Monday, June 13, 2011

Featured Manuscript: Lincoln Legal Papers

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Curator's Note:

Like most larger than life historical figures, Abraham Lincoln suffers from a condition of under-representation. In other words, he is known for one, single, solitary act of greatness at the expense of every other event or activity of his life. This syndrome is not unknown and is in some ways symptomatic of the way we as Americans like to take our history. We like one simple helping without too much context and extraneous material—something like a “meat and potatoes” approach to the smorgasbord of historical events.

While Lincoln was certainly the president during the Civil War (the beginning of which we commemorate this year), he had an entire life, a vocation, before entering on that final life episode which has made him a household name. His career as a lawyer, known in vague outline, is a subject which scholars have begun to explore more deeply in an effort to bring forth a more fully formed historical understanding of the man and his time.

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Daniel Stowell, the editor of the Lincoln Papers Project in Springfield, IL contacted Morristown NHP two-and-a half years ago to schedule an appointment to view the Lincoln papers in the Lloyd W. Smith collection. Dr. Stowell was prepared for the perfunctory types of manuscripts usually found at institutions not directly related to the Lincoln story. The first folder he opened his jaw nearly dropped. Inside were four sheets of legal size paper filled with Lincoln’s answer (Lincoln represented the defendant and was thus “answering” to the charges of the plaintiff) in the case of Kelly v. Wells and Wells from Sangamon County Circuit Court, 1853. The Lincoln answer in the case had been presumed lost and was listed as such in the collected Lincoln Legal Papers. Of course now, a separate volume will probably need to be published at some point to contain all of the legal manuscripts located since the project ended in 2008.

Morristown NHP is proud to be part of the reason that a new volume will be necessary.

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