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Abraham Lincoln. Proceedings in the Supreme court of Illinois online

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Compliments of

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Ebrabam lincoln

rrooee&ings in thf

Supreme Court of Illinois


The 100th Anniversary of his Birth


Proceedings Commemorative of the One Hundredth

Anniversary of the Birth of Abraham

Lincoln, February ii, 1909.

At the February term, 1909, of the Supreme Court the
following proceedings in commemoration of the one hun-
dredth anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln were
had, February n, 1909:

Mr. Chief Justice Cartwright:

The court is advised that a representation of the bar associa-
tion are present to present a memorial, and the court will now
listen to it.

Col. Nathan William aIacChesnev:

May it please the court — It is seldom that it would be appropri-
ate to break in upon the work of the court and ask it to take the
time which is necessarily given to the work before it, for anything
else than that work: but it is deemed suitable that upon this oc-
casion some recognition should be given to the fact that this State.
as a whole, is about to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of
the birth of Abraham Lincoln. The significance of the event has
been recognized by executive proclamation and by a joint resolu-
tion of the General Assembly. It would be fitting if this court,
also, as the representative of the other great branch of the gov-
ernment, might take official recognition of this great centennial.

The State of Illinois has been aroused as never before. The
people throughout the State realize the service that Abraham Lin-
coln rendered to them and to the nation. The citizens of Chicago


- n

have planned the greatest celebration which that city has ever had
in its history,— community-wide in its aspect and educational in its
nature. The citizens of Springfield have planned a unique and
comprehensive program, reviewing the life and services of Abra-
ham Lincoln, to be participated in by distinguished representatives
of foreign countries, — thus typifying the world-wide appeal of the
man whom they honor. It is peculiarly appropriate that these two
communities should do this, for in Springfield was his life as a
lawyer spent. It was here that many of his greatest addresses
were made, and it was from here that he went, with a sense of
sadness, to take upon him the oath of office of President of the
United States. On the other hand, it was in Chicago that he wa-
nominated for the presidency. It was there that he issued the
challenge to Judge Douglas for the series of famous joint debates,
and it was there that he made his first reply to Judge Douglas in
that series which made his candidacy for the presidency possible,
nay, inevitable.

Chicago is to observe the centenary of the birth of this gre it
Hlinoisan. not by a meeting for the favored few, but by a great
civic celebration, in order that all the people may realize the spirit
that animated Lincoln and perhaps catch it in their own lives, ;0
that they, too. may render something of the service that he ren-
dered to the State that he loved and served so well. It is there-
fore appropriate that Chicago should come here, represented by
one of her bar, and in the presence of this distinguished tribunal
pay a brief tribute to the memory of Abraham Lincoln the lawyer.
And on behalf of the mayor of Chicago and the citizen - ' commit-
tee T desire to present to this court a bronze tablet on which is in-
scribed the Gettysburg address of Lincoln, which is tl e creed o\
American patriotism, in order that some enduring memorial may
be erected in this building in commemoration of this event.

The services of Lincoln are so wide and so varied that it would
be impossible to review them, even if I were able to do so. In
this presence it would be both unnecessary and presumptuous to
attempt it. The life of Lincoln attracts us from whatever direc-

t ion we approach him. As a man he was all comprehensive in his

sympathies and in his appeal to the people. Before he was ad-
mitted to the bar, as a business man he exampled the highest
commercial integrity, — so much so, that it was thought at the time
that he was almost finical in his ideas on the subject; but to-day
is realized the inspiration his sterling honesty has been to thou-
sands of young men entering upon commercial careers.

As a lawyer we know that he stood for the highest standards
of the profession. He was a constant advocate before this court
during the years preceding his entrance upon the larger duties of
national life. His name frequently appears in the volumes of this
court from the December term, 1840, to the January term, i860.
The judgment of the bar which knew him was eloquently ex-
pressed in an address before the full bench of the Supreme Court
at Ottawa on May 3, 1865, by the Hon. J. D. Caton, formerly chief
justice, who presented a memorial which was spread upon your
records and which appears in the 37th of Illinois.

Lincoln as a man, I repeat, was all-comprehensive in his ap-
peal. As between man and man he stood for equality of rights.
He knew no church, he knew no faction, he knew no section. — no
north, no south, no east, no west. He knew only the Union. He
had no racial antipathies. His life was given to the working out
of justice so far as he knew it, and we can only marvel that he
knew it so well. It is therefore especially appropriate that this
court should take fitting recognition of his life.

Lincoln, perhaps as no other man, made his appeal to the peo-
ple as a whole. He is, in fact, the prototype of American citizen-
ship, — the ideal of the nation realized. It has been said that he is
"the first American," and truly so. for in him for the first time
were embodied the ideals which we all believe should go to make
up American manhood, and to him we look for inspiration for the
upbuilding of that manhood and the inculcation of those Heals in
the citizenship of the future.

What better tribute could he paid to Lincoln and the spirit that
guided and directed his private life and professional and public

career than to spread upon the records of this court that immortal
definition which he gave at Alton of the eternal issue in life's
struggle and to recognize the truth that he ever chose the right.
He there said :

"That is the real issue. That is the issue that will continue in
this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and my-
self shall he silent. It is the eternal struggle between these prin-
ciples — right and wrong — throughout the world. They are the
two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of
time and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common
right of humanity, and the other the 'divine right of kings.' It is
the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself."

Let these words stand as our tribute to the life of this man. —
citizen of Illinois, lawyer of this bar, greatest son of the State and
nation, the apotheosis of American manhood.

By the Chief Justice:

Mr. Justice Hand will respond on behalf of the court.
Mr. Justice Hand:

In the public mind the fame of Mr. Lincoln has in the past
rested, and will in the future largely rest, upon his conduct of the
war of the rebellion, the liberation of the black man from bondage
and the preservation of the union of the States; and by reason
of the great height to which, as a patriot and statesman, he at-
tained, the fact thai he was a great lawyer when elected president
has been largely overlooked, and the further fact thai the training
and development which enabled him to meet and solve the greal
questions which confronted him during the years thai intervened
between the firing upon Fort Stunier and the surrender at Rich-
mond had been acquired while he was practicing law in the courts
of Illinois lias generally Keen lost sight ol by the people, and some
of his biographers, even, have passed over, with hut Utile note, the
greal work of preparation in which he was engaged in his law of
fice and in the courts where he practiced from [837 to i860. \

quote from one of his biographers, who says: "He had had no
experience in diplomacy and statesmanship. As an attorney he
had dealt only with local and State statutes. He had never argued
a case in the Supreme Court and he had never studied interna-
tional law." And we often hear it said by his eulogists, that with-
out training in statecraft or in the law he was called from his
humble surroundings by his fellow-countrymen to assume responsi-
bilities which well might have deterred the wisest, the most ex-
perienced and the bravest man who had ever been called to rule
over the destinies of men or of nations ; and it has been said, in
some mysterious way, without any previous preparation either by
study or experience, within a few weeks — at most within a few
months — after his election as president he developed into the fore-
most man in modern history. That view of the life of Mr. Lin-
coln is based upon a total misapprehension of his history. Mr.
Lincoln, at the time he took the oath of office as president of the
United States, was a great lawyer and a statesman of broad views,
and while in all his undertakings for the preservation of the Union
he recognized an all-wise overruling providence, he was thoroughly
trained, prepared and amply qualified by a long course of study and
by much reflection to perform the great work to which he had
been called, and which preparation and reflection, throughout his
turbulent administration, gave him the forbearance and wisdom
which was necessary to enable him to accomplish with a brave and
steadfast purpose the great undertaking to which he had conse-
crated his life.

It must not be supposed, however, that Mr. Lincoln reached the
then high position which he occupied at once or without the most
persistent and painstaking labor, which extended over many years
of his eventful life. Mr. Lincoln came from good New England
stock, with which was mixed that of Kentucky. He was admitted
to the bar in 1836 and commenced the practice of his profession
in 1837. Prior to that time he had been a farmhand, a river boat-
man, a soldier in the Blackhawk war, a deputy county surveyor, a
postmaster and a member of the State legislature, and while he

then had but little knowledge of books, he knew well the motives
which control the actions of men.

During his professional career Mr. Lincoln had three law part-
ners : Major John T. Stuart, Judge Stephen T. Logan and Wil-
liam H. Herndon. When he entered uopn the practice of the law
the country was new and the people were poor. The courts were
held in log houses. There were few law books to be had and
the litigation involved but little in amount, — the civil cases being
mainly actions of assumpsit based upon promissory notes and ac-
counts, and actions of tort for the recovery of damages for as-
saults, slanders, etc., and the criminal cases generally involved
some form of personal violence, and most of the lawyers of that
day divided their time between the law and politics.

When Mr. Lincoln, in the spring of 1837, came to Springfield
to commence his professional career he rode a borrowed horse and
carried his goods and chattels in a pair of saddle-bags. Mr. Lin-
coln remained in partnership with Major Stuart, with whom he had
served in the Blackhawk war, until 1841, during the most of which
time Mr. Stuart was in Congress and Mr. Lincoln in the State leg-
islature, and he made but little progress in a financial or profes-
sional way during that period. He, however, had during that time
a number of cases of some importance in the circuit court and a
few in this court. The first case he had in this court was at the
December term, 1840, and was that of Scammon v. Clinc, 2 Scam.
456, in which he was defeated. That case involved a question oi
practice in taking an appeal from a justice of the peace to the cir-
cuit court and established no principle of any importance. At the
July term. 1841, however, he did have in this court a most im-
portant case, the decision of which was far-reaching in its results,
and the manner in which he handled it showed that the future held
for him in store a great professional career. It was brought in
the Tazewell county circuit court by the administrators of Nathan
Cromwell against David Bailey, upon a promissory note made to
Cromwell in bis lifetime for the purchase of a negro girl named
Nance, sold by Cromwell to Bailey. The plaintiff was represented

by Judge Stephen T. Logan, who at that time was at the zenith of
his professional career as a lawyer. Judgment was rendered upon
the note by Judge William Thomas, who presided at the trial, in
favor of the plaintiff for $431.97. The defendant prosecuted an
appeal to this court, where it was contended the note was without
consideration and void, as it was given as the purchase price of a
human being, who, the evidence showed, as it was claimed, was
free and therefore not the subject of sale. This court reversed the
trial court, the opinion being written by Judge Breese, (3 Scam.
71.) who held, contrary to the established rule in many of the
southern States, that the presumption in Illinois was that a negro
was free and not the subject of sale. Under the old rule the bur-
den was upon the negro to establish that he was free, as the pre-
sumption obtained that a black man was a slave ; under the new-
rule established by the opinion of Judge Breese the presumption
obtained that a black man in this State was free, and a person who
asserted he was a slave was required to bring forward his proof,
which often it was impossible to do.

It was a fortunate circumstance in the life of Mr. Lincoln that
in 1841 he allied himself with Judge Logan. The judge, like Mr.
Lincoln, was from Kentucky and was a very great lawyer; not
only a great lawyer, but a good lawyer, — one thoroughly grounded
in all the principles and technicalities of the common law, which
at that time Mr. Lincoln was not, and during the next four years,
and throughout his association with Judge Logan. Mr. Lincoln
grew as a lawyer very rapidly. At that period there lived in Illi-
nois a great number of very able lawyers, — Logan, Stuart, Baker,
Douglas, Trumbull. Davis, Treat, Breese, Hardin, Shields, Linder,
Manney, Purple, Knox, and others. — many of whom would have
graced the bar of any court, even that of the Supreme Court at
Washington or the courts at Westminster, in England, and a num-
ber of whom subsequently attained high distinction upon the bench
or in other walks of public life. The United States courts and
the State Supreme Court of Illinois were then held in Springfield.
and Mr. Lincoln was immediately thrown into contact and compe-

tition with those great men, and his contemporaries all attest the
fact that at the time he was elected to Congress from the Spring-
field district, in the fall of 1846, he was the peer, as a lawyer, of
any of those great men. Upon the dissolution of the firm of Logan
& Lincoln the firm of Lincoln & Herndon was formed, which lasted
until Air. Lincoln was elected president.

Mr. Lincoln was, during the time that he was in partnership
with Judge Logan and up to the time this amhition was satisfied,
anxious to go to Congress. There were then living in that district
also J. J. Hardin, E. D. Baker and Judge Logan, all of whom had
the same amhition, and it has been charged, hut perhaps without
foundation, that the "Big Four," as these men were called, formed
a coalition, whereby Hardin, Baker, Lincoln and Logan were each
to have a term in Congress in the order in which they are named.
Hardin, Baker and Lincoln each served a term in Congress, and
Logan received the nomination but was defeated at the polls.

There is another strange coincidence connected with three of
those great men. Hardin fell at Buena Yista while leading his
men in a charge during the Mexican war; Baker fell while lead-
ing his men at Balls Bluff, during the war of the rebellion, and
Mr. Lincoln, just at the close of the war, lost his life at the hands
of an assassin.

Mr. Lincoln was not a candidate for re-election to Congress,
and upon his return to Springfield, in 1849, he resumed the prac-
tice of the law. and it may be said for the next eleven years he
devoted all his energy to his profession, and his development dur-
ing that period was such that when he stepped from his law office
in Springfield into the executive office at Washington, no man
since the time of Washington was more thoroughly equipped and
prepared to till wisely that exalted position than was lie.

During the eleven years preceding the election of Mr. Lincoln
as president he not only rode the old eighth judicial circuit, hut
he had a large practice in this court and in the United Slates cir-
cuit and district courts of Illinois, and lie was often called to rep-
resent large interests in foreign States. During the twenty-three

years that Mr. Lincoln practiced law he had one hundred and
seventy-three cases in this court, — a most remarkable record, —
and I have found two eases (and perhaps there are others) which
he had during that period in the Supreme Court of the United

Mr. Lincoln was a great jury lawyer, as is attested by his ef-
forts in the Armstrong case and the Harrison case, — both murder
cases, — and in many other cases. He was also equally strong with
the court. For many years he represented some of the great cor-
porations of the State, such as the Illinois Central Railroad Com-
pany and the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad Company,
and when he became a candidate for president, the lawyers of the
State, recognizing his eminent ability, almost to a man gave him
their earnest and warm support, and his nomination was largely
secured through the influence of Judge David Davis, Gen. John i\l.
Palmer, Leonard Swett, Richard J. Oglesby, Richard Yates, and
other well known lawyers of Illinois with whom he had traveled
the old eighth judicial circuit and with whom he had tried cases in
different sections of the State.

If it were necessary to quote authority to prove the greatness
of Mr. Lincoln as a lawyer, the testimony of innumerable members
of the bench and bar who knew him might be cited. I will only
refer to that of one, — Judge David Davis, of the old eighth judi-
cial circuit, who afterwards graced with dignity and learning a
seat upon the Supreme Bench of the Lnited States. He said: "I
enjoyed for over twenty years the personal friendship of Mr. Lin-
coln. We were admitted to the bar about the same time and trav-
eled for many \ears what is known in Illinois as the eighth judicial
circuit. In [848, when I first went on the bench, the circuit em-
braced fourteen counties, and Mr. Lincoln went with the court to
every county. Railroads were not then in use and our mode of
travel was either on horseback or in buggies. * * * Air. Lin-
coln was transferred from the bar of that circuit to the office of
the president of the United States, having been without official
position since he left Congress, in [849. In all the elements thai


constitute the great lawyer he had lew equals. He was great l.oth
at nisi prius and before an appellate tribunal. He seized the strong-
points of a cause and presented them with clearness and great com-
pactness. His mind was logical and direct and he did not indulge
in extraneous discussion. * * * His power of comparison was
large, and he rarely failed in a legal discussion to use that mode of
reasoning. The framework of his mental and moral being was
honesty, and a wrong cause was poorly defended by him. * * *
In order to bring into full activity his great powers it was neces-
sary that he should be convinced of the right and justice of the
matter which he advocated. When so convinced, whether the
cause was great or small, he was usually successful. * * * He
hated wrong and oppression everywhere, and many a man whose
fraudulent conduct was undergoing review in a court of justice
has writhed under his terrific indignation and rebukes."

One of the most important cases which Mr. Lincoln ever tried
was that of the Illinois Central Railroad Company against the
county of McLean, ( 17 111. 291,) which case involved the right of
McLean county to tax lands of the Illinois Central Railroad Com-
pany in that county. Mr. Lincoln represented the company and
was defeated in the trial court. The case was carried to this
court, where it was argued orally twice by Mr. Lincoln, and the
judgment of the lower court was reversed. Mr. Lincoln received
a fee of $5000 for his services in that case, — the largest fee which
he ever received. There was some controversy over its payment,
and it was finally paid after it had been put into judgment. A
lawyer at the present day of equal prominence with Mr. Lincoln
would doubtless have charged $25,000 for the same service.

Mr. Lincoln, in about 1856. was retained by Mr. Mannev in the
famous case of McCormick v. Manney, tried in the L'nited States
court at Cincinnati, which involved the validity of the patents un-
der which the McCormick reapers were manufactured and a claim
of $400,000 for infringement. Governor William 11. Seward and
lion. Edwin M. Stanton were also retained in that case, — Mr.
Seward Eor the plaintiff. Mr. Stanton for the defendant. Mr. I. in-


coin went to Cincinnati to assist in the trial of the case but did
not argue the case orally. It has been said that during the trial
Mr. Stanton ignored him and that Seward was supposed to have
far out-ranked him as a lawyer. Mr. Lincoln, however, lived long
enough to demonstrate to the world that intellectually he towered
above each of those great men as does the snow-capped peak above
the foot-hills.

Mr. Lincoln, a little later, appeared in the United States court
in Chicago in the Rock Island Bridge case, — a case which involved
the right to bridge the Mississippi river. It was really a contest
between the railroads and the steamboats. Judge Blodgett, of Chi-
cago, who was at the time of the trial a young man, later in his
eventful life told me he listened to Mr. Lincoln's arguments in that
case, and he said to me it was the greatest forensic effort that he
had ever heard. In a nutshell, he said Mr. Lincoln's position was,
if you have the right to go up and down a river you have the right
to cross it. He further said his peroration was grand beyond de-
scription. All the territory west of the Mississippi was then prac-
tically unoccupied, and he said Mr. Lincoln described the future
development of that great territory in such vivid terms that his
language, to one who then heard it and now rode through that vast
territory and saw the development that had taken place, almost
seemed prophetic.

In the debate with Senator Douglas, in 1858, Mr. Lincoln dem-
onstrated that he was a far greater lawyer than Senator Douglas.
The answers which Senator Douglas attempted to make to the
questions propounded to him by Mr. Lincoln at Frceport involved
Mr. Douglas in a maze of contradictions and inconsistencies and
alienated the south from him and perhaps lost him the presidency.

After Mr. Lincoln was inaugurated as president his adminis-
tration was immediately beset with many great and vexatious ques-
tions which demanded immediate answers. The south claimed the
right of secession, and the feeble administration which surrendered
the reins of government to Mr. Lincoln had sought to compromise
with the men who were attempting to break up the government.
Mr. Lincoln firmly denied the right of secession. He said that one
partv to a contract could not voluntarily abrogate it. He said a


contract might be broken, but that it could not be rescinded, except
for fraud in its inception, without the concurrent act of botb par-
ties. This argument was but re-stating well-settled principles of
law, which be bad beard announced and seen applied time and
again upon the old eighth judicial circuit when be was practicing
law. and bis clear statement of tbe propesition satisfied the country
and put the seceding States upon the defensive.

In tbe controversy with England over tbe capture of Mason and
Slidell lie upheld tbe principles for which tbe United States had
contended in the war of 1812, and tbe vexatious problem was sat-
isfactorily and wisely settled.

When tbe United States treasury was depleted he said tbe issue
of the greenback was authorized under the constitution as a war


Online LibraryIllinois. Supreme courtAbraham Lincoln. Proceedings in the Supreme court of Illinois → online text (page 1 of 2)