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Topic Sixty-two:  Readings to Learn about Abraham Lincoln while in Springfield (HOME PAGE) On-Line Hunt-a-Puzzle



Lincoln Herndon Law Office, Springfield   Photo by Howard Taylor




 . . Abraham Lincoln as Counsel for a Murder Defendant, William "Duff" Armstrong, circa A.D. 1858

    In 1858, William "Duff" Armstrong was tried in the Circuit Court of Illinois for the murder of James Metzker on the night of August 29, 1857.  The State's star witness was Charles Allen, who testified on direct examination that he had seen Armstrong strike Metzker in the eye with a slingshot. According to one young lawyer present in the courtroom, Lincoln sat with his head thrown back, his steady gaze apparently fixed upon one spot of the blank ceiling, entirely oblivious to what was happening around him, and without a single variation of feature or noticeable movement of any muscle of his face. Finally, Lincoln stood and began his cross-examination of Mr. Allen.

                            Selected Trial Excerpts

By Mr. Lincoln:  Did you actually see the fight?

By Mr. Allen:  Yes.

             Q:  And you stood very near to them?

             A:  No, it was one-hundred fifty feet or more.

             Q:  In the open field?

             A:  No, in the timber.

             Q:  What kind of timber?

             A:  Beech timber.

             Q:  Leaves on it are rather thick in August?

             A:  It looks like it.

             Q:  What time did all this take place?

             A:  Eleven o'clock at night.

             Q:  Did you have a candle there?

             A:  No, what would I want a candle for?

             Q:  How could you see from a distance of one-hundred fifty feet or more,
             without a candle, at eleven o'clock at night?

             A:  The moon was shining real bright.

             Q:  Full moon?

             A:  Yes, a full moon.

             At this point in the trial, Lincoln withdrew a blue-covered almanac from his
             back pocket, opened it slowly to the astronomy table for the night in
             question and placed it before the witness. Lincoln then continued with his
             cross-examination ...

             Q:  Does not the almanac say that on August 29th the moon was barely
             past the first quarter instead of being full?

             A:  (No audible answer from the witness)

             Q:  Does not the almanac also say that the moon had disappeared by
             eleven o'clock?

             A:  (No audible answer from the witness)

             Q:  Is it not a fact that it was too dark to see anything from so far away, let
             alone one-hundred fifty feet?

             A:  (No audible answer from the witness)

Do you think Mr. Armstrong was guilty or innocent?  You are the judge today.  Remember, murder was and is a very serious crime, punishable by death. 



The Tennessee Lake:  For a good drink

The most famous of Lincoln's Woodford County cases is part of the local folklore.

    On April 14, 1857, an argument between the elderly Roswell Goings and wife Melissa turned violent. Defending herself, Melissa picked up a piece of wood and struck two blows. Her husband sustained a skull fracture and died a few days later. Mrs. Goings was summoned to appear before a coroner's court on April 23 and ordered to post $1,000 bond.
    Formal arraignment came on October 10, 1857, with the trial to begin later in day. When the case was called in the afternoon.
    Melissa Goings was nowhere to be found. What happened is still unclear. According to the court's bailiff, Robert Cassell, Lincoln took advantage of a private conference with his client to suggest that she flee. Confronted by the bailiff when Goings could not be found, Lincoln is reported to have said, "I did not run her off. She wanted to know where she could get a good drink of water, and I told her there was mighty good water in Tennessee." Another version of the affair has Lincoln telling his client to prepare for the worst and, after suggesting that things would be safer many miles away, leaving her to decide on a course of action. In any case, community feeling seems to have been with Mrs. Goings, whose husband was famed for his violent temper.

   Where did Mrs. Goings go?  Since she left the trial, the jury would have to make a verdict.  Do you think she was guilty of murder, or was it self-defense?  Should she get in trouble for leaving the county for drink?  Complete the Court Form and render your decision.


#3 The Chicken Bone Case



    Abraham Lincoln evidently was unfazed by this lack of medical law. Always the practical man, if the law was vague on certain points, Lincoln employed logical analysis and rhetorical flourishes. Such were the circumstances when Lincoln agreed to serve as one of six defense attorneys in the "Chicken Bone" case.

    It was just after midnight, October 16, 1855, when a fire in the livery stable behind the Morgan House in Bloomington, Illinois, destroyed all except two of the buildings in the block south of the McLean County Courthouse. One man was killed, and Samuel G. Fleming, a carpenter,
suffered burns and two broken thighs when the Morgan House chimney fell. Doctors Thomas P. Rogers, Jacob R. Freese, and Eli K. Crothers, doubting Fleming would live, set his legs in splints. Fleming recovered, and after three weeks the doctors removed the splints and found the
right leg was crooked.

   The doctors recommended breaking the adhesions and resetting the leg. With Fleming's and his family's consent, the doctors administered chloroform and proceeded to reset the leg. Finding the pain unbearable, Fleming stopped the operation and decided to cope with a crooked leg. Five months later he hired six lawyers and, on March 28, 1856, filed suit declaring that Doctors Crothers and Rogers "not regarding their said duty but intending and contriving to
injure the said plaintiff," had not used "due and proper care, skill or diligence." Fleming sought $10,000 in damages.

    With public sentiment supporting Fleming, Lincoln realized the doctors' best defense was time. Twice he succeeded in having the case continued. The trial, finally heard during the April 1857
term of the McLean County Circuit Court, took place in a circus-like atmosphere. The courthouse was filled for the week-long affair as the plaintiff's attorneys presented fifteen doctors and twenty-one other witnesses, and the defense presented the town's twelve other doctors.

    Overwhelmed by the contradictory medical testimony, the jury was unable to arrive at a decision after eighteen hours of deliberation. The case was dismissed and re-docketed for the next term.

    Twice more Lincoln won continuances; the final time, September 1857, because he was in Chicago arguing the famous Effie Afton case. After the fourth continuance, the defense gained a change of venue to the Logan County Circuit Court, on the grounds that Fleming "had an undue influence over the minds of the inhabitants of the County of McLean." The case never reached trial in Logan County, as both sides agreed to dismiss the suit with the defendants paying costs.

    Plaintiff and defendants' counsel had performed well. Fleming's attorneys, led by Leonard Swett, reputedly the leading central Illinois practitioner in medical litigation, had no statutory law for
guidance and was dependent on prior court rulings. They charged the doctors with incompetence and tried to secure a conviction based on the testimony of medical colleagues not
immune to self-service.

    Lincoln did his best to defuse the charge of incompetence with his own unique combination of osteology and rhetoric. In illustrating to the jury that Fleming's recovery was normal because bones became brittle with age, Lincoln used a chicken bone and exclaimed, "This bone has the
starch all taken out of it." Lincoln then asked Fleming if he could walk. Fleming replied, "Yes, but my leg is short so I have to limp." Lincoln then concluded his argument by saying, "Well!  What I would advise you to do is get down on your knees and thank your Heavenly Father, and also these two Doctors that you have any legs to stand on at all."

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