murder, a steamboat crash and a future president
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invited to examination of two sensational Lincoln legal cases
[September 07, 2007]
SPRINGFIELD -- Take a sensational murder case
that was made into a major motion picture, add a disaster that had
far-reaching consequences for the nation's transportation industry,
and involve a famous lawyer with political ambitions. That's exactly
what is being offered at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library on
Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. as experts examine two of Abraham Lincoln's
most important legal cases. The program is part of the continuing
education series for Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
volunteers, and is free and open to the public.
"Lincoln's Most Famous -- and Most Misunderstood -- Case: People v.
Armstrong" will be presented by Daniel W. Stowell, director and
editor of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln project.
Most of what we
know, or think we know, about the murder trial of Duff Armstrong
comes from reminiscences years after the 1858 trial. A late
19th-century novel and a 1939 major motion picture by director John
Ford, starring a young Henry Fonda, further obscure the historic
The trial certainly had many dramatic elements: a young man
accused of committing murder outside a frontier camp meeting; an
unusual weapon (a slingshot); a personal connection between lawyer
Lincoln and the defendant's family; sensational eyewitness
testimony; medical experts; and the introduction of scientific
evidence about the position and phase of the moon, based on an
Stowell will carefully explore the trial, based on surviving
documentary evidence and the contradictory memories of trial
participants who all wanted to "set the record straight."
Dennis Suttles, genealogy research librarian at the presidential
library, will present "Abraham Lincoln and the Rock Island Railroad
The construction of the first railroad bridge over the
Mississippi River at Rock Island in April 1856 created a firestorm
of protest from steamboat operators on the western rivers, as it
challenged the long-held supremacy of delivering goods by river. The
confrontation reached its peak when the steamboat Effie Afton became
hung up on the bridge piers and caught fire, destroying the boat and
a section of the railroad bridge.
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A legal battle ensued in federal court between Effie Afton's
owners and the Rock Island Railroad Bridge Company. Drawn into this
conflict was Springfield lawyer Abraham Lincoln, three years after
his re-entry into politics over the Kansas-Nebraska Act and before
his famous debates with Stephen A. Douglas.
Suttles will explore Lincoln's role in the conflict that pitted
St. Louis steamboat interests against Chicago railroad entrepreneurs
in a heated battle for supremacy over western transportation.
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum volunteers are
needed to greet visitors and assist with special events and
educational programs. They may also take advantage of continuing
education programs like the Tuesday event.
Volunteers are required to attend three evening training
sessions. An orientation session for prospective new volunteers is
scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Oct. 3 in the presidential library, with
training sessions scheduled for Oct. 16, 23 and 30. For more
information, contact Linda Bee, volunteer services coordinator, at
from Abraham Lincoln Presidential
Library and Museum news release received from the
Illinois Office of Communication and Information]