In the Nick of Time
Here at the Lincoln Legal Papers, we often benefit from serendipitous discovery, but seldom has it come at such an opportune time. Since April of this year, Assistant Editor Dennis Suttles has been at work on a particular chapter for our forthcoming selective book edition. This chapter focuses on the case of Davenport v. Sconce and Don Carlos, a Vermilion County case that lasted from 1857 to 1860. The rather complicated case involved charges of fraud and collusion surrounding land titles in eastern Illinois. Abraham Lincoln represented the plaintiff William Davenport, who charged that Lafayette Sconce and William Don Carlos, agents of the General Land Office in Danville, Illinois, had conspired to sell him some government land near Pontiac, Illinois, which had a faulty title. The previous owner, Sylvester W. Richmond, had initially filed a claim to the land which had some technical flaws. Laws governing the distribution of government land required the land office to notify Richmond of the flaws and to give him an opportunity to correct them. Instead, Davenport charged, Sconce and Don Carlos took advantage of the situation to resell the 160 acres of land.
The documentation for this case is strong, which is one of the reasons the editorial staff chose it for inclusion in the book edition. A few weeks ago, however, a new document surfaced. Ms. Mary Paulius of Metropolis, Illinois, contacted the staff of the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices State Historic Site. Happily, she talked with Site Interpreter Paul Sullivan, who gave her our phone number. She called Assistant Director John Lupton and asked if we would be interested in a document from the case of Davenport v. Sconce and Don Carlos, which of course we were. The document, although not authored by Lincoln, is very valuable to the case. It is a page of notes made by Judge David Davis, who presided in the case. Davisís notes detail Abraham Lincolnís oral argument in the case and the response of the defendantsí attorneys. From the days before court stenographers, the oral arguments made by lawyers rarely survive. In only a few cases do we have notes by either the attorney himself or by the judge for such oral arguments. Ms. Paulius sent a photograph of the document to the project, and Suttles has incorporated a transcription of this key piece of evidence into his chapter.
As for the case, Judge David Davis ruled in the November 1860 term of the Vermilion County Circuit Court for Lincolnís client. Davis ordered Sconce and Don Carlos to refund the purchase price of $480 to Davenport, and Richmond kept the land. It was not a complete victory for Lincoln, as he had sought interest on the purchase price for the four years since Davenport had paid it.
The entire staff would like to express their appreciation to Ms. Paulius. Her willingness to share this document adds an important dimension to this interesting case and illustrates once again how the Lincoln Legal Papers benefits from the kindness of strangers. Other documents from Lincolnís quarter-century legal career will continue to surface, but few could have been as valuableóor as timelyóas these judgeís notes.
Mary Paulius inherited the document from her great-grandfather, Martin James Barger (1846-1918), pictured at left in a Civil War-era tintype.
Road Rage in Logan County
The location and route of roads in antebellum America was a serious issue for landowners who stood to lose the integrity and value of their land. Since the settlement of Mt. Pulaski in Logan County, Illinois, people traveled on a straight-line road between Mt. Pulaski and Springfield, the state capital, in neighboring Sangamon County. In 1854, the Logan County Commissioners decided to sanction the building of a road that followed the old path (Map at right). Barton Robinson, who owned land southeast of Mt. Pulaski through which the road passed, opposed the construction. In 1855, he sold his land to John Buckles, a farmer and livestock dealer, who also opposed the road.
Buckles submitted a petition to relocate the road from passing through his land to skirting the northwest boundary of his property (Map below). Buckles and the Logan County Commissioners agreed that if he would pay for the building of the new route, then the county would support it. Buckles spent $250 to elevate and grade the new road, and county inspectors gave their approval. Believing the issue had been settled, Buckles built fences along the borders of his property in order to contain his livestock.
Upset that Buckles began blocking the straight-line road, Samuel Beam, the road commissioner for the Mt. Pulaski area, sued Buckles for an injunction to stop him from building fences and obstructing the road. Buckles retained Abraham Lincoln, who secured the testimony of county officials who declared that Buckles's road was much better than the straight-line road despite being longer. The parties reached an agreement and dismissed the case. With lawyer Lincolnís help, Buckles was able to maintain the integrity of his land by relocating the county road along the outskirts of his property.
[Note: The top map is the proposed straight-line road in 1854. It is from the Bill for Injunction, 14 September 1857, Beam & Skinner v. Buckles, Illinois State Archives. The bottom map is the actual road after 1857. It is from the Atlas of Logan County (Chicago: Warner Higgins & Beers, 1873), xv.]
Assistant Director/Assistant Editor
This case is included in the curriculum materials located on this website. Click here to access.
The project acknowledges with deep appreciation the generosity of the following contributors:
Civil War Round Table of Decatur, Illinois
Robert W. Dickerman
James A. Getty
Kevin J. Kaegy
Kaller Family Foundation
Macon County Conservation District
Brandt N. Steele
Project and Staff News
The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) has awarded the project $72,719 for the 2002 fiscal year. The award is equal to the amount we received last year for operating expenses. Suffering from extremely limited funds, the NHPRC has once again demonstrated its confidence in the Lincoln Legal Papers with this award.
Alanna Sablotny, a senior at Webster University in St. Louis, is spending an eight-week summer internship at the Lincoln Legal Papers. Among other responsibilities, she has assisted the editors by photocopying materials, entering data into the computer, and doing research related to certain Lincoln documents.
Dennis Suttles graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in May with a Master's degree in Library Science.
Daniel Stowell's book, Balancing Evils Judiciously: The Proslavery Writings of Zephaniah Kingsley, published by the University Press of Florida, is now available in paperback.
An interview with John Lupton aired on Minnesota Public Radio in April. He talked with a reporter about Lincoln's legal career.
Chris Schnell presented a paper entitled, ďAt the Bar and on the Stump: Douglas and Lincolnís Legal Relationship 1837-1841Ē at the Stephen A. Douglas Symposium in Decatur in April. Stacy McDermott served as the chair of the session.
John Lupton spoke to the Lincoln Land Community College Elderhostel group that toured Springfield in June. He spoke about the project, the Complete Documentary Edition, and Lincoln's circuit riding practice.
Chris Schnell spoke to the Decatur Civil War Round Table in June. He demonstrated the Complete Documentary Edition and talked about some of Lincoln's more interesting cases from Macon County.
Also in June, John Lupton spoke to the staff and volunteers at the New Salem Historic Site. He demonstrated the Complete Documentary Edition and gave a chronology of Lincoln's experiences with the law from 1831 to 1836, the time Lincoln lived in New Salem.
Glenna Schroeder-Lein attended the Institute for the Editing of Historical Documents in Madison, Wisconsin. The National Historical Publications and Records Commission sponsors "Camp Edit" each year, and over the years, twelve members of the Lincoln Legal Papers have attended the institute.