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SIU School of Law | SIU Law Library

An open vault door Stories From the Vault

Douglas Lind - Law Library Director

The Rare Book Room in the Law Library is one of those odd places that you may have passed and wondered why there are hundreds of books locked up behind glass doors. Well, wonder no more! In a nutshell, the room houses those items which do not circulate because they are fragile, or rare, or, in some cases, unique. These materials need to be protected because they would be quite difficult, if not impossible to replace if lost or damaged. Because I am the type of librarian who feels that every book has a story to tell (especially ones that appear to be off-limits), I intend to introduce to you those interesting, unusual, and sometimes offbeat items that are housed in the Rare Book Room of the SIU Law Library - books that you probably would otherwise not know about, but that I think you should.



An open vault door Lincoln's Law Practice

While everyone knows that Abraham Lincoln was the President of the United States from 1861 to 1865, what is often overlooked is the fact that for almost twenty-five years he practiced law in Illinois. From 1837 to 1841 he was a partner with John Todd Stuart; from 1841 to 1844 he was a partner with Stephen T. Logan; and from 1844 to1861 he practiced with his law partner in Springfield, William H. Herndon. Generally, one looking for information on Lincoln’s law practice has a variety of sources to choose from.  The decisions of the Illinois Supreme Court in which Lincoln was involved are readily available in Illinois Reports. There are also many treatises detailing his legal career – ones that are available in the Law Library’s main collection that are good starting points include: A. Lincoln: Prairie Lawyer (E 457.2 .D8), Lincoln the Lawyer (E 457.2 .H64), Lincoln the Litigant (E457.2 T69 2000), and the four-volume set, The Papers of Abraham Lincoln: Legal Documents and Cases (KF 213 .L53 S76 2008).  Much more difficult to find are the ephemeral court filings – those transactional documents related to Lincoln’s practice of law. Information about these can be found online at The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln (www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org).

Listed below are several items held in the Rare Book Room of the SIU Law Library which are quite uncommon and unusual, and in some way are related to Lincoln’s practice of law.

1839 - Early Court Summons from for a case in which Lincoln was involved -Newton v. Hailey

This is a unique piece related to Lincoln’s early law practice in Sangamon County.  It is a small (3”x7.75”) broadside summons from the Sangamon County Justice of the Peace Court commanding George Spottswood, James Dozier & Benjamin Talbott to appear before the court on September 9, 1839. The summons is signed by William Lavely, Justice of the Peace. The verso bears the case name (Newton v. Hailey) and a signature acknowledging that the summons was executed by the sheriff.

The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln says of this case (listed under File ID: L04148):

Hailey gave Spotswood four promissory notes totaling $33.  Spotswood assigned the notes to Newton.  After Hailey failed to pay, Newton sued Hailey in the JP court to recover the debt.  The jury found for Hailey.  Newton appealed the judgment to the circuit court, and Hailey retained Stuart and Lincoln.  In a contingent fee agreement, Hailey agreed to pay Stuart and Lincoln $15 if Hailey won the case at the circuit court.  The court ruled for Newton and awarded $18.22.

1839 – Summons bearing the signature of Lincoln’s mentor and friend, William Butler

This broadside summons concerns a case involving Eli Blankenship and Abner Ellis who were business partners and whom Lincoln represented in at least one case in 1841. Although it cannot be determined if this summons is related to a case in which Lincoln was involved, it does bear the signature of William Butler. Butler was undoubtedly Lincoln’s friend and mentor – Lincoln lived at Butler’s house for several years while practicing law, Butler paid off some of Lincoln’s early debts, and Lincoln dressed for his 1842 wedding to Mary Todd at Butler’s house. More importantly, Butler is credited with being the person responsible for encouraging Lincoln to take up the study and practice of law.

1840- Early Court Summons from a case in which Lincoln was involved and signed by William Butler – Phillips v. Radford & Reed

Another unique piece related to Lincoln’s early law practice in Sangamon County, Illinois, this broadside summons from the Sangamon County Circuit Court commands Jesse Steel and John Klein to appear before the court. The summons is signed by Lincoln’s friend and mentor, William Butler. The verso bears the case name and a signature acknowledging that the summons was executed upon both men by the sheriff.

The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln says of this case (listed under File ID: L04434):

Reed and Radford contracted with Phillips and others to haul rock and wood in order to build a bridge for the Northern Cross Railroad.  Reed and Radford failed to pay them for their labor.  Phillips and others retained Logan and Lincoln and sued Reed and Radford in an action of debt and read the contract as evidence.  Reed and Radford objected to the contract as evidence but submitted the contract as evidence for their argument.  Reed and Radford claimed that Phillips had not completed the contract and owed them $725.76.  The jury found for Phillips and awarded $153.85.  Reed and Radford appealed the judgment to the Illinois Supreme Court.  Phillips continued to retaine Logan.  The supreme court affirmed the judgment.  Chief Justice Wilson ruled that Reed and Radford could not object to the contract since they submitted it as evidence.

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1840 – Collection of nine summonses from Sangamon County, all signed by Lincoln’s friend and mentor, William Butler

As with the above 1839 summons, nothing in this collection of nine summonses appears to be related to a case in which Lincoln was involved, but they do all bear the signature of Lincoln’s friend and mentor, William Butler.

Election of 1856 - Electoral Ticket illustrating Lincoln’s departure from law practice and return to politics
Peoria and Stark Contested Election: Majority and Minority Reports. [Springfield : s.n., 1857].

This report, issued by the Illinois General Assembly Committee on Elections, concerns a claim by one Calvin L. Eastman that, due to election shenanigans (yes, shenanigans in an Illinois election), he was prevented from being elected representative for the counties of Peoria and Stark.  It’s a pretty esoteric pamphlet that would otherwise be relegated to languish in the attic of obscure state legislative documents but for “Exhibit A” of the committee’s report, which is the Republican ticket for the 1856 election.  About halfway down, Abraham Lincoln is listed as the Republican At Large Elector for the state, and his law partner at the time, William H. Herndon, is listed as the District Elector.

Prior to 1856, Lincoln was a member of the Whig party and served in the both the Illinois legislature in the 1830s and the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1840s.  After his two year term in the House was up, Lincoln returned to Illinois and practiced law in Sangamon County. As this pamphlet illustrates, in 1856, Lincoln returned to politics, now as a member of the newly formed Republican Party.  Although he lost in a vote to William L. Dayton for the Vice Presidential candidate nomination at the 1856 Republican National Convention, four years later he received the nomination as that party’s Presidential candidate and went on to become the first Republican President of the United States in the election of 1860.

This pamphlet is quite rare. Only the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and the University of Illinois, Chicago are known to hold a copy.

Henry Asbury.  Advice Concerning the Duties of Justices of the Peace and Constables, with the forms necessary to be used in the discharge of their respective duties and also common forms, useful in the transaction of business. Designed for the State of Illinois. (Quincy, IL: 1850).

This book is bibliographically fascinating as a very early example of a state-specific practitioner aid from Illinois. It is also interesting because it has a slight connection to Lincoln’s law practice. Not only is this the type of book that Lincoln might have used in his general practice, but the author, Henry Asbury, was a good friend of Lincoln and was instrumental in getting Lincoln noticed on a national level as an ideal candidate for the Republican party in the election of 1856.  Asbury’s law partner, Abraham Jones, was also a friend of Lincoln and was responsible for arranging the Lincoln-Douglas debate in Quincy.

This small book, published in Quincy, Illinois, is quite rare. According to WorldCat only 7 libraries worldwide hold this title, and Harvard is the only other law library with this in their collection.

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An open vault door  The Lincoln Assasination

“NOW HE BELONGS TO THE AGES” – The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

At 7:22 a.m. on Saturday, April 15, 1865, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton uttered those now famous words as President Abraham Lincoln was pronounced dead in a room at the Peterson House across from Ford’s Theatre. Since then, the amount of materials produced relating to the assassination and the trial of the conspirators is simply overwhelming. Below are several items which are held in the Rare Book Room of the SIU Law Library and which should be of interest to anyone studying Lincoln’s assassination and the trials of those accused.

The Trial of the Assassins and Conspirators at Washington, D. C. (Philadelphia: T. B. Peterson & Brothers, 1865).
Read it online: http://archive.org/details/trialofallegedas03john

This mass produced, yet now rare, pamphlet was available soon after the conspiracy trials in May and June of 1865, and contains the “verbatim report of the testimony of all witnesses.”  Being a good example of media exploitation of sensational trials, the pamphlet also offers many sensational illustrations, including: “The Coffin of Abraham Lincoln,” “Interior view of the railroad car that carried the remains of President Lincoln to Springfield,” and a fantastic, “Portrait of Jeff Davis in his wife’s clothes.”  It concludes with a detailed 5 page description of the hanging of each of the conspirators, including weather conditions, description of the gallows, and last moments of the convicted.  For example, on the death of Mary Surratt:
It was done as quick as lightning. She was leaning over when the drop fell, and this gave a swinging motion to her body, which lasted several minutes before it assumed a perpendicular position. Her death was instantaneous; she died without a struggle. The only muscular movement discernible was a slight contraction from behind her as the drop fell. After being suspended thirty minutes, she was cut down and placed in a square wooden box or coffin, in the clothes in which she died, and was interred in the prison yard.

W. J. Ferguson. I Saw Booth Shoot Lincoln. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1930).

Published sixty-five years after Lincoln’s assassination, Houghton Mifflin produced only one thousand copies of this slim volume.  Dedicated to “the school-children of the United States to acquaint them with the true story told by an eye-witness of the assassination of President Lincoln,” it is a dense, detail-laden book.  Although the author goes to great pains to describe the scene at Ford’s Theatre, his recounting is full of inaccuracies regarding the architecture of the building. Additionally, he claims that he was the one who escorted Laura Keene to Lincoln’s box. This is quite interesting, as many scholars believe the story of Keene cradling the Presidents head in her lap to be a complete hoax. A discussion of Ferguson’s inaccuracies can be found at The Civil War Blog: http://civilwar.gratzpa.org/2012/04/w-j-ferguson-i-saw-booth-shoot-lincoln/.

In my opinion, the most fascinating aspect of this book is that Ferguson perpetuates the story that Booth had, in fact, committed suicide. Recalling a conversation he had with a cavalry sergeant who was part of the group that captured Booth, Ferguson states:

He gave me the impression that Booth shot himself with the carbine he held in his hand, and was not shot by Boston Corbett from outside the barn where Booth was brought to bay [61].

So why did Ferguson wait an astounding 65 years to tell this story? Why not come forward and report what he saw immediately, especially if he and Laura Keene were the only ones to actually witness the assassination?  His answer: “I was not questioned…. I was not counted of enough importance to be questioned. I was a boy – only the call-boy” [62].

David Miller DeWitt. The Judicial Murder of Mary E. Surratt. (Baltimore: John Murphy & Co., 1895).
Read it online: http://archive.org/details/judicialmurderm00dewigoog

This work traces the story of the first woman executed in the United States. It was at Mary Surratt’s boardinghouse that the conspirators plotted to kidnap Lincoln, and although her role in the conspiracy appears today to be quite limited, all eight conspirators (the ninth, her son John, fled the country soon after the assassination) were tried simultaneously before a military commission. Since 1865, much has been written on her innocence, with many authors arguing that her guilt was limited to simply owning the boarding house where the conspirators plotted the assassination.  The story of Mary Surratt was recently told in the 2011 movie, The Conspirator, which can be found in Law Library’s DVD collection.

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Trial of John H. Surratt in the Criminal Court for the District of Columbia. (Washington: French & Richardson, 1867).
Read it online: http://archive.org/details/trialjohnhsurra00surrgoog
Reprint available in the Law Library’s main collection, KF223.S896 S87 2008

This two-volume set contains the verbatim transcript of witness testimony in the criminal trial of the man who plotted with John Wilkes Booth to kidnap President Lincoln and hold him in exchange for Confederate prisoners. The fascinating part of this story begins soon after Booth assassinated Lincoln. Surratt fled the country, and by time he was extradited the statute of limitations on most of the relevant charges had expired. Also of interest is that, unlike his mother, who was tried before a military court, found guilty, and subsequently hanged, John Surratt was tried before a civilian court. This was due to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Ex parte Milligan, (decided after Mary Surratt and other conspirators were hanged) which found military trials of civilians to be unconstitutional.

The Assassination of President Lincoln and the Trial of the Conspirators; David E. Herold, Mary E. Surratt, Lewis Payne, George A. Atzerodt, Edward Spangler, Samuel A. Mudd, Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlin. (New York: Moore, Wilstach & Baldwin, 1865).
Read it online: http://archive.org/details/assassinationofp00hero
Reprint available in the Law Library’s main collection, KF 223 .H4 A87 2006

Spanning more than 400 pages, this often cited work offers contemporary reports of the trial as well as the testimony presented.

George Bancroft. Memorial Address on the Life and Character of Abraham Lincoln, delivered at the request of both houses of the Congress of America before them in the House of Representatives at Washington, on the 12th of February, 1866. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1866).
Read it online: http://archive.org/details/memorialaddresso01banc 

Memorial addresses and tributes were not uncommon following the assassination of President Lincoln, but I have included this one because it was an official U. S. Congressional document produced by the Government Printing Office. As an appendix it provides the Congressional actions in the days immediately following the Lincoln’s death.

[1865 - Framed Lithograph of Lincoln’s Funeral Procession]
William T. Crane, “Funeral of President Lincoln, at Washington, D.C., April 19 – The Courtage, Attended by a Military Escort, Moving Past the President’s Mansion – from drawings taken on the spot by our special artist, Wm. T. Crane.” (Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, circa 1865).

On the wall to the right of the Law Library Reference Desk, you can find this large print (four feet long and over one foot high) framed lithograph depicting Lincoln’s funeral procession.

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An open valut door Scandalous, Sensational and Salacious Trials!

Sensational trials are not just a product of the 21st century, in fact, some of best, in terms of media exploitation, occurred in the Gaslight Era of the late 19th century. There being no radio, television, cell phones or internet, print was the only media available to disseminate information to a wide group of people. Often these “trials of the century” were published in pamphlet form, using thin paper, and sold in the same venues as newspapers – on the street or in bookstores. Because they were intended to be read then discarded, today the surviving ones are rare, fragile, and desirable items. As a window into the 19th century legal process, this early press coverage of trials is simply wonderful. The writing is biased, the illustrations are lurid, and the legal analysis is oftentimes dead wrong. Nevertheless, these pamphlets are important to legal scholars because they provide accounts of the workings of trial courts which are simply not recorded elsewhere.

The following is an irreverent look at five of my favorite sensational trial pamphlets held in the Rare Book Room of the SIU Law Library.

Marital Power Exemplified in Mrs. Packard’s Trial, and Self-Defence from the Charge of Insanity; Or Thirty Years’ Imprisonment for Religious Belief, by the Arbitrary Will of a Husband, with an appeal to the government to so change the laws as to protect the rights of married women. By Mrs. E. P. W. Packard. (Hartford: Published by the Authoress, 1866).

It’s the age-old story: Wife defies Husband and expresses her liberal religious beliefs in public. Husband has her committed to the State Insane Asylum. After three years of learning her lesson, Wife is allowed to come home, but is confined to the nursery with the windows screwed shut. 

Mrs. Packard, the wife of an Illinois clergyman, had the misfortune of expressing, during a Bible class no less, some opinions which conflicted with the beliefs of the Presbyterian Church. Apparently religious tolerance was not a virtue in Manteno, Illinois in 1860. On the morning of June 18, her husband (remember, he’s a clergyman), accompanied by two physicians (who just happened to be members of his church), and his friend, the sheriff, entered her locked bedroom…(wait for it)…with the aid of an axe!  Despite the fact that she was (of course) “in a state of almost entire nudity,” the group rushed in, felt her pulse, and, in her words, “without asking a single question pronounced me insane.” This pamphlet is a great read and a fascinating look at mid-19th century Illinois laws that did not allow married women the right of trial against a charge of insanity brought by her husband.
Read it online: http://archive.org/details/maritalpowerexem00pack

Trial of the Hon. Daniel E. Sickles for Shooting Philip Barton Key, Esq., U. S. District Attorney, of Washington D. C. February 27th, 1859. Reported by Felix G. Fontaine. (New York: E. M. DeWitt, [1859])

If one were to publish a casebook on justifiable homicide based on temporary insanity it would be incomplete without this little gem. As one contemporary reviewer of the trial sums it up,

Proof of cuckoldry is almost uniformly considered ample justification for homicide, and Sickles was acquitted for shooting his wife's lover (the son of Francis Scott Key) on the streets of Washington. Thereafter he became a general in the Civil War, lost a leg at Gettysburg, and went on to be ambassador to Spain.

In case you are one of those readers who skip over things in parentheses, or saw the word “cuckoldry” and decided you were too modest to read on, or you were focusing on the “lost a leg at Gettysburg” bit, you missed the fact that the victim was the son of Francis Scott Key!  Oh, and as if this story needed more flavoring: the wife was 15 or 16 years old; Key was the district attorney for the District of Columbia; AND Sickles shot Key in front of the White House. For crying out loud, if you submitted it as a screenplay for the Lifetime movie of the week they’d tell you it was too over the top to be believed.
This pamphlet is simply great stuff. If you were around in 1859 and had a spare 25 cents you’d be crazy not to pick up a copy and read it cover to cover. But, if you’d rather dispense with the hundred or so pages recounting twenty days of trial testimony and jump right to the end (I warn you, you’ll miss the part about Sickles’ dog being thrown in jail) the final exchange is classic Grisham [SPOILER ALERT]:

Clerk – How say you, do you find the prisoner at the bar guilty or not guilty?
Mr. Arnold – NOT GUILTY.
Judge Crawford – The Court so orders, and Mr. Sickles amid the cheers of the audience was taken out of the dock by Captain Wiley and Mr. Brega.

Although it doesn’t actually say, “carrying him out on their shoulders,” I can’t help but be reminded of the ending of the movie, Rudy.  Pass the tissue - I think I got some dust in my eye.

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The Trial and Conviction of George S. Twitchell, Jr., for the murder of Mrs. Mary E. Hill, his Mother-in-Law, with the eloquent speeches of counsel on both sides, and Hon. Judge Brewster’s charge to the jury, in full.  (Philadelphia: Barclay & Co., 1869)

You wanted salacious? How about a good mother-in-law murder case? Well, actually this is nothing new in the annals of domestic crimes, and I’ll confess that I was already pretty sure I knew how it was going to end before reading it, but the subtitle lured me in with promises of “Many interesting facts in regard to the Hills and Twitchells never before published.” Honestly, the only interesting fact that I found was that Twitchell was apparently after the $2,000 to $3,000 dollars that his mother-in-law had a habit of “carrying around in her bosom.” Really? Let’s just take a minute to think about what that might look like. What I found more interesting were the several luridly fascinating illustrations. My favorite is captioned, “Twitchell throwing his mother-in-law out of an upper window” (btw this was done after he had conked her on the head with a fire poker). No surprise courtroom twist here - Twitchell was sentenced, “to be hanged by his neck until he is dead.” One factoid not included in the pamphlet is that Twitchell cheated the gallows by taking prussic acid on the day he was to be executed.

Trial of Daniel McFarland for the Shooting of Albert D. Richardson, the Alleged Seducer of his Wife. By a Practical Law Reporter. (New York: W. E. Hilton, [1870?])

Once again, we’re treated to a courtroom drama involving infidelity and hot passions run amok! Included as a preface (and for those not familiar with the elements of crime fiction, a good example of foreshadowing), is a piece on temporary insanity being an excuse for murder.

This case has a wonderful cast of characters. The victim, Albert Richardson, was a former Union spy, a widower, and a reporter for the anti-Tammany Hall newspaper, the New York Tribune (remember that last part, it’ll be important later). He met and fell in love with a stage actress named Abby Sage McFarland, who had the misfortune of being married to a rather nasty alcoholic brute named Daniel McFarland. Richardson had taken Abby in and was helping her to get a divorce using Indiana’s liberal divorce laws, but when McFarland found out about it he shot Richardson. Richardson recovered but, unfortunately for him, was still in love with Abby, so (not surprising) McFarland shot him again, this time fatally. BUT…Richardson held onto the ghost long enough for Abby’s divorce to become final, and in a bittersweet, made for (the not yet invented) TV ending, Richardson and Abby had a deathbed wedding where she officially became Abby Richardson! Hooray!

But what about that alcoholic abuser, McFarland, you ask?  What about the trial?  Well, although he was a drunk and an abuser, McFarland had the good fortune of having many connections in Tammany Hall (Google it if you don’t know what it is, I can’t be responsible for your entire education) who essentially rigged the jury in his favor and found him not guilty by reason of temporary insanity (remember the foreshadowing?) due to the seduction by Richardson of McFarland’s soon to be ex-wife.  This pamphlet is quite interesting from a 21st century view as it is a decidedly biased look at a decidedly rigged case that ignored a staggering amount of evidence of domestic abuse in favor of the relatively new theory of justifiable homicide.

The great “Trunk Mystery” of New York City.  Murder of the Beautiful Miss Alice A. Bowlsby of Paterson, N. J. (Philadelphia: Barclay & Co., 1872).

I’ve saved the best for last. The subtitle almost dares you not to be interested: “Her Body placed in a Trunk and Labeled for Chicago.” This case has everything you would hope for - and more. For example, as an added bonus, the publishers included a fold-out poster depicting the police opening a steamer trunk to reveal the nude body of the victim, captioned: “HORRORS UPON HORRORS ACCUMULATE.”  I can’t imagine where one might have ever displayed such a thing, but it’s pretty great nonetheless.

Here’s the quick backstory leading up to the trial: An old woman shows up on the platform of a railway station in New York City, checks a steamer trunk for Chicago, then disappears into the crowd.  As I’m sure you’ve already figured out, because it stinks something awful, the trunk is opened on the platform revealing…an entirely nude (of course) body of a young woman.  The writing is pure Gaslight – how do you like this for detail:

A tangled mass of the most beautiful golden hair fell in waves over her shoulders, which must have been as white as Parisian marble, and eyes of blue, that even death’s horrors cannot pale, look out in all their ghastliness from swollen and discolored lids.

Is that great or what?  The whole pamphlet is written in this style and makes for quite enjoyable reading.

Now back to the case. An autopsy determined that the unidentified woman died from a botched abortion and the trunk was traced to the home of a Dr. Rosenzweig (a known abortionist-slash-saloon owner).  Oh, and once the body was identified, her lover killed himself out of grief. Case closed right? Well, in this case, yes, pretty much so. The jury deliberated only two hours before convicting Rosenzweig of manslaughter. Nevertheless, the details gripped the public as it was covered daily in the New York newspapers. This pamphlet is an excellent example of early tabloid trial journalism replete with illustrations depicting the more salacious moments, including a second drawing of the nude Alice Bowlsby in the steamer trunk, and one of her dead lover in his coffin.

Read it online: http://pds.lib.harvard.edu/pds/view/5834185?n=1&printThumbnails=true

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