Abraham Lincoln to Thomson R. Webber, 12 September 18531Bloomington, Sept 12. 1853.T. R. Webber, Esq–[Esquire]My dear Sir:
On my arrival here to court, I find that McLean county has assessed the land and other property of the Central Railroad, for the purpose of county taxation,– An effort is about to be made to get the question of the right to so tax the Co. before the court, & ultimately before the Supreme Court,2 and the Co.[Company] are offering to engage me for them– As this will be the same question I have had under consideration for you, I am somewhat trammelled by what has passed between you and me; feeling that you have the prior right to my services; if you choose to secure me a ^fee^ something near such as I can get from the other side– The question, in its manitude ^magnitude,^ to the Co– on the one hand; and the counties in which the Co. has land, on the other, is the largest law question that can now be got up in the State; and therefore, in justice to myself, I can not afford, if I can help it, to miss a fee altogether– If you choose to release me, say so by return mail, and then an end– If you wish to retain me, you better get authority from your Court, come directly over in the Stage, and make common cause with this county–3Very truly your friendA. Lincoln–
<Page 2>BLOOMINGTON Il[Illinois]
SEP[September] 1[4?]T. R. Webber, Esq.UrbanaChampaign Co.Illinois–
1Abraham Lincoln wrote and signed this letter, including the address on the last sheet, which was folded to create an envelope.
2Lincoln is discussing what ultimately became the case Illinois Central RR v. McLean County, Illinois & Parke. The Illinois Central Railroad owned 118 acres of land in McLean County, Illinois. The county assessor levied a $428.57 tax on the railroad's property. The railroad claimed that the Illinois General Assembly act incorporating the railroad exempted the railroad from taxes.
Illinois Central RR v. McLean County, Illinois & Parke, 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=136867, http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Details.aspx?case=136868; For the act incorporating the railroad, see “An Act to Incorporate the Illinois Central Railroad Company,” 10 February 1851, Private Laws of Illinois (1851), 61-74.
3No additional correspondence between Lincoln and Thomson R. Webber has been located. However, in a letter dated October 3, 1853, Lincoln noted that no one had retained his services in relation to the suit. In a letter dated October 7, 1853, Mason Brayman, an attorney for the Illinois Central Railroad, noted that the “failure of the other parties to retain you” meant that he could offer Lincoln a retainer fee of $250 on behalf of the railroad company, which Brayman sent.
Although it is unclear precisely when Lincoln first worked for the Illinois Central Railroad, he represented the company at least as early as May 1853, in the case Illinois Central Railroad v. McGinnis. Before the railroad officially retained Lincoln for the case discussed in this letter, however, it sued McLean County for an injunction to stop the county from selling railroad land to pay taxes. This case was known as Illinois Central RR v. McLean County, Illinois & Parke.
In late-September 1853, the parties reached an agreement, in which the McLean County Circuit Court would dismiss the bill, thus ruling for McLean County, and the railroad would appeal the case to the Illinois Supreme Court, where the only question would be whether the county had a lawful right to tax the Illinois Central Railroad’s property. Lincoln represented the railroad in this case, which began in December 1853.
In December 1855, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the McLean County Circuit Court, and Justice Walter B. Scates ruled that the Illinois General Assembly could exempt property from taxation. Therefore, the Illinois Central Railroad’s charter was constitutional. Lincoln received $5,000 for his legal services, although he had to sue the railroad in 1857 to collect the fee.
At the request of Brayman, Lincoln had declined new cases against the railroad that came his way between 1853 and 1855, passing at least some on to John T. Stuart and therefore lost opportunities to earn at least some legal fees as a direct result of his employment for the railroad.
Illinois Central RR v. McLean County, Illinois & Parke, 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=136867, http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Details.aspx?case=136868; Receipt of Abraham Lincoln to Illinois Central Railroad Company; Sandra K. Lueckenhoff, “A. Lincoln, a Corporate Attorney and the Illinois Central Railroad,” Missouri Law Review 61 (Spring 1996), 394; For full details on Lincoln’s involvement in the case Illinois Central Railroad v. McGinnis, see Illinois Central Railroad v. McGinnis, 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=136555; Abraham Lincoln to James F. Joy; Abraham Lincoln to Mason Brayman; For details on Lincoln suing the railroad to collect the fee for his services, see: Lincoln v. Illinois Central RR, 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=136777.
Autograph Letter Signed, 2 page(s), Private Collection, Marilyn Webber Thies and Carl M. Webber (Urbana, IL).