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Abraham Lincoln to Jacob Ritter, 15 August 18511
Mr Jacob Ritter:Sir
I have carefully examined the judgment, or Decree rather, in the United States court; and I have no hesitation in saying that it does not constitute any lien on any land of James M. Duncan– It is [an?] simply a decree for the sale of the lands of Joseph Duncan deceased, which lands are described in the decree, one forty-acre tract only being in Fayette County; & I understand from the Clerk, that forty is no part of yours–
I will volunteer to say you would better examine the Land office, and Recorder's office, at Vandalia, and ascertain whether James M. Duncan really has title to the land you are buying of him– Also examine the records of the Fayette circuit court for judgments against him, which might be a lien upon the land–2
Yours &c[etc.]A. Lincoln
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Mr Jacob RitterVandaliaIllinois–
1Abraham Lincoln wrote and signed this letter, including the address on the last sheet, which was folded to create an envelope.
2Between 1821 and 1850, James M. Duncan acquired more than 570 acres of land in Fayette County. His brother, former Illinois Governor Joseph Duncan, died in 1844. James M. Duncan became an executor of his brother’s will, but it is unclear if he inherited any of his brother’s land.
In this letter, Lincoln advised Jacob Ritter to ensure that James M. Duncan possessed title to the forty acres of land in Fayette County that Ritter wished to purchase. Since it was common for creditors to secure liens upon the property of their debtors, Lincoln also advised Ritter to check that Duncan had no liens upon the land from debts. (A lien is a charge or security interest attached to real or personal property to satisfy a debt.) No additional correspondence between Lincoln and Ritter has been located.
Illinois Public Domain Land Tract Sales, Fayette County, 146:12, 57, 150:4, 10, Illinois State Archives, Springfield, IL; U.S. General Land Office Records, 1776-2015, Fayette County, IL, Certificate #8561; Certificate #10182 (Provo, UT: Ancestry,com, 2008); Illinois, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1772-1999, 18 January 1844, Morgan County (Provo, UT: Ancestry.com, 2015); “Lien,” 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.

Autograph Letter Signed, 2 page(s), Private Collection, Betty Isbell (Vandalia, IL).