LINCOLN, Abraham (1809-1865). Autograph manuscript (signature "A. Lincoln" in text), constituting Lincoln's official transcript of the "Subscription Book of the Capital Stock of the Alton and Sangamon Rail Road Company," incorporated 27 February 1843, transcribed in early 1851.
8 pages, small 4to (8 x 6¼ in.). Comprising a cover sheet (titled in Lincoln's hand, as above), 4 pages containing the joint stock subscription statement and 3½ pp. list of 91 shareholders' with the number of shares subscribed, 2 blank pages, final leaf with Lincoln's legal docket: "Alton and Sangamon Railroad Company vs. James A. Barret. Copy of contents of subscription book...." Bound in modern blue morocco gilt by the Lakeside Press.
"I HAVE LABORED HARD TO FIND THE LAW": LINCOLN AS ATTORNEY FOR THE ALTON & SANGAMON RAIL ROAD COMPANY IN A PRECEDENT-SETTING LAWSUIT
One of the most significant Lincoln legal documents to be offered for sale in many years: Lincoln's autograph list of the stockholders involved in the case of Alton and Sangamon Railroad v. Barret. Biographer David Herbert Donald calls it "Lincoln's first significant railroad case." In early 1851, Lincoln was retained by the railroad to sue Barret and the other defaulting shareholders. Barret's 30 shares made him one of the principal investors in the company. The tactical details of the suits are spelled out in Lincoln's letter of February 19, 1851 to William Martin, a Commissioner for the sale of stock in the company. The four suits were to be brought against stockholders who had subscribed to the initial offering, made the required advance payment but had failed to make the additional installment payments on the stock when called upon to do so by the Directors. In preparation, Lincoln lists the proofs required in order to win a judgment, listing essential documents he will need. "We must prove," he advises Martin, "that the defendant is a Stockholder," "that the calls have been made," and "that due notice of the calls has been given." To prove that the defendants are in fact stockholders, Lincoln writes, he must produce "the subscription book with the defendant's name, and proof of the genuineness of the signature, together with any competent parole or evidence, that he made the advance payment' (Basler 2:99).
The Alton & Sangamon Railroad line, chartered in 1847, was to run from Springfield to the Mississippi at Alton. Lincoln's meticulous transcript of the Subscription Book of the corporation provides unique insights into another, less well-known corporate venture. In the litigation for which the Subscription Book was transcribed, the Illinois Supreme Court's ruling in favor of Lincoln and the railroad set an important legal precedent, upholding the binding nature of a stockholder's contractual and financial obligations to the corporation in which he was both partner and investor.
The list of subscribers is itself of considerable interest. Among the 91 names are "A. Lincoln" (subscribed 6 shares), J. Hay (probably the grandfather of Lincoln's later secretary), Ninian W. Edwards (1809-1889, husband of Mary Todd Lincoln's sister, 20 shares), John T. Stuart (1807-1885, Lincoln's law partner, 5 shares), Henry Yates (father of Illinois Governor Richard Yates, 10 shares), N.W. Matheny (Clerk of Sangamon County Court) and others. Some, perhaps many of the investors anticipated an increase in the value of their own landholdings, if the new line passed through or even near their property. (In the subscription book, Henry Yates, hedging his bets, had added a condition beneath his name: "if the Road intersects the M. & S R R at New Berlin.") The company was originally chartered to construct a line from Alton to Springfield, via New Berlin. In 1850, though, the Illinois General Assembly approved a new, more direct route, bypassing the landholdings of some investors. One aggrieved stockholder, James A. Barret, refused to make further installment payments for his 30 shares of stock, claiming breach of contract, as did several others who no longer stood to benefit from the new line.
The corporation's subscription statement, transcribed by Lincoln on page 2, is explicit about the shareholders' obligations with respect to calls: "We the subscribers to the Capital Stock of the Alton and Sangamon Rail Road Company...do hereby agree...to pay the balance of the installments due on said stock by us subscribed, when the same may be called for by the board of Directors of said Company when duly organized in conformity with the Charter approved February 27th 1847."
Lincoln was mindful of the critical issues raised by these lawsuits, and "took extraordinary pains to construct an airtight case for his client" (Donald, p.155). To Martin, he carefully points out the legal issues, adding "I have labored hard to find the law," in preparation for the trials. In the end, two of the defaulting stockholders paid their delinquent calls. The suits against James A. Barret and Joseph Klein came to trial in the Sangamon Circuit Court in August. Lincoln handled both the trials and the appeals. The rulings were in favor of the railroad: "Illinois Supreme Court Justice Samuel H. Treat ruled that public utility superseded private profit. If Barret had won the case, other stockholders would balk at fulfilling their obligations....The rule of caveat emptor protected corporate management from stockholder's personal interests and encouraged subsequent investment" (Lincoln Legal Briefs, Oct-Dec, 1990, no. 16, online). "The decision, subsequently cited in twenty-five other cases throughout the United States, helped establish the principle that corporation charters could be altered in the public interest, and it established Lincoln as one of the most prominent and successful Illinois practitioners of railroad law" (Donald, p.155).
Provenance: Philip D. Sang (sale, Hindman, Chicago, 15 April 1984, lot 135 - Ralph G. Newman).