Abraham Lincoln to Elihu N. Powell, 15 February 18561Springfield, Feb– 15. 1856Dear Powell:
When you wrote me from Chicago about our Aspinall case, I had done nothing with it–2 But being thereby stirred up, I looked into it, and took fright, lest the Statute of Limitations had matured against it, since the papers were in my hands– To make sure, if it had not, that it should not, I brought the suit at once in our Sangamon Circuit Court, not knowing where Aspinall lives, so as to sue in the Federal court. The transcript of record which you gave me, showed the judgment to have been rendered in Nov. [November] 1850; but something about it made me suspect that to be a mistake– I sent the transcript to Mr Gantt, who returned it to me day-before yesterday, amended, showing the date of the judgment to be Nov. 18523 So, we are on our feet again as to the Statute of Limitations–4 This morning I finished, and filed the declaration Q. E. D. [Quod Erat Demonstrandum]5Yours as everA. Lincoln–6
2Elihu N. Powell’s letter to Lincoln of unknown date to which this is a response has not been located. Lincoln received Powell’s letter by January 29, 1856 when he wrote and filed a praecipe in Sangamon County Circuit Court in the case of Aspinall v. Lewis, Johnson & Co. Powell had forwarded to Lincoln & Herndon a promissory note that plaintiff Thomas Aspinall was attempting to recover from the Springfield firm of Lewis, Johnson & Company. In 1848, Isaac V. W. Dutcher and Charles K. Bacon had purchased an interest in the patent rights to a churn from Lewis, Johnson & Co., which they partially paid via promissory note. That note was later conveyed by Lewis, Johnson & Co. to Aspinall, who instituted a suit against Dutcher and Bacon in the St. Louis Court of Common Pleas to recover the value of the note. Aspinall lost that case in an 1852 judgment that declared the note was worthless because the churn had failed. Thus, Aspinall turned to pursuing Lewis, Johnson & Co. for the debt with the assistance of Lincoln & Herndon. On May 8, 1857, the Sangamon County Circuit Court dismissed the case at the request of Aspinall’s attorney, presumably William H. Herndon as Lincoln was in Danville on that date. Aspinall was apparently unaware that the case was dismissed, as he wrote to Lincoln & Herndon on April 26, 1859 requesting to know what if anything they had done in the case.
The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln, 29 January 1856, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1856-01-29; 8 May 1857, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1857-05-08; Aspinall v. Lewis, Johnson & Co., 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=138061.
3The case transcript sent by Powell has not been located, but a transcript of the case in Lincoln’s hand giving the date of Aspinall’s earlier trial as November 9, 1852, is extant. No correspondence between Lincoln and attorney Thomas T. Gantt on the subject of this case has been located. Gantt had earlier been Aspinall’s legal advisor in St. Louis.
Transcript, Document ID: 1715, Aspinall v. Lewis, Johnson & Co., 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=138061; Thomas Aspinall to Lincoln & Herndon.
4Under Illinois state law, the statute of limitations for suits related to promissory notes was five years from recovery or from the cause of the action. In Aspinall v. Lewis, Johnson & Co. Lincoln was concerned with filing suit within five years of the previous judgment in St. Louis Court of Common Pleas in November 1852.
N. H. Purple, comp., A Compilation of the Statutes of the State of Illinois (Chicago: Keen & Lee, 1856), 2:730-31.
5The initials Q.E.D. were often included at the end of mathematical proofs in geometry. Quod Erat Demonstrandum is a Latin phrase meaning “which was to be demonstrated.”
Elaine Higgleton and Anne Seaton, eds., Harrap’s Essential English Dictionary (New Delhi: Allied Chambers (India) Limited, 1995), 1166; William J. Milne, Plane Geometry (New York, Cincinnati, Chicago: American Book, 1899), 20.
Autograph Letter Signed, 2 page(s), Box 5, Lincoln Collection, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, IL).