Abraham Lincoln and Stephen T. Logan to David A. Smith, 10 June 18531Springfield, June 10. 1853.D. A Smith Esq.[Esquire]Dear Sir:
We have had Dr Higgins' [ca]se under consideration; and, inasmuch as, by the [law] "he shall be subject to removal only for infi[delity to] the trust reposed in him, or incompetency [in] the discharge thereof"—2 we think the resolution [o]f removal, not placing the removal on either [o]f these grounds, is, on it's face void; and we further think, that any removal, without giving the Dr a chance to be heard in his defence, on the questions, on the questions of infidelity and incompetency, one or both, will be void– Quo warranto3, we think, is the way; [an]d we think it some better that he should [h]old on, and leave his adversaries to proceed; but if his holding on would embarrass the institution, he might, without much disadvantage, leave, and commence the proceedings himself–4Yours &C.[etc.]A LincolnS T Logan
<Page 2>D. A. Smith, Esq.JacksonvilleIllinois.
Per Dr Higgins–
1Abraham Lincoln wrote and signed this letter, including the address on the last sheet, which was folded to create an envelope. Stephen T. Logan penned his signature.
The left side of the original letter is damaged. The supplied text for the missing portions is from The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln.
Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 2:197-98.
2This is a reference to section two of the act which established the Illinois State Asylum and Hospital for the Insane and outlined the criteria required for the hospital’s trustees to take action to remove the institution’s superintendent.
“An Act to Establish the Illinois State Hospital for the Insane,” 1 March 1847, Laws of Illinois (1847), 52.
3In American law, “quo warranto” is a writ issued for the purpose of preventing someone from continuing to exercise authority in a supposedly unlawfully held office. It ordered a sheriff to summon the individual before the court to demonstrate “quo warranto” that his holding the office was legitimate.
“Quo warranto,” 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.
4This letter relates to the Illinois State Asylum and Hospital for the Insane’s Board of Trustees’ resolution to remove Dr. James M. Higgins from his position as superintendent of the hospital, a resolution Higgins contested.
In October 1853, Fleming Stevenson and the other trustees launched a suit in the Morgan County Circuit Court to remove Higgins as superintendent. According to the statute creating the hospital, noted above, Higgins, appointed for ten years, could be removed only for “infidelity to the trust reposed in him” or incompetency. The trustees charged that Higgins was not qualified for the position, but, later in October 1853, the court ruled for Higgins. Neither Lincoln nor Logan were involved in this lawsuit. However, when the trustees appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court in December 1853, Lincoln, Logan, Murray McConnel, and David A. Smith all represented Higgins. Lincoln argued that the trustees could not remove Higgins for any reason except breach of trust or incompetency. Nevertheless, in March 1854, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded the judgment. Justice John D. Caton ruled that the Illinois General Assembly had bestowed on the trustees all the powers necessary for managing the hospital, including the power to remove the superintendent for breach of trust or incompetency. Caton disagreed with Lincoln’s argument that the trustees' reasons failed to meet the two conditions, writing that “the substance is the same, though, perhaps, expressed in more delicate or less offensive terms.”
Judgment Docket, Document ID: 72510, People ex rel. Stevenson et al. v. Higgins, 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=137943.
Autograph Letter Signed, 2 page(s), Private Collection, (Andrew Killian).