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|In 1924, Vespasian Warner gave an address recalling the early days of Clinton, DeWitt County, Illinois and gave particular attention to his memories of Abraham Lincoln. Vespasian Warner was the son-in-law of DeWitt Countys first resident attorney, Clifton H. Moore and for many years was employed as the junior partner of the law firm Moore & Warner. The practice was located in the office that is now home to Moore & Warner Farm Management.|
"I remember this incident myself. I was reading law in Mr. Weldons office and Judge Douglas was billed to address a political meeting, Democratic, here in Clinton. Mr. Weldon wrote down to Springfield telling Mr. Lincoln of it and telling him he had better come up and hear what Judge Douglas said. The people came into town in their wagons and they erected a platform right west of town where the roads fork, for the speaker, and there was a big crowd there. Judge Douglas was there and a lot of people were on the platform and he got up and was addressing the crowd, and he had not been talking long when Mr. Lincoln arrived in a buggy from Springfield. He got up on the platform behind Judge Douglas and Douglas didnt know he was there. Douglas, knowing that almost a majority of the people were from the South, accused Mr. Lincoln of being in favor of Negro equality and he went on in that way. When he finished, they cheered him and then the people out in the crowd began to yell for Lincoln, LINCOLN!
Lincoln & Douglas
|He arose and Douglas turned and looked at him and the two men looked at each other. Mr. Lincoln faced the crowd and said that that was Judge Douglas meeting and he, Lincoln, had no right to speak there but if they wanted to hear him if they would appear in the courthouse square that night at early candle light he would talk to them and the meeting then adjourned. And that night they put up a platform of dry goods boxes on the north side of the courthouse, got some torches, and Mr. Lincoln got up and in talking to them Mr. Lincoln said that Judge Douglas had accused him of being in favor of Negro equality. He said he wasnt in favor of Negro equality to the extent Judge Douglas would have them believe, but that he did believe that the colored man had as much right to eat the bread earned by the sweat of his own face as Judge Douglas himself, or any other living man, and that was the thing that really caused the general debate between Douglas and Lincoln in the state of Illinois."|
ABRAHAM LINCOLN IN CLINTON, ILLINOIS
Clifton H. Moore
|In the earliest settlement days in Illinois, resident attorneys were virtually non-existent. DeWitt County, part of the old 8th Judicial District, held its first circuit court in 1839. There was not a resident attorney in the county at the time. Clifton H. Moore became the first resident attorney in DeWitt County in 1841 when he moved to Clinton from Pekin, Illinois and commenced the practice of law.|
In these early days attorneys and judges would travel from county seat to county seat to handle legal matters and cases that had arisen in the area. Cases would be held for trial until the next term of court, that is, the next established time when attorneys and judges were scheduled to arrive in the county.
As attorney Vespasian Warner recalled in his 1924 speech:
I have seen Mr. Lincoln do that. They also carried their stationery that way.
They couldnt carry any books and
|As a consequence of the need to travel from court to court, many attorneys and judges who would later rise to the greatest national prominence as well as play significant roles in American history, attended court in Clinton. Stephen A. Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Ward Lamon, Leonard Swett, Clifton H. Moore, Lawrence Weldon and David Davis, men who became widely known throughout the world, tried lawsuits in the DeWitt County circuit court, and tried them against each other. It is wonderful what this county has seen and helped to produce.|
The first Grand Jury returned only one indictment, a bill against George Clifton for wounding a hog valued at $5.00. The accused was acquitted. At the term of court, Spencer Turner was charged with the murder of Matthew Martin. Judge Samuel H. Treat heard the case prosecuted by States Attorney D. B. Campbell. Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas were Turners attorneys. The accused was acquitted. Lincoln and Douglas each took a promissory note for $200.00 for services rendered. Douglas was paid but Lincoln was offered a horse in lieu of the money and took it. The horse soon after went blind and became worthless.
In August 1851, William Dungey, a dark-skinned young man of Portuguese descent, married Joseph Spencers sister. A family quarrel ensued, which became so bitter that in January 1855, Spencer claimed throughout the community that his brother-in-law, "Black Bill," was a Negro.
Since 1819, Illinois laws were designed to permit pseudo-slavery and restrict the immigration of free blacks into the state. As other northern states passed personal liberty laws granting additional rights to free blacks, Illinois toughened its stance against them. The 1848 Illinois Constitution required the General Assembly to "pass such laws as will effectively prohibit free persons of color from immigrating to and settling in this state " Those prohibitions were passed as the "Black Laws" and went into force on February 12, 1853, the future Emancipators forty-fourth birthday.
William Dungey faced losing not only his reputation, but also his marriage, property, and right to live in Illinois. Section 10 of the 1853 law stated that, "Every person who shall have one-fourth Negro blood shall be deemed a mulatto." William Dungey retained Abraham Lincoln to quash the possibility that he might be judged a "Negro" and therefore suffer the severe penalties under the 1853 act. Lincoln filed his declaration charging Joseph Spencer with slander on April 17, 1855, and sought $1,000.00 in damages. A game of legal chess occurred during the first hearing in May. Spencers attorneys, Clifton H. Moore and Lawrence Weldon, filed a demurrer to Lincolns declaration, asserting that his charges were insufficient in law. Judge David Davis agreed that two of Lincolns three charges were faulty. The case was continued and Lincoln allowed to amend the declaration. At the next term of court, October 1855, the case was argued before a jury.
According to Lawrence Weldon, Lincolns talents as a trial lawyer were evident in his argument for Dungey. Weldon stated that Lincoln questioned Spencers character by demonstrating how Spencer went from house to house "gabbing" that Dungey was a "nigger." Weldon emphasized that Lincolns tone and pronunciation had a "curious touch of the ludicrous which, instead of detracting, seemed to add to the effect."
Lincoln further undermined Spencer by using humor to persuade the jury that there was reasonable doubt regarding Dungeys race. Weldon recalled Lincolns statement: "My client is not a Negro, though it is not a crime to be a Negro no crime to be born with a black skin. But my client is not a Negro, though he may be a Moore."
"Mr. Lincoln," interrupted Judge Davis, scarcely able to restrain a smile, you mean a Moor, not Moore."
"Well, your honor, Moor, not C. H. Moore," replied Mr. Lincoln, with a sweep of his long arm toward the table where Moore and I sat. "I say my client may be a Moor, but he is not a Negro."
Lawrence Weldon recalled:
In the argument of the case on the testimony Mr. Lincoln made a most powerful and remarkable speech, abounding in wit, logic, and eloquence of highest order. His thoughts were clothed in the simplest garb of expression, and in words understood by every juror in the box. Lincoln demolished the defendants witness testimony. Moore and I had secured several depositions from residents in Giles County, Tennessee, the Dungey family home. These witnesses stated they had personally known the family, and that the white community had regarded the Dungeys as "Negro," or of "mixed blood." Under cross-examination, Lincoln argued the testimony was heresay as the witnesses admitted none of them lived within 30 miles of the Dungey residence. After the instructions given by the Court, the jury retired, and in a few moments returned a verdict of guilty and granted Dungey $600 in damages plus court costs of $137.50. Lincoln charged a fee of $25.00, which I considered minimal.
Said Mr. Lincoln, "Well, I will cheerfully advise my client to remit on the most favorable term. The defendant is a fool. But he has one virtue. He is industrious and has worked hard for what he has, so I am not disposed to hold him responsible. If every fool was to be dealt with by being held responsible in money for his folly, the poorhouses of the country would have to be enlarged very much beyond their present capacity."
To avoid an appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, Lincoln persuaded Dungey to remit $400.00 of the judgment in return for the defendant releasing "all errors which may exist in the court record " Under Illinois law, the defendant could not appeal the verdict, but could appeal only on errors of procedure or evidence. Abraham Lincoln taught Joseph Spencer an expensive lesson in domestic relations.
In his 1924 address Vespasian Warner offered his own memories from childhood:
"The first time I ever saw Mr. Lincoln to know who he was, was when Mr. Barnett kept a tavern south of the square and we lived just across the street where Mr. Nixon now lives. Court adjourned for dinner, foreign attorneys, of course, were about all there were, and they were going down to the Barnett tavern, as they called it, for their dinners. I remember one day seeing a tall, ungainly man in a frock coat and linen pants, wearing a stove pipe hat, his hands behind his back, and he was walking between two well dressed men, one on each side of him, looking up into his face. The mans coat sleeves appeared too short and his pant legs didnt quite reach his shoe tops; his whole appearance was awkward and uncouth, but his companions seemed eagerly attentive to whatever it was he was saying. I wondered what those gentlemen saw in that fellow to pay any attention to him and it turned out to be Abraham Lincoln, who was then practicing here."
|In a letter dated 1908, Vespasian Warner told a Lincoln story: "My father lived in the little town of Clinton, just across the street from what was then known as the Barnett Tavern, at which the judge and non resident lawyers, attending court in that town, stopped while there. That was in the early day when the town was small and did not have a railroad or telegraph, and the terms of the Circuit Court were important events.|
At that time Judge David Davis was the Judge of the Circuit Court for that district, Ward H. Lamon was the prosecuting attorney for that district, and Mr. Lincoln and several other prominent attorneys attended the sessions of that court and stopped at the Barnett Tavern.
Being young and curious I would hang around the tavern in the evenings, as long as my parents would allow me to remain out of bed, to hear the judge and lawyers, great men in my eyes at that time and great men then and afterwards in fact, talk.
One evening after supper Judge Davis, Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Lamon were
sitting out on the platform in front of the tavern and I was listening and catching every
word they said. Finally Mr. Lamon said to the Judge: Judge, let me go uptown and get
some whiskey and we will go up in my room and talk. Judge Davis, in his peculiar
tone of voice that will be remembered by those who knew him, impressively said: I
wont do it, I wont do it, if I do you will get drunk. Mr. Lamon begged
to be allowed to go for the whiskey and assured the Judge that he would not get drunk if
he allowed him to get it, and the Judge replied: I know you will, I know you will,
you got drunk in Mt. Pulaski last week and I had to adjourn the court all the afternoon to
let you get sober enough to attend your business. Mr. Lamon insisted on being
allowed to go for the whiskey and promised
faithfully that he would not abuse the privilege and finally Mr. Lincoln straightened back in his chair, clasped his hands over his head and said: Oh Judge lets give him one more chance, and the Judge said: All right, but I know what will come of it, and Mr. Lamon went up to a little grocery near there and directly came back with a small white pitcher in his hand, which I assumed contained the whiskey and the three got up and went in the hotel, closing the door behind them, and the subsequent proceedings interested me no more."
At one time, Mr. Lincoln was in attendance upon court at the little town of Clinton, Illinois, and one of the cases on the docket was where fifteen women from a neighboring village were defendants, they having been indicted for trespass. Their offense, as duly set forth in the indictment, was that of swooping down upon one Tanner, the keeper of a saloon in the village, and knocking in the heads of his barrels. Lincoln was not employed in the case, but sat watching the trial as it proceeded.
In defending the ladies, their attorney seemed to evince a little want of tact, and this prompted one of the former to invite Mr. Lincoln to add a few words to the jury, if he thought he could aid their cause. He was too gallant to refuse and, their attorney having consented, he made use of the following argument: "In this case I would change the order of indictment and have it read The State vs. Mr. Whiskey, instead of The State vs. The Ladies; and touching these there are three laws: the law of self-protection; the law of the land, or statute law; and the moral law, or law of God."
"First, the law of self-protection is a law of necessity, as evinced by our forefathers in casting the team overboard and asserting their right to the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. In this case it is the only defense the ladies have, for Tanner neither feared God nor regarded man."
"Second, the law of the land, or statute law, and Tanner is recreant in both. Third, the moral law, or law of God, and this is probably a law for the violation of which the jury can fix no punishment."
Lincoln gave some of his own observations on the ruinous effects of whiskey in society, and demanded its early suppression. After he had concluded, the Court, without awaiting the return of the jury, dismissed the ladies, saying; "Ladies, go home. I will require no bond of you, and if any fine is ever wanted of you, we will let you know."
Vespasian Warner described court hearing that took place in Clinton at about his time: There was a case in Judge David Davis court (the old 8th Judicial Circuit) wherein the Illinois Central Railroad was sued by a farmer for damages ensuing from the construction of a right of way. Abraham Lincoln represented the Illinois Central. Stephen A. Douglas represented the farmer. The trial was postponed until the chief engineer of the Illinois Central, George B. McClellan, came down from Chicago to testify in the case.
In Clinton, Illinois, they met for the first time, these two men, one of whom was to be President of the United States and the other Commander in Chief of the Union Army of the Potomac, all in the short space of a half a dozen years.
For more information on C.H. Moore: