Declaration in Trustees of Township 16N, Range 1E v. Prather, [14 February 1852]1
Of the June Term of the Macon County Circuit Court– AD. 1852.
|State of Illinois||}|
Trustees of Schools of Township Sixteen North of Range One East of the Third Principal Meridian, in the county of Macon aforesaid, for the use of the inhabitants of said Township, for School purposes, plaintiffs, complain of Henry Prather, defendant, in custody &c.[etc.] of complaint of Trespass in Ejectment.2
For that heretofore, towit on the first day of January in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fiftytwo, at the county aforesaid, the said plaintiffs were, for the use aforesaid, possessed of certain parts of Section Sixteen, in the Township and Range aforesaid, which parts are known and designated as Lots Eight, Nine, and Sixteen, of said Section, & which parts or Lots the plaintiffs claim in fee, for the use aforesaid, and being so possessed thereof, the said defendant afterwards, towit on the day and year aforesaid, entered into such Lots or premises, and unlawfully withholds from the plaintiffs the possession thereof, to their damage of one hundred dollars, and therefore they bring their suit &c.3Lincoln, for Plffs–[Plaintiffs] Mr Henry Prather Sir:
You are hereby notified that the above declaration will be filed in the Macon county circuit court, on the second day of the next term thereof—4 that, upon filing the same, a rule will be entered requiring you to appear and plead to said declaration, within twenty days after the entry of such rule; and, that if you neglect so to appear and plead, a judgment by default will be entered against you, and the plaintiffs will recover possession of the premises–Feby 14, 1852. Lincoln, for Plffs.
|State of Illinois||}|
Michael L. Devin, being first duly sworn states on oath that on the day of April A.D. 1852, at the county aforesaid, he did serve the within declaration and notice upon Henry Prather, the defendant named therein, by ^then & there^ delivering to him, a true copy of said declaration and notice–5M. L. Devin6
Subscribed & sworn to before me 3d June 1852Wm Prather clk[clerk] 7
|Trustees of Schools &C.||}|
|vs||Declaration ^& notice^ in Ejectment.|
filed June 4th 1852Wm Prather clk9
1Abraham Lincoln wrote each section of this document, with the exception of the signature “M. L. Devin,” the certification by William Prather, and the script “filed June 4th 1852” which Prather wrote on the folded portion of the sheet shown in the second image.
Roy P. Basler, editor of The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, dated this declaration February 14, 1852. The editors have retained Basler’s dating of this document, since it is likely that Lincoln wrote the declaration at the same time as his notice to Henry Prather. However, this declaration was not filed with the Macon County Circuit Court until June 4, 1852.
Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 2:118-19.
2In American law, “trespass” refers to an action to obtain compensation for a forcible wrong against the plaintiff. Such wrongs could have been directed against the plaintiff personally (a lawsuit known as “Trespass Vi Et Armis”), against his or her land (a suit known as “Trespass Quare Clausum Fregit”), or against his or her personal property. The plaintiff was entitled to damages if he or she could prove that the defendant used force or violence with immediate and direct consequences. If the plaintiff sustained a delayed injury, the court would not award damages in a trespass action.
“Ejectment” relates to an action to recover land or other real property and to collect damages. Originally, in the English common law, only tenants could use this action to recover possession of land from which they had been unlawfully ousted. Because of the simplicity and swiftness of the ejectment procedure, landowners began to use this action to recover land. To do so, the landowner, on behalf of a fictitious tenant (John Doe), sued a fictitious defendant (Richard Roe) for ousting the fictitious tenant. The court titled such cases John Doe ex dem. “Landowner” v. Richard Roe. When the defendant appeared in court, the clerk sometimes replaced “Richard Roe” with the defendant’s real name. In an act passed in March 1839, the Illinois General Assembly abolished the need for the fictitious names. The losing party in an ejectment case was entitled by law to one new trial simply by paying the court costs.
“Ejectment;” “Trespass,” 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.
3This is a declaration related to the case Trustees of Township 16N, Range 1E v. Prather, a case which was tried in the Macon County Circuit Court and in which Lincoln represented the plaintiffs. In the case, Thomas Johnston and Jonathan Brown bought land from the trustees of schools of Macon County’s township 16N, range 1E on August 31, 1837. Johnston and Brown also mortgaged the land to secure payment and gave their mortgage notes to the school commissioners. When they failed to pay taxes on the land, it was put up for sale in 1843 in order to recover the taxes due. Prather purchased the land during this sale, securing a tax deed for the purchase. A tax deed is a form of conveyance (transfer of property ownership between people via written instrument) in which a sale of lands is made for non-payment of taxes. An officer of the law, such as a sheriff, uses a tax deed to convey the title of the proprietor of the land to the purchaser of the land at the tax sale.
The trustees of the township believed that they still owned the land due to the mortgage that Johnston and Brown had obtained on it. The trustees retained Lincoln as their attorney, and sued Prather in an action of ejectment.
Illinois Public Domain Land Tract Sales, Macon County, 818:105, Illinois State Archives, Springfield, IL ; Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, MN: West, 1891), 1154; “Conveyance,” Reference, Glossary, Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Reference.aspx?ref=Reference%20html%20files/Glossary.html; Trustees of Township 16N, Range 1E v. Prather, 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=135356.
4In 1852, Macon County was part of Illinois’ Eighth Judicial Circuit. According to the schedule laid out in the act fixing the times of holding courts, the meeting of the Macon County Circuit Court that Lincoln references took place on June 3, 1852.
“An Act Fixing the Times of Holding Courts in the Eighth Judicial Circuit,” 20 January 1849, Laws of Illinois (1849), 60; The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln, 3 June 1852, http://thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1852-06-03.
5In June 1852, Prather pleaded not guilty. The case was continued (postponed) several times. In the end, in May 1854, Judge David Davis ruled for the trustees. However, per the laws related to ejectment action, Prather was entitled to a new trial once he paid the court fees. He paid the fees, and Judge Davis granted him a new trial in October 1854, but no new trial occurred. It is unclear, from the existing documentary record, why the new trial never took place, but it is possible the parties arrived at a settlement out of court.
Trustees of Township 16N, Range 1E v. Prather, 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=135356.
Autograph Document Signed, 2 page(s), Volume Volume 12,
page 1695 (roll 6, frame 3034), Herndon-Weik Collection of Lincolniana, Library of Congress (Washington, DC).