There was an
altercation at the Matson farm (near Oakland, Il) one day in 1847 where
Matson's housekeeper threatened to have Jane Bryant, wife of overseer
Anthony Bryant, shipped back to Kentucky and perhaps sold into slavery
deeper in the South.
Jane Bryant suspected that the housekeeper was
capable of carrying out her threat. Her husband arranged to have Jane
and their four children sheltered by the friendly owner of a nearby inn,
Gideon M. Ashmore.
A local doctor, Hiram Rutherford, also took an
interest in helping the Bryant's. Matson first tried to persuade Jane
Bryant to return to his farm and then tried to get the courts to
intervene on his behalf. He engaged Democratic attorney Usher F. Linder,
who was a friend but political opponent of Mr. Lincoln. Linder was
unsuccessful in getting a judge to return the escaped slaves, but the
justice did order them kept in jail until further legal proceedings
could decide their fate.
When a habeas corpus hearing initiated by the Bryant's'
white allies was hearing in Circuit Court, Mr. Lincoln joined Linder on
Matson's side, when Mr. Lincoln arrived in Charleston to conduct other
legal business. [Lincoln hated slavery, but took on the case with
The time arrived for holding the Circuit court at
Charleston and Lincoln came with the Judges. Linder secured Lincoln to
assist in prosecuting Matson's case against Dr. Rutherford.
Dr. Rutherford, who knew Lincoln well, rode to the
county seat to employ him in his defense. Their views on slavery were in
accord, and besides his friends advised him to secure Lincoln his
"I found him at the tavern sitting on the veranda,'
Rutherford relates, 'his chair tilted back against one of the wooden
pillars entertaining the bystanders and loungers gathered about the
place with one of his irresistible and highly-flavored stories. My head
was full of the impending lawsuit and I found it a great test of my
patience to await the end of the chapter then in process of narration.
Before he could begin another I interrupted and called him aside.
"I told in detail the story of my troubles, reminded
him that we had always agreed on the questions of the day, and asked him
to represent me at the trial of my case in court." But Lincoln
hesitated. "He listened attentively," testifies Rutherford, "as I
recited the facts leading up to the controversy with Matson but I
noticed that a peculiarly troubled look came over his face now and then,
his eyes appeared to be fixed in the distance beyond me and he shook his
head several times as if debating with himself some question of grave
Lincoln replied 'with apparent reluctance,' that he
could not defend him, "because he had already been counseled with in
Matson's interest and was therefore under professional obligations to
represent the latter unless released."
Abraham Lincoln of Springfield was hired to be on the side of
Matson, the slaveholder.
Dr. Rutherford was angry and said things to Lincoln in a
"bitter tone." Later in the legal proceedings, Lincoln was allowed to
leave Matson's side, but it was too late. He couldn't take the side of
It was too late. The irate young Dr. Rutherford would now have nothing
more to do with Lincoln and, instead, employed Charles H. Constable. So
Lincoln agreed to appear for Matson as associate of Linder, Matson's
How would you rule in this case if this was a bench trial? Would you
decide for Abraham Lincoln and slave-owner plaintiff, Robert Matson or
for Dr. Rutherford and the slave family?
Would Robert Matson be allowed to take his slaves back to Kentucky?
Slavery was not allowed in Illinois.
HERE FOR A PLAY SCRIPT FOR THE MATSON TRIAL
You be the judge and/or jury.
Complete the Case Fact Box
Complete the Court Form
and render your decision.
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