Page images
PDF
EPUB

Mr. Lincoln had on hand a case for this same gentleman for three years, and took it through three courts to the Supreme Court, and charged him for his services only seventy-five dollars. His wants were not large. He had no expensive vices, took no delight in fine clothing, and had no strong desire to accumulate money. Indeed, after all his years of practice, which closed only with his election to the presidency, he had accumulated, as the sum total of all his gold and goods, only the estimated value of sixteen thousand dollars.

Some incidents illustrating his practice, and the motives which controlled him in it, may with propriety be stated here, although they are not all of them associated with this period of his life. An old woman of seventy-five years, the widow of a revolutionary pensioner, came tottering into his office one day, and, taking a seat, told him that a certain pension agent had charged her the exorbitant fee of two hundred dollars for collecting her claim. Mr. Lincoln was satisfied by her representations that she had been swindled, and finding that she was not a resident of the town, and that she was poor, gave her money, and set about the work of procuring restitution. He immediately entered suit against the agent to recover a portion of his ill-gotten money. The suit was entirely successful, and Mr. Lincoln's address to the jury before which the case was tried is remembered to have been peculiarly touching in its allusions to the poverty of the widow, and the patriotism of the husband she had sacrificed to secure the nation's independence. He had the gratification of paying back to her a hundred dollars, and sending her home rejoicing.

One afternoon an old negro woman came into the office of Lincoln & Herndon,* and told the story of her trouble, to which both lawyers listened. It appeared that she and her offspring were born slaves in Kentucky, and that her owner, one Hinkle, had brought the whole family into Illinois, and given them their freedom. Her son had gone down the Mississippi as a waiter or deck hand, on a steamboat. Arriving at New Orleans, he had imprudently gone ashore, and had been snatched up by the police, in accordance with the law then in force concerning free negroes from other states, and thrown into confinement. Subsequently, he was brought out and tried. Of course he was fined, and, the boat having left, he was sold, or was in immediate danger of being sold, to pay his fine and the expenses. Mr. Lincoln was very much moved, and requested Mr. Herndon to go over to the State House, and inquire of Governor Bissell if there was not something that he could do to obtain possession of the negro. Mr. Herndon made the inquiry, and returned with the report that the Governor regretted to say that he had no legal or constitutional right to do anything in the premises. Mr. Lincoln rose to his feet in great excitement, and exclaimed, “ By the Almighty, I 'll have that negro back soon, or I 'll have a twenty years' agitation in Illinois, until the Governor does have a legal and constitutional right to do something in the premises.” He was saved from the latter alternative—at least in the direct form which he proposed. The lawyers sent money to a New Orleans correspondent-money of their own—who procured the negro, and returned him to his mother.

* William H. Herndon, who became Mr. Lincoln's partner after he dissolved his association with Judge Logan.

Mr. Lincoln's early athletic struggle with Jack Armstrong, the representative man of the “Clary's Grove Boys,” will be remembered. From the moment of this struggle, which Jack agreed to call “ a drawn battle,” in consequence of his own foul play, they became strong friends. Jack would fight for Mr. Lincoln at any time, and would never hear him spoken against. Indeed, there were times when young Lincoln made Jack's cabin his home, and here Mrs. Armstrong, a most womanly person, learned to respect the rising man. There was no service to which she did not make her guest abundantly welcome, and he never ceased to feel the tenderest gratitude for her kindness. At length, her husband died, and she became dependent upon her sons. The oldest of these, while in attendance up a camp-meeting, found himself involved in a melee, which resulted in the death of a young man; and young Armstrong was charged by one of his associates with

striking the fatal blow. He was arrested, examined, and imprisoned to await his trial. The public mind was in a blaze of excitement, and interested parties fed the flame. Mr. Lincoln knew nothing of the merits of this case, that is certain. He only knew that his old friend Mrs. Armstrong was in sore trouble; and he sat down at once, and volunteered by letter to defend her son. His first act was to procure the postponement and a change of the place of the trial. There was too much fever in the minds of the immediate public to permit of fair treatment. When the trial came on, the case looked very hopeless to all but Mr. Lincoln, who had assured himself that the young man was not guilty. The evidence on behalf of the state being all in, and looking like a solid and consistent mass of testimony against the prisoner, Mr. Lincoln undertook the task of analyzing and destroying it, which he did in a manner that surprised every one. The principal witness testified that “ by the aid of the brightly shining moon, he saw the prisoner inflict the death blow with a slung shot.' Mr. Lincoln proved by the almanac that there was no moon shining at the time. The mass of testimony against the prisoner melted away, until “not guilty” was the verdict of every man present in the crowded court-room. There is, of course, no record of the plea made on this occasion, but it is remembered as one in which Mr. Lincoln made an appeal to the sympathies of the jury which quite surpassed his usual efforts of the kind, and melted all to tears. The jury were out but half an hour, when they returned with their verdict of “not guilty.” The widow fainted in the arms of her son, who divided his attention between his services to her and his thanks to his deliverer. And thus the kind woman who cared for the poor young man, and showed herself a mother to him in his need, received the life of a son, saved from a cruel conspiracy, as her reward, from the hand of her grateful beneficiary.

The lawyers of Springfield, particularly those who had political aspirations, were afraid to undertake the defense of any one who had been engaged in helping off fugitive slaves. It was a very unpopular business in those days and in that lo

case.

cality; and few felt that they could afford to engage in it. One who needed such aid went to Edward D. Baker, and was refused defense distinctly and frankly, on the ground that, as a political man, he could not afford it. The man applied to an ardent anti-slavery friend for advice. He spoke of Mr. Lincoln, and said, "He's not afraid of an unpopular

When I go for a lawyer to defend an arrested fugitive slave, other lawyers will refuse me, but if Mr. Lincoln is at home, he will always take my case."

A sheep-grower sold a number of sheep at a stipulated average price. When he delivered the animals, he delivered many lambs, or sheep too young to come fairly within the terms of the contract. He was sued for damages by the injured party, and Mr. Lincoln was his attorney. At the trial, the facts as to the character of the sheep delivered were proved, and several witnesses testified as to the usage by which all under a certain age were regarded as lambs, and of inferior value. Mr. Lincoln, on comprehending the facts, at once changed his line of effort, and confined himself to ascertaining the real number of inferior sheep delivered. On addressing the jury, he said that from the facts proved they must give a verdict against his client, and he only asked their scrutiny as to the actual damage suffered.

In another case, Mr. Lincoln was conducting a suit against a railroad company. Judgment having been given in his favor, and the court being about to allow the amount claimed by him, deducting a proved and allowed offset, he rose and stated that his opponents had not proved all that was justly due them in offset; and proceeded to state and allow a further sum against his client, which the court allowed in its judgment. His desire for the establishment of exact justice always overcame his own selfish love of victory, as well as his partiality for his clients' feelings and interests.

These incidents sufficiently illustrate the humane feelings and thorough honesty which Mr. Lincoln carried into the practice of his profession, and, as allusion has already been made to the high estimate placed by the people upon his ability as a lawyer, it will be proper to record here the high opinion of his professional merits entertained by the most eminent representatives of the bar of Illinois. His death in 1865 was, in accordance with usage, made the subject of notice by the various courts of the state. The Supreme Court in session at Ottawa, received a series of resolutions from the bar, which were placed upon its records. Ex-Judge Caton, in presenting them, said, “He (Mr. Lincoln) understood the relations of things, and hence his deductions were rarely wrong, from any given state of facts. So he applied the principles of law to the transactions of men with great clearness and precision. He was a close reasoner. He reasoned by analogy, and enforced his views by apt illustration. His mode of speaking was generally of a plain and unimpassioned character, and yet, he was the author of some of the most beautiful and eloquent passages in our language, which, if collected, would form a valuable contribution to American literature. The most punctilious honor ever marked his professional and private life.”

Judge Breese, in responding to the resolutions and the remarks of Judge Caton, was still more outspoken in his high opinion of Mr. Lincoln, as a lawyer. “For my single self,” he said, “I have for a quarter of a century regarded Mr. Lincoln as the finest lawyer I ever knew, and of a professional bearing so high-toned and honorable as justly, and without derogating from the claims of others, entitling him to be presented to the profession as a model well worthy of the closest imitation.” Judge Thomas Drummond of Chicago, representing the bar of that city, said, “I have no hesitation in saying that he was one of the ablest lawyers I have ever known.” In addition, he said, “no intelligent man who ever watched Mr. Lincoln through a hard-contested case at the bar, questioned his great ability.” Judge Drummond's picture of Mr. Lincoln at the bar, and his mode of speech and action is so graphic and so just that it deserves to be quoted:

“With a voice by no means pleasant, and, indeed, when excited, in its shrill tones, sometimes almost disagreeable; without any of the personal graces of the orator; without much in the outward man indicating supe

« PreviousContinue »