"Lincoln lost the legal case in question, but our researchers from
The Papers of Abraham Lincoln came up with a winner when they
discovered that pieces of paper in two separate states were halves
of the same document signed by our 16th president when he was an
attorney," said Illinois State Historian Thomas Schwartz.
"Although we are largely done with Lincoln's legal papers, it is
always exciting to add new documents in Lincoln's hand, especially
when they have been in separate pieces for such a long time," said
Daniel Stowell, director of The Papers of Abraham Lincoln.
The 1846 document appealing an Edgar County, Ill., case to the
Illinois Supreme Court has Lincoln serving as the attorney for the
defendant. The lower half is housed at the St. Lawrence University
Library in Canton, N.Y., and the upper half is held by the Illinois
State Archives in Springfield. It took experts from The Papers of
Abraham Lincoln, a comprehensive research project of the Abraham
Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill., to
realize that the two pieces began as one document.
David Gerleman, assistant editor for The Papers of Abraham
Lincoln, participated in a November conference at St. Lawrence
University, and while there he examined the lower half of a
university library document that bore Lincoln's signature. Library
staff prepared a high-resolution digital image of the paper, which
upon further investigation was determined to be the lower half of an
appeal document in the case of Edgar County, Illinois v. Mayo. Once
the case was identified, Gerleman was able to link it to the top
half of the document, which is housed at the Illinois State Archives
in Springfield. Using a scan of the Illinois document, researchers
were able to digitally reunite the two pieces of paper that are
believed to have been separated in 1856.
Historical detective work of this type is nothing new for The
Papers of Abraham Lincoln, a multiyear project whose goal is to
identify, catalog and scan every document written by or to Lincoln
during his lifetime.
The case in question began in the May 1846 term of the Edgar
County Circuit Court as Mayo v. Edgar County, Ill. Jonathan Mayo was
the circuit clerk of Edgar County, and he issued two writs on behalf
of the county to obtain payment when individuals forfeited on
recognizance bonds. Although the court issued a judgment for the
county and executed the judgments, the sheriff recovered no money.
Mayo requested that the county pay him $7.93 as a fee for issuing
the writs. When the county commissioners refused, Mayo sued the
county, and the circuit court ruled for Mayo and awarded $7.93. The
county appealed the judgment to the Illinois Supreme Court, which
heard the case in its December 1846 term.
As attorney for the county, John Pearson filed an assignment of
errors with the Illinois Supreme Court to initiate the appeal.
Attorneys used an assignment of errors to summarize mistakes that
the lower court had allegedly made in a case, forming the basis for
an appeal. Pearson outlined the errors that he believed the Edgar
County Circuit Court had made in ruling for Mayo. Mayo retained
Lincoln for the appeal, and Lincoln endorsed the assignment of
errors. The reunited document reads:
The Plaintiff in
error hereby assigs for error
1 That the Judt
ought to have been rendered in favor of County of Edgar and against
the Deft Mayo
2 That the County
is not liable for costs in criminal cases ^proceedings^ in any case
(The document was separated here.)
[to top of second column]
 That the County
is not liable for costs in a case [of] a ^forfeited^ recognizance
prosecuted by the State agai[nst] the Deft
J. Pearson Atty
Plff in Error
[Joinder in error]
In nullo est
The abbreviation "p.d." means "pro defendente," which indicates
Lincoln was the attorney for the defendant. By adding the phrase "In
nullo est erratum" ("In nothing is there error") to the assignment
of errors, Lincoln contradicted Pearson's assertions that the lower
court had made mistakes in the trial. Lincoln argued that the common
law entitled Mayo to be paid the fees, and no state law contradicted
the common law on this point. The county had asked Mayo to perform a
service, and he did so.
The court disagreed with Lincoln, stating that the county could
not be liable for a suit from which it derived no benefit. On Jan.
7, 1847, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the decision of the
Edgar County Circuit Court and ruled for Edgar County against
Who separated the document remains a mystery. Someone tore the
bottom half from the document, perhaps for Lincoln's signature. Even
William Herndon, Lincoln's last law partner, was known to send legal
documents with Lincoln's signature to correspondents as souvenirs.
However, the person left the top half in the case file, which has
been in the Illinois State Archives since the 1930s. St. Lawrence
University has had their half of the document for over 30 years,
perhaps even longer.
"This single slip of paper bearing Lincoln's signature was in a
small collection of similar miscellaneous documents and items that
came to St. Lawrence sometime in the unrecorded past," said Mark
McMurray, the curator of special collections and university
archivist at St. Lawrence University. "But archivists everywhere
celebrate this reconstruction of our history, humble piece by
The Papers of Abraham Lincoln is a project of the Illinois
Historic Preservation Agency and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential
Library and Museum. The Center for State Policy and Leadership at
the University of Illinois at Springfield and the Abraham Lincoln
Association serve as the project's co-sponsors. They have completed
"The Papers of Abraham Lincoln: Legal Documents and Cases,"
published in 2008 by the University of Virginia Press; and "The Law
Practice of Abraham Lincoln, Second Edition," published online in
2009, which may be accessed at
www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org. Researchers and editors are
currently at work on documents relating to Lincoln's Illinois papers
and his presidential papers.
[Text from file received from
the Illinois Historic