Wednesday, January 29, 2014
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Historic retrials generate money for preservation

Supreme Court justice, head of Lincoln Presidential Library announce documents and maps to be preserved

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[January 29, 2014]  CHICAGO  Irreplaceable Illinois maps and photographs are being preserved for generations to come thanks to money raised by special presentations on legal history produced by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission.

The presidential library will be able to restore five extremely rare maps that are deteriorating badly. One is an 1879 state map that apparently can be found nowhere else. Another is a map of Sangamon County from 1858 that lists more than 5,000 landowners  in effect, a list of the people interacting with Abraham Lincoln as he rose to national prominence. A Pike County map from 1860 shows New Philadelphia, the first town in America to be legally established by an African-American.

The Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission is working to preserve portraits of 107 justices. These portraits in the Supreme Court Building are one-of-a-kind, with 45 produced by Chicago photographer J. Ellsworth Gross for the building in 1910. Portraits of justices after 1910 are also important to preserve because the negatives were destroyed in a photographic studio fire in 1980.

"(This) announcement allows the photographs of those who have served in this court since its inception to be preserved for future generations without any taxpayer expense," said Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Rita B. Garman. "My colleagues on the court and I are appreciative of those who have given their support in this endeavor to preserve our rich and storied judicial history by supporting events hosted by the Historic Preservation Commission and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum."

Funds for the conservation projects were generated by events produced in 2011, 2012 and 2013 by the Supreme Court Preservation Commission, the Lincoln Presidential Library and the library's private foundation.

The programs, presented in theaters in Chicago and Springfield, depicted the retrial of Mary Surratt, the first U.S. woman sentenced to death as an alleged conspirator in the assassination of Lincoln; the insanity retrial of Mary Todd Lincoln; and the habeas corpus hearings of Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of the Latter-day Saints. Extra funds raised for the events were to be used for artifact and document conservation.

Funds for producing the events were contributed by foundations, businesses, the legal community and individuals. The three retrial events raised a total of $269,000, with a surplus of more than $123,000. The presidential library and the Supreme Court Preservation Commission will each receive $61,766 for conservation.

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"One of the goals of the Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library has been to work together with other agencies and groups to promote education on legal issues rooted in our state's history  education not only for the legal community, but the community at large, and especially for students," said Supreme Court Justice Anne M. Burke.

"In these programs, the commission and the library have successfully partnered with the Illinois State Board of Education, the Theatre School at DePaul University and others to achieve that goal and produce non-taxpayer funds to help preserve a part of our state's rich legacy."

The three events illustrate the connections between law and society and between history and the present day. Abraham Lincoln once said that the law "must follow, and conform to, the progress of society." The law has always been a window into the public and private interactions among people. History provides lessons from these interactions that we can use in the present.

"The questions we ask about history and the law reflect our changing values and concerns," said Eileen Mackevich, executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. "With Mary Surratt, Mary Lincoln and Joseph Smith, the outcome of trials and hearings would be quite different today than in the 19th century. Learning from the past is possible."

Each presentation offered lessons from an important trial in the past and how those lessons are being applied in our modern-day lives. The retrial of Mary Surratt demonstrated the necessity of due process in civilian versus military tribunals. The insanity retrial of Mary Todd Lincoln illustrated the mental health profession and the role of women in society. The habeas corpus hearings of Joseph Smith showed how the courts protect personal liberties.

[Text from Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum file received from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency]

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