LINCOLN, Abraham. Autograph letter signed ("A. Lincoln") to George B. Kinkhead in Lexington, Ky.; Danville, Ill[inoi]s, 27 May 1853. 1 full page, 4to, on blue paper.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN AS DEFENDANT: "I FIND IT DIFFICULT TO SUPPRESS MY INDIGNATION TOWARDS THOSE WHO HAVE GOT UP THE CLAIM AGAINST ME"
A letter representing one of the few instances in which Lincoln was himself a defendant in a civil suit. Kinkead was the local attorney representing Lincoln and Ninian B. Edwards (Lincoln's brother-in-law) in the settling the estate of Robert S. Todd (1791-1849), late father of both Mary Todd Lincoln and Mrs. Ninian Edwards. The letter marks Lincoln's earliest apprehension of a lawsuit which the young lawyer found irksome, frustrating and no doubt embarassing, due to the close family connection. The suit of Edward Oldham and Thomas Hemingway vs. Abraham Lincoln, Ninian B. Edwards and George B. Kinkead, filed some years after Todd's death, by Oldham and Hemingway, formerly Todd's business partners, petitioned the court to seize from Kinkhead a sum ($472.54) said to have been paid to Lincoln for the firm of Oldham, Todd & Co. Hemingway asserted, under oath, that Lincoln had collected but never remitted those funds. The suit also calimed Edwards owed them $9.00 in freight charges, apparently for the shipment of some cotton Todd sent his daughters. The lawsuit's claims--which Lincoln knew to be erroneous and suspected to be mercenary--disquieted, dismayed and angered Lincoln, who indignantly responds:
"I am here attending court [the Illinois Circuit court] a hundred and thirty miles from home, and where a copy of your letter...to Mr. [Ninian] Edwards, reached me...last evening. I find it difficult to suppress my indignation towards those who have got up the claim against me. I would really be glad to hear Mr. Hemingway explain how he was induced to swear he believes the claim to be just! I herewith inclose my answer." [See Lincoln's "Answer of Petition to Edward Oldham and Thomas Hemingway," 27 May 1853, Ms. in Fayette County, Circuit Court Files, Basler 2:195-196].
"If it is insufficient either in substance, or in the authentication of the oath, return it to me at at [sic] Springfield (where I shall be after about a few days) stating the defective points. You will perceive in my answer, that I ask the Petitioners to be ruled to file a bill of particulars, stating names & residences &c. I do this to enable me to absolutely disprove the claim. I can really prove by independent evidences, every material statement of my answer, and if they will name any living accessable man, as one of whom I have received their money, I will by that man disprove the charge. I know it is for them to prove their claim, rather that for me to to disprove it; but I am unwilling to trust the oath of any man, who either made or prompted the oath to the Petition. Write me soon." Published in Collected Works, ed. R.P. Basler, 2:194-195.
The Oldham & Hemingway suit, partly because of the distances involved, was not easily resolved, and continued to worry Lincoln. He wrote Kinkead on 6 July (probably after discussing the case with Edwards, his co-defendant), confessing "some anxiety about the suit which has been gotten up against me." He contended that "they can not...make the slightest show of proof," and denied ever collecting funds on behalf of the plaintiffs (Basler 2:200). In September Lincoln reiterated that Kinkead must demand a bill of particulars and denied ever handling business for Oldham, Todd & Co. He added that it would be to his "great disadvantage" to come to Kentucky to fight the case: "it will cost me more to leave the Circuit...and attend to taking proof, than it would to give up the claim...." Betraying his disquiet about the matter, he confided that "this matter harasses my feelings a good deal..." (Basler 2:203).
Knowing he was in the right, Lincoln tenaciously refused to concede, and notified Oldham and Hemingway that he would be taking depositions in Springfield, Beardstown and Shelbyville from various individuals with knowledge of the affair (Basler 2:204). Ultimately, when his inquiries yielded additional details on the debt, Lincoln was able to convincingly demonstrate that the suit was fallacious, though not malicious. Expressing a palpable sense of relief, Lincoln wrote on 30 September to Kinkead to inform him he now knew whose deposition to take in order to finally settle the claim (Basler 2:205).
In January 1854, confronted by the evidence marshalled in Lincoln's depositions and notices, Oldham and Hemingway requested dismissal of their suit. A relieved and grateful Lincoln insisted that Kinkead bill him separately for his efforts in this matter and, when the Lexington attorney did so, charging a very modest fee, Lincoln gently chided him: "you do not seem disposed to compensate yourself very liberally," he observed (Basler 2:221). Provenance: Philip D. Sang (sale, Sotheby's, 23 April 1986, lot 102).