SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois First Lady Lura Lynn Ryan today announced that 83 original legal documents, most pertaining to Stephen A. Douglas and one written by Abraham Lincoln, have been donated to the Illinois State Historical Library by Mr. and Mrs. Joseph R. Hemp.
Most of the documents pertain to Douglas, Lincoln’s political rival, who, like Lincoln, practiced law in Illinois. Several include cases argued during Douglas’ tenure on the Illinois Supreme Court. Nine of the documents, including one written by Lincoln, relate directly to cases concerning Lincoln’s law practice.
The document written by Lincoln concerns the 1840 case of Siloam Carter, who obtained judgments in a justice of the peace court against William Bennett and Wharton Ransdell. Bennett and Ransdell filed appeal bonds, indicating they wished to appeal the court’s decision, thus postponing a final settlement of the case. However, when the two men failed to appeal the case, Carter retained John T. Stuart and Abraham Lincoln to recover monetary damages from the appeal bonds the defendants had filed. Lincoln wrote a copy of the appeal bond to use as evidence, and this copy is part of the Hemp donation. Apparently the two sides reached an agreement, and Carter dismissed the case.
Other documents in the Hemp donation relate to cases of debt and replevin that involved Lincoln or his law practice.
The majority of the donated documents are from Douglas’ legal career, including several written by Douglas during the first few years that he was a practicing attorney. These documents are rare examples of Douglas’ early career striving to make a living on a traveling lawyer’s salary.
Stephen A. Douglas, 1813 – 1861, was an attorney, served in the Illinois State Legislature from 1836 – 1837, on the Illinois Supreme Court from 1841 – 1843, served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1843 – 1847, and the U.S. Senate from 1848 until his death. He was one of the most influential statesmen in U.S. history, drafting the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, among other landmark pre-Civil War laws concerning the slavery question. Douglas’ series of debates with Lincoln in 1858 for the U.S. Senate drew national attention; he won that election, but lost the 1860 Presidential election to Lincoln.