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Abraham Lincoln to William Martin, 21 February 18511
Hon: William MartinDear Sir:
One of my suits here is against James A. Barret, on a subscription for thirty shares of Stock–2 I am just now notified that he will make no agreements to save trouble & cost, but will fight at arm's end, and at all points– This throws upon us the necessity of being prepared at all points– I have already said to you, that the Books of the Corporation, containing the entries of the orders for the calls, will be indispensable; and that they must also be accompanied with competent proof that they are, in fact, the books of the incorporation– Suppose you Telegraph them at New-York to know whether a Clerk of theirs, who can swear to the books, can not be here with the books on the third monday of March– If you know the name of the Clerk or Secretary at New-York, send it to me at once– Also if you get an answer by Telegraph, communicate it to me at once–3
Yours trulyA. Lincoln
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SPRINGFIELD Ill.[Illinois]
FEB[February] 22
Hon: William MartinAltonIllinois–
[docketing]
02/21/1851
William Martin
A. Lincoln
Feb[February] 21– 1851.4
1Abraham Lincoln wrote and signed this letter, including the address on the last sheet, which was folded to create an envelope.
2Lincoln references legal work for the Alton & Sangamon Railroad Company, which had retained Lincoln & Herndon to collect balances due on shares of capital stock purchased by stockholders. The Illinois General Assembly chartered the railroad in February 1847 to construct and operate a railroad between Alton, Illinois, via New Berlin, and Springfield, Illinois. Section two of the company’s charter allowed the incorporators to issue $500,000 in stock at $100 per share, and section six required subscribers to purchase stock by paying $5 on each share subscribed at the time of subscribing and the balance in installments called for by a board of directors. The incorporators opened subscription for stock in May 1847, and James A. Barret purchased thirty shares ($3,000). He also owned 4,215 acres of land in southwestern Sangamon County, Illinois, which bordered the proposed route. On January 29, 1851, however, the General Assembly altered the charter to allow the company to construct the road on a more direct route, bypassing the property of several stockholders, including Barret. Believing that the change in route voided their subscription agreements, Barret and other investors refused to pay their remaining installments, and the company hired Lincoln & Herndon to collect the full subscriptions. Barret and several other delinquent subscribers were from Sangamon County, and thirty-seven were from Madison County, Illinois. William Martin was among the incorporators.
Lincoln planned to bring suit on behalf of the railroad against Sangamon County residents Barret, Joseph Klein, Sr., John M. Burkhardt, and Thomas J. Kirkpatrick.
“An Act to Construct a Railroad from Alton, in Madison County, to Springfield, in Sangamon County,” 27 February 1847, Private and Special Laws of Illinois (1847), 144-49; Alton & Sangamon Railroad Stock Subscription Book; List of Stock Subscriptions, Document ID: 93972, Alton & Sangamon RR v. Barret, 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=138164; Alton & Sangamon RR v. Klein, 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=138127; Alton & Sangamon RR v. Burkhardt, 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=138122; Alton & Sangamon RR v. Kirkpatrick, 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=138126; “An Act to Amend the Charter of the Alton and Sangamon Railroad Company,” 29 January 1851, Private Laws of Illinois (1851), 35. For full treatment of these cases, see Daniel W. Stowell et al., eds., The Papers of Abraham Lincoln: Legal Documents and Cases (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008), 2:172-210.
3On February 19, Lincoln wrote Martin requesting the name of either the clerk or secretary. Martin responded on the same day. Martin’s letter has not been located, and its contents remain unknown, but he probably provided Lincoln with the name of the secretary, Isaac Gibson, who Lincoln sought to depose in the Barret and Klein lawsuits.
Barret refused to settle, and in March 1851, the company sued Barret in the Sangamon County Circuit Court in an action of assumpsit to collect the balance due on the thirty shares of capital stock. In November, the court ruled for the railroad, and awarded it $1,351. Barret appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court, which affirmed the judgment in December, establishing an important precedent for subsequent stock subscription cases. Justice Samuel H. Treat, who wrote the opinion for the court, relied on Lincoln’s legal citations and argument, reasoning that unforeseen construction problems concerning a public improvement could not be fully known when the General Assembly granted a charter. Therefore, the General Assembly might remedy the situation by amending the charter without the consent of all the incorporators. Treat concluded that a "few obstinate stockholders should not be permitted to deprive the public and the company of the advantages that will result from a superior and less expensive route." The development of Lincoln's argument is clear from letters that Lincoln wrote Martin between March and August 1851.
Abraham Lincoln to William Martin; Abraham Lincoln to William Martin; Abraham Lincoln to William Martin; Abraham Lincoln to William Martin; Abraham Lincoln to William Martin; Abraham Lincoln to William Martin; Abraham Lincoln to William Martin; Abraham Lincoln to William Martin; Abraham Lincoln to William Martin; Abraham Lincoln to William Martin. For court documents related to the Barret case, see Alton & Sangamon RR v. Barret, 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=138164; Barret v. Alton & Sangamon 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=138165. For Lincoln’s efforts to depose Gibson, see Notice to Take Deposition, Document ID: 4971, 4914, Alton & Sangamon RR v. Barret, 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=138164; Notice to Take Deposition, Interrogatories, Document ID: 4783, Alton & Sangamon RR v. Klein, 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=138127; Abraham Lincoln to Isaac Gibson; Isaac Gibson to Abraham Lincoln; Isaac Gibson to Abraham Lincoln. See also Daniel W. Stowell et al., eds., The Papers of Abraham Lincoln: Legal Documents and Cases, 2:172-210; James A. Barret v. The Alton & Sangamon Railroad Company, 13 Ill. (Peck) (1851) 504-14.
4Martin wrote this docketing.

Autograph Letter Signed, 2 page(s), Lincoln Collection, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, IL).