deed dated August 12, 1851, Abraham and Mary Lincoln gifted 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.
Lincoln wrote Johnston another letter on this topic on November 25, 1851.
Abraham Lincoln to John D. Johnston and Sarah Lincoln; “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.
4According to recollections recorded in 1866, Mary Lincoln reportedly refused to permit Abraham L. B. Johnston to live at the Lincoln home in Springfield.
Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:207, 812.
Autograph Letter Signed, 1 page(s), Fogg Collection, v. 43, Maine Historical Society (Portland, ME).