Abraham Lincoln’s Connection to the Town of Mount Pulaski

       In the mid-1800’s, covering the Illinois 8th Judicial Circuit required traveling approximately 450 miles by horseback and horse and buggy through fourteen counties, including Mount Pulaski, the Logan County Seat from 1848 to 1855.  However, it was not until 1849 that Mr. Lincoln re-joined this Judicial Circuit, having served two years in the United States House of Representatives: 1847 - 1848.  Mr. Lincoln immensely enjoyed his days traveling on the judicial circuit, meeting and talking with many people, friends, and other lawyers.  He delighted in listening and telling stories along the way.   

       Mr. Lincoln “allowed” Judge David Davis and the other lawyers to stay at the Mount Pulaski House Hotel, while he resided with friends that he had made, namely the Capps, Lushbaugh and Beidler families of Mount Pulaski.  Elizabeth Lushbaugh Capps, daughter of Thomas P. Lushbaugh, related many years later that Mr. Lincoln enjoyed staying in more comfortable and more private surroundings such as her parent’s home.  She goes on to write that Mr. Lincoln “sat at the table in our home,  talking in a lively manner with his hair all ruffled up, as it usually was in those days, for he had the habit of running his fingers through it occasionally when talking.” 

     Samuel Linn Beidler became a close friend of Mr. Lincoln’s and was the only one to meet him in Lincoln at the train station on Oct. 15, 1858.  Mr. Lincoln had quietly arrived in Lincoln the day before his speech.  Stephen A. Douglas was currently in town giving a speech.  Beidler accompanied Mr. Lincoln to the local hotel that day.  The next day, over 50 horse-pulled wagons jammed with admirers and others on horseback and in buggies from Mt. Pulaski arrived in Lincoln to hear ol’ Abe speak.  A large sign, “Mt. Pulaski supports old Abe” could be prominently seen over the crowd of 5,000 people.  A few years before, Mr. Lincoln had purchased the newspaper, Gazette, in Springfield, which was a German-written newspaper that he had delivered to Mt. Pulaski and other parts of central Illinois that had heavy German populations.

       Mr. Lincoln and his law partner, William Herndon, participated in three notable trials.  Two were the Cast-Iron Tombstone Trials, one held in Mount Pulaski in 1854 and the other held in the county seat of the newly founded town of nearby Lincoln in the fall of 1855.  The plaintiffs in these two trials – William E. Young and Nathaniel Whitaker, both of Mt. Pulaski – claimed that they should have their money and property returned to them since the manufacturing patent rights to the Cast-Iron Tombstones did not include the actual tombstones, but merely the decorative part of the tombstones.

       Similarly, the plaintiffs in the 1853 Horological Cradle trial - John & George Meyer and McCarty Hildreth, all of Mount Pulaski, claimed that the manufacture of the clock-spring driven cradles was not covered by the patent rights they had purchased – that these rights merely covered the ornamental designs of the cradles. 

       Mr. Lincoln served as defense attorney in all three of these trials.  Indeed, these cases fitted in with Mr. Lincoln’s fascination with mechanical and manufacturing processes.  Yet, Mr. Lincoln’s profound belief that a man’s signature was his final word led him, perhaps, to under-estimate each plantiff’s personal impact and sorrowful appeal on the minds of the jury.  He lost all three cases.   Subsequently, he and Herndon appealed these cases to the Illinois State Supreme Court. 

       It was not until Mr. Lincoln’s Presidency years that these appeals were finally resolved.  Herndon notified President Lincoln in 1864 - during the midst of his tribulations with the devastating Great War between the states - that they had lost all three appeals.  This notification letter from Herndon has been documented, but it is not certain that President Lincoln had the time to read and reflect on it.

       While Judge David Davis was instrumental in getting his friend, “Honest Abe” Lincoln nominated and eventually elected to the United States Presidency, he did not accept the President-elect’s offer to become part of the new administration.  Later, in 1862, Judge David Davis did accept President Lincoln’s offer to become an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. 

       Mount Pulaskians - friends, acquaintances, county clerks, mercantile men, and lawyers - could proudly state that they had much to do with the foundation of the 16th President of the United States, whom many think is the finest and most famous of all of our American Presidents.

1850’s Illinois 8th Judicial Circuit                                                         Mr. Lincoln & Judge Davis reflecting on a cast-iron tombstone

by phil bertoni