Learning Lincoln On-line


Abraham Lincoln, lawyer (Lincoln’s Hat Activity)-- Case #4 "Robert Matson Slave Trial"

Lawyer Trivia Question #4-- Did Lincoln Ever Defend a Slave Owner?
Case #4
Dr. Rutherford Home in Ashmore, Illinois

Case Four... Matson Slave

Trial,Oakland, Illinois

Right:  Joe Haddock in front of Dr. Hiram Rutherford's house, c. 1840's, in Oakland, Il.    Dr. Rutherford was an abolitionist, and defended slaves rights in Illinois
Visit the page on African Americans in Coles County

        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 Linder]
       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 lawyer.
       "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 import."  
       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 Dr. Rutherford.  
 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 original attorney.  

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.  


You be the judge and/or jury. 

Complete the Case Fact Box & Complete the Court Form and render your decision.


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