William C. Chumasero to Abraham Lincoln, 22 May 18491Peru May 22d 1849.A Lincoln Esq[Esquire]Dr[Dear] Sir
I have been retained by the Columbus Ins co to commence suit vs Peoria Bridge co. for loss sustained by canal Boat Troy in striking pier of bridge while in Tow from this place to St Louis2If you have not been consulted by the Bridge co.[company] I would like to have you with me in the case Please inform me whether you are engaged or not & if not what fee certain– or conditional you would charge to assist– Please answer immediately & If not engaged already I will send you Statement of case & what can be proved3Respy &c.[Respectfully etc.]Wm Chumasero.
2On March 22, 1849, the steamer Falcon was towing several boats, including the Troy, along the Illinois River from Peru, Illinois, to St. Louis, Missouri. During transit, the Troy collided with some of the piers of the Peoria Bridge. The Troy sank into the river, which destroyed its cargo of wheat, valued at approximately $5,000. The Columbus Insurance Company insured the cargo and ship and paid the claim for damages.
Columbus Insurance Co. v. Peoria Bridge 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), Document ID: 129720, http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Details.aspx?case=140936; William Chumasero to Abraham Lincoln.
3Abraham Lincoln responded to Chumasero on May 26. Lincoln’s letter is not extant, but he apparently expressed interest in the case, because Chumasero wrote him on May 29 and gave him the particulars of the case.
The insurance company retained Lincoln and Chumasero and sued Alfred G. Curtenius and other stockholders of the Peoria Bridge Company/Association in the United States Circuit Court, District of Illinois. Lincoln and Chumasero apparently brought an action of trespass against the Peoria Bridge Company/Association to recover damages. Arguments began in late 1851. Arguing on behalf of the plaintiffs, Lincoln and Chumasero claimed that the piers were an obstruction to river navigation. Lawyers for Curtenius and others pled that the Illinois General Assembly authorized the construction of the bridge, therefore protecting them from liability. The insurance company demurred to the plea, arguing that the General Assembly, in enacting the law creating the Peoria Bridge Company, did not possess authority to create obstructions to the navigation of the Illinois River. The court sustained the demurrer, ruling that Curtenius and others should have claimed that the bridge was not an obstruction. The parties agreed to substitute the Peoria Bridge Company/Association as defendants for Curtenius and others. The bridge company/association pleaded again. The jury was unable to agree on a verdict. The parties reached an agreement, and the court dismissed the case in July 1854.
Columbus Insurance Co. v. Peoria Bridge Co., Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, Document ID: 129719, http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Details.aspx?case=140936.
Autograph Letter Signed, 1 page(s), Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress (Washington, DC).