Abraham Lincoln Early Sangamon County Court
People v Truett – March 1838 – October 1838
Sangamon County. Henry B. Truett was charged with the murder of Dr. Jacob Early. Dr. Early was shot by Henry B. Truett’s pistol in a confrontation gone awry. Upon being charged, Truett retained council from Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Logan. Edward Baker assisted. The State’s Attorney at the time was Stephen Douglas. Douglas asked David Woodson of the state to assist during trial.
Dr. Jacob Early stopped at the Colonel Spottswood Hotel on a night in mid-March 1838 to read in the sitting room undisturbed. As he read, a disgruntled Henry Truett stood by the fireplace and waited for other patrons to leave the room. Truett had recently received disapproval as a nominee for the Register of the Land Office at Galena, and had heard Dr. Jacob Early was the author of this notice. Truett was angry.
Upon Truett’s questioning, Dr. Early admitted that he was the author of this disapproval, and then demanded the identity of Truett’s informant. When Truett refused this information, the doctor recalled his previous confirmation and stated he would only answer again when Truett revealed his source. Truett called him a damned liar. Dr. Early insisted that he would not hear such abuses against himself, however, Truett’s insults continued. Dr. Early rose from his seat in the sitting room and raised his chair up in a clear sign of attack against Truett. Truett retreated and shot the doctor once in the side.
Lincoln had a very interesting role as the defense in this trial. First, he was an inexperienced litigator, yet was granted full responsibility for the defense in Truett’s case. He knew the defendant, the murdered physician, and at least 5 of the jurors. This is particularly interesting considering that “in making the jury, 20 persons [were] challenged peremptorily and 300-400 for cause”. Lincoln designed the case around a plea of self-defense on Truett’s behalf. The raised chair of Dr. Early Jacobs indicated his intent to attack, which Truett defended himself against with a single shot.
The trial of Henry B. Truett for murder took 3 days. After evidence was heard, the jury retired for approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes before returning a not-guilty verdict based on Truett’s plea of self defense. Lincoln was successful. The People v Truett case is one which helped build his reputation in the early years of his career in Sangamon County.
Information Accessed: http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Details.aspx?case=140184 & Lincoln Library, Springfield IL Microfilm collection, March & Oct 1838 Illinois State Journal.
Researcher: Savannah Little
People v Anderson – November 1856
Sangamon County, IL. Jane Anderson and Theodore Anderson were charged with the murder of George Anderson, husband to Jane and uncle to Theodore. George Anderson was found dead behind his house. He was allegedly beaten with a club and potentially poisoned with strychnine.
Theodore Anderson retained Abraham Lincoln as his defense attorney. He and Jane were represented by a team of attorneys also including: William Campbell, Benjamin Edwards, Thomas Lewis, Stephen Logan, John Rosette, and John Stuart. Both defendants pleaded not guilty. The defense team designed their case to acquit Theodore based on his legitimate alibi. For Jane, the defense interviewed dozens of witnesses who testified to her loving, affectionate relationship with her husband.
George Anderson had a longtime stomach ailment that required medication and frequent house calls from local doctors Fowler and Lord. These two doctors offered testimony in regards to George’s medical condition for an entire day on Monday, November 25, 1856. Establishing George’s ailment helped account for the strychnine found in his system on the night of his untimely death.
After the defense team effectively accounted for the poison, they worked on establishing the good relationship between husband and wife. Almost every witness on November 26, 1856 testified to the affection and love between Jane Anderson and her husband. Jane was described by someone saying, “Her character was good; she was . . . of a quiet, kind and affectionate disposition”. A story from a local storekeeper illustrated Jane in the same light as he explained that Jane would not buy a new silk dress while her husband had been so ill. Jane told the storekeeper at the time that any money she had would go toward improving her husband’s health.
Theodore had spent the evening of George Anderson’s death walking around Springfield with some friends, and was seen by many. All who saw him testified that his alibi was honest. On December 1, 1856, the Illinois State Register printed:
Acquitted – The argument in the case of Jane and Theodore Anderson, charged with murder of George Anderson in this city in May last, was closed about 9 o’clock on Saturday night, and the case submitted to the jury. After some hours delay, the jury returned a verdict of ‘not guilty’ and the prisoners were released from custody.
Library, Springfield IL Microfilm collection, Nov 1856 Illinois State Register.
Researcher: Savannah Little
People v Harrison – July 1859 – September 1859
Simeon “Peachy” Quinn Harrison was charged with the murder of Greek Crafton after a brawl in Pleasant Plains, Illinois on July 16, 1859. In the heat of the fight, Harrison stabbed Crafton and killed him. After voluntarily surrendering himself to the Sheriff on August 1, 1859, Harrison retained council from Abraham Lincoln and William Herndon. Other members of the defense team were Shelby Cullom, Milton Hay, and Stephen Logan. For the state were Norman Broadwell, Isaac Cogdall, Benjamin Edwards, John McClernand, John Palmer, and James White.
This trial moved rapidly and was a very high profile case for Lincoln. 75 witnesses were subpoenaed to trial. 3 witnesses testified to the infliction of wounds by Harrison, who was first attacked by Crafton. Other witnesses testified to previous ill blood between the two men, speaking particularly about threats of Crafton to whip Harrison, and of Harrison to kill Crafton if he battered him. The prosecution attempted to “exclude as evidence the threats made by Crafton” on September 1, 1859, however, the presiding judge ruled in favor of the defense and permitted the evidence to be used in court.
Although he had lost to Lincoln in the 1846 Congressional election, Reverend Peter Cartwright played a key role as a witness for the defense in this case. Cartwright testified that on his death bed, Greek Crafton “absolved Harrison from blame, and blamed himself for the difficulty and its sad result”. Crafton also claimed to Reverend Cartwright that he forgave Harrison. These sentiments were repeated by one other witness, yet rebutted by Dr. Million, a witness for the prosecution who claimed Crafton said otherwise.
Lincoln used the testimony of Reverend Peter Cartwright and the circumstances of the incident – the fight between Grafton and Harrison – to form a case around a plea of self-defense. The jury found Harrison not guilty, and Lincoln earned yet another victory in the courtroom.
Information Accessed: http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Details.aspx?case=140154 & Lincoln Library Microfilm Collection, Springfield, IL, August - September 1859 Illinois State Register.
Researcher: Savannah Little
The Lincoln Log - A daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln
llinois State Archives
Margaret Cross Norton Building
Springfield, IL, 62756
Truett Case: http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Details.aspx?case=140184
People v. Anderson & Anderson
November of 1856
Someone beat George Anderson with a club and possibly poisoned him with strychnine. Witnesses found him dead behind his house. The state's attorney indicted Jane Anderson, George Anderson's wife, and Theodore Anderson, George Anderson's nephew, for murder. Theodore Anderson retained Lincoln. Both Jane Anderson and Theodore Anderson pleaded not guilty. The jury found them not guilty.
People v. Harrison
August of 1859
Harrison and Crafton got into a fight in which Harrison pulled a knife and stabbed Crafton. Crafton died a few days later, and the state's attorney indicted Harrison for murder. Harrison retained Lincoln and Herndon and pleaded not guilty by reason of self-defense. Rev. Peter Cartwright, who lost to Lincoln in the 1846 Congressional election, testified that Crafton, on his death bed, took responsibility for the fight and forgave Harrison. The jury found Harrison not guilty.
Researcher: Savannah Little
Abraham Lincoln Cases by Illinois County
Other History of Interest
Abraham Morris Williams Sangamon County's First Black Attorney
Erma Templeton Sangamon County's First Female Attorney
The Story of the Sangamon County Court House - by H.D. Giger - April 29, 1901
Colonel Edmund Dick Taylor "The Originator of Greenback Currency" Excerpted from The National Magazine A Journal Devoted to American History Volume 16 written by Howard Louis Conard. Published for April through November 1892 New York, The National History Company, 132 Nassau Street.
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