LINCOLN, Abraham (1809-1865), President. Autograph legal document signed ("A Lincoln"), a deed drawn by Lincoln and signed as a witness to the contract, COUNTERSIGNED BY WILLIAM GREEN, Lincoln's close friend and business partner and by James Cox and his wife, COMPRISING SOME 307 WORDS IN LINCOLN'S HAND, page 2 with a lengthy autograph legal endorsement by BOWLING GREEN, Acting Justice of the Peace. N.p. [New Salem, Illinois], 2 April 1834.
1 pages, folio, 301 x 198mm., minor tear along one fold (without loss), otherwise in very fine condition, page two with Bowling Green's certification, integral blank with County Clerk's recording endorsements.
ONE OF THE EARLIEST KNOWN LEGAL DOCUMENTS IN LINCOLN'S HAND, FROM NEW SALEM, 1834
One of the earliest autograph Lincoln documents to have come to light in many years (Lincoln was only twenty-four at this date). Entirely unpublished, it is also one of the longest Lincoln documents from the New Salem period (comprising some 310 words in Lincoln's hand) and one of a handful of early Lincoln documents which Lincoln drew up as an unlicensed law-clerk. Legal work of this type, in rural Illinois at this date, required no formal license, and at least one other example of a deed drawn by Lincoln is recorded (Collected Works, 1:18-19, an example in the Illinois State Historical Library). Lincoln is known to have begun his informal study of law in the same year as this document, at the suggestion of John T. Stuart, and apparently consulted borrowed legal texts (including Blackstone's Commentaries). But he did not receive his license to practice law until more than two years later, in September 1836. The text of the indenture shows that Lincoln had already, by this early date, attained a surprising familiarity with the forms and usages of English contract law. It reads: "This indenture made...between James Cox and Nancy O. his wife of the County of Morgan and State of Illinois party of the first part and Matthew S. Marsh and Charles J.F. Clark of the County of Sangamon and State aforesaid party of the second part witnesseth -- That the said James Cox and Nancy O his wife for and in consideration of the sum of [$575.00] to them in hand paid the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged have given granted bargained and sold and do by these give grant bargain and sell all their right title interest and estate in and to the following tracts of land..." [a detailed description of the tracts, comprising 80 acres, follows]. Lincoln's text continues: "To have and to hold unto the said Matthew S. Marsh and Charles J.F. Clark their heirs and assignes forever the above described tracts of land together with all and singular the privileges and appurtanences thereunto belonging. And the said James Cox and Nancy O. his wife do covenant to and with the said Matthew S. Marsh and Charles J.F. Clark, to Warrant and forever defend the title of said land against the claim or claims of any and all person or person whomsoever. In testimony whereof the said James Cox and Nancy O. his wife have hereunto set their hands and seals this day...Signed sealed and delivered in the presence of A Lincoln William Green."
The document is also unusual in that it bears the signature of William Greene, a business partner with Lincoln and William Berry in several New Salem mercantile establishments. Lincoln had settled in New Salem in 1831, working as a clerk in the general store owned by Denton Offutt and managing the local mill, which Offutt rented from New Salem's founders, Rutledge and Cameron. William G. Greene was taken on as Lincoln's assistant at the mill. According to Herndon, "between the two a life-long friendship sprang up. They slept in the store, and so strong was the intimacy between them that 'when one turned over the other had to do likewise.'" (Life of Lincoln, ed. Angle, 1942, p.68)
Lincoln's short and eventful mercantile career had begun with his purchase--in the fall of 1832--of an interest in the Herndon-Berry store in New Salem, Illinois. Lincoln and William F. Berry then bought another rival store in New Salem from its interim owner, William Greene, by a complicated series of promissory notes. The partnership was not successful and the store floundered. When Berry later died, Lincoln was left largely responsible for the firm's unsecured debt. On 7 April 1834 Peter Van Bergen sued Lincoln, Berry and Greene; on 29 April he and another assignee, Radford, were assessed damages. Lincoln was not able to redeem that and another, smaller note, and sheriff Gerrit Elkin seized personal possessions of Lincoln which included his horse, saddle, bridle and surveying instruments, which were sold at auction in November to satisfy the judgement. A friend of Lincoln's, James Short, purchased the horse and surveying instruments for $125 and returned them to Lincoln. (The sheriff's order for the seizure of these goods was sold at Christie's, 9 December 93, lot 190, $68,500).
Very rare. Only a few documents from this early period in Lincoln's life have appeared at auction in the last 20 years; most are simple documents signed. While Collected Works and Supplements record a number of documents from the New Salem years, all but a very few are in permanent institutional collections.