On the Circuit
Winter months were an inconvenience but not an obstacle to the continuing search for court records in central Illinois. Late in January a three-person team finished its blind search in the Macon County Courthouse in Decatur. Thanks to generous cooperation and assistance from Circuit Clerk Paul Hogan and his staff, project workers located and photocopied over 1,000 documents relating to 70 cases that Lincoln and his partners had there. From there the search caravan traveled to Clinton in De Witt County, a venue for important case work that Lincoln handled for the Illinois Central Railroad. Circuit Clerk Merna Tucker and her associates generously assigned a work space and offered their full assistance. Soon after beginning the search, project staff discovered a previously unknown Lincoln document pertaining to his affiliation on an Illinois Central case with a well known local lawyer, Clifton H. Moore. Staff members Erin Bishop, Michael Duncan and Susan Krause will remain in De Witt County for several months.
Research associate Dennis Suttles is commuting to Brown County (Mt. Sterling), in hopes of uncovering important case information there. Circuit Clerk Carolyn Wort has kindly helped with arrangements and information. Meanwhile assistant editor Bill Beard has begun an extensive sweep through 18 southern Illinois counties for trial level records of cases that were referred to Lincoln and his partners for appeal before the Illinois Supreme Court.
A Lincoln Case in Macon County
In January project researchers discovered a new Lincoln document in the Macon County Circuit Court records, in Decatur, Illinois. It is no more than a simple receipt for $13.50 in Lincoln's handwriting and with his signature. As with most such discoveries, however, there is an interesting legal tale behind this routine document.
Married women in antebellum America were not created equal in the eyes of the law. Revolutionary rhetoric did not match actual practice. The most important sign of this subordinate status was the inability of married women to control their property. Under the common law, women and men gained certain rights and responsibilities after marriage, but the wife assumed a secondary role. Their union denied the wife legal standing as a person. A wife could not execute contracts, convey property owned prior to marriage, serve as an executor or administrator of estates, or as a legal guardian. She could not initiate a law suit without her husband's consent. Nineteenth century feminist Sarah Grimke considered a woman invisible in marriage and "a cipher in the nation."
Until Illinois passed a married women's property act in 1861, granting wives absolute control over real and personal property brought into or acquired during marriage, the most significant property right a wife possessed was dower. Dower was a share, usually one-third, of the real property owned by husbands during marriage that was designated for the support of widows. No husband could sell property to deny his wife's dower without her consent. Dower was a necessity in a legal system that denied women the ability to provide for their own financial security during widowhood.
The case in which Lincoln received $13.50 for legal fees involved dower. The three Dewees brothers, Joseph, Samuel and William, had opened one of the first stores in Decatur and each acquired large estates. In the spring of 1840 Samuel died, and his widow Maria assigned her brother-in-law, Joseph, power of attorney to secure her part of the estate. Joseph, also administrator for his brother, failed to act within the required one month. A decade passed before Maria and her second husband, William Redfield, hired attorney Charles Emerson to file a suit in chancery (there being no remedy for dower in common law) to recover her third of Samuel Dewees' estate. Lincoln and Anthony Thornton were retained by the defendant, estate administrator Joseph Dewees. After two continuances, Judge David Davis ruled for the Redfields and granted Maria her dower in November 1851.
Joseph Dewees died before paying Lincoln's fee. In a friendly case, Lincoln filed suit against Dewees' estate for payment. On his 44th birthday, February 12, 1853, Abraham Lincoln acknowledged receiving his fee for $13.50.
In February the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) announced renewal for a third year of its support for The Lincoln Legal Papers. The 1992-93 award is for $33,600, a slight increase over the current year but much below the requested level. These funds will directly support the continuing search for documents. Further timely assistance came in a generous two-year grant of $12,000 from the Springfield Clearinghouse Association, a group of five local financial institutions: Bank One, First of America, First National Bank, Magna Bank, and Town and Country Bank. Regrettably, the Susan Cook House Education Trust decided not to provide implementation funds for a promising educational project announced one year ago.
A fundraising request to subscribers of this newsletter yielded 55 donations totaling $6,130 during the first quarter of 1992. Never was such help more important than at present, when dwindling state resources imperil the momentum of our search for documents. We therefore acknowledge with deep gratitude the generosity of the following recent donors: Robert M. Alm, Joseph M. Ayd, Molly M. Becker, Carl R. Bemiller, Joseph L. Block, Robert C. Bray, Ruth Burnham, Thomas F. Carlisle, D.L. Coulter, George M. Craig, Irving Dilliard, Richard W. Dyke, Lawrence Elliott, Luann Elvey, Tom Forgue, Robert S. French, Sunset Historical Gallery, John R. Gehlbach, Neil Gorosh, Thomas Harbinson, Shelby T. Harbison, Stanley N. Katz, Raymond Kisch, Gerald D. Kluetz, Dr. & Mrs. Victor Lary, Roy Licari, Alfred J. Lipsey, Ralph W. Lucas, Mr. & Mrs. Harold B. MacMahon, John F. Macpherson, Lewis P. Mallow, Jr., Virginia McConnell, Paul H. McFarland, Jr., David B. Miller, Daniel K. Miller, Lee C. Moorehead, Josephine K. Oblinger, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Oxtoby, Samuel A. Perroni, John Power and the Jacksonville Journal Courier, Dorothy B. Richardson, Gregory Romano, Sally Schanbacher, Benjamin Shapell, Jack L. Smith, Ben Solof, Marine Bank of Springfield, John E. Staudt, Maurine E. Taylor, Carl Volkmann, Mrs. Henry G.R. White, Donald W. Wilcox, Robert S. Willard, Jeffrey D. Wohl, and Louise F. Wollan.
Lincoln Legal Papers sweatshirts and T-shirts are still available, although fashion-conscious readers have exhausted certain sizes. We therefore ask you to be patient, and we will fill your order as soon as possible. Several people have inquired about colors other than peach. We cannot stock such variety, but are willing to accommodate requests as best we can. Prices are $20 for sweatshirts, and $11 for T-shirts, available in large and extra-large. Send orders, payment included, to The Lincoln Legal Papers, Old State Capitol, Springfield, IL 62701.