Abraham Lincoln to John D. Johnston, 25 November 18511Springfield, Novr 25. 1851.Dear Brother
Your letter of the 22nd is just received–2 Your proposal about selling the East forty acres of land is all that I want or could claim for myself; but I am not satisfied with it on Mother's account– I want her to have her living, and I feel that it is my duty, to some extent, to see that she is not wronged– She had a right of Dower (that is, the use of one third for life) in the other two forties; but, it seems, she has already let you take that, hook and line– She now has the use of the whole of the East forty, as long as she lives; and if it be sold, of course, she is intitled to the interest on all the money it brings, as long as she lives;3 but you propose to sell it for three hundred dollars, take one hundred away with you, and leave her two hundred, at 8 per cent, making her the enormous sum of 16 dollars a year– Now, if you are satisfied with treating her in that way, I am not– It is true, that you are to have that you forty at for two hundred dollars, at Mother's death; but you are not to have it before. I am confident that land can be made to produce for Mother, at least $30 a year, and I can not, to oblige any living person consent that she shall be put on an allowance of sixteen dollars a year–4Yours &c[etc.]A. Lincoln
<Page 2>SPRINGFIELD Ill.[Illinois]
NOV[November] 26John D. JohnstonCharlestonColes CountyIllinois–
1Abraham Lincoln wrote and signed this letter, including the address on the last sheet, which was folded to create an envelope.
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.
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.
4Johnston’s reply, if he wrote one, has not been located. Johnston eventually sold what land he could and, in February 1852, moved to Marion County, Arkansas with his family.
Kenneth J. Winkle, The Young Eagle: The Rise of Abraham Lincoln (Dallas: Taylor Trade, 2001), 147.
Copy of Autograph Letter Signed, 2 page(s). Abraham Lincoln Association Files, Lincoln Collection, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, IL).