Newly Discovered, Previously Unknown Manuscript Shows How Abraham Lincoln Practiced Law

An unpublished document from the first case of the legendary law firm, Lincoln & Herndon, giving insight into Lincoln both as mentor and lawyer, will be offered at Raab

Acquired from the heirs of an American collector and last sold during the Great Depression, the manuscript goes on exhibit May 13


The Raab Collection today announced that it has discovered, acquired, and will be offering for sale a newly discovered, unpublished legal document from the first-ever case of what may be America’s most famous law partnership: Lincoln and Herndon, the firm that future President Lincoln was running when he entered public life. It was collaboratively written by Lincoln and his law partner, William Herndon, in 1846. At the time, Lincoln was running for Congress, as well as working on the Illinois Circuit Court case Hope v. Beebe, the very first case he and his new junior partner took on. The document was, until now, unknown to scholars, having been handed down in the family of an American collector for nearly a century. It last sold in 1929, around the start of the Great Depression. It will go on exhibit and on sale May 13, valued at $32,500.  

“This is a remarkable discovery. This is the only paperwork from Lincoln and Herndon’s first case we have ever seen on the market,” said Nathan Raab, president of The Raab Collection and author of The Hunt for History.

Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices

Before becoming president in 1861, Abraham Lincoln spent nearly 25 years as a lawyer in Springfield, Illinois, with three different firms. His final partner was his friend, William Herndon, whom he took on as a junior partner in late 1844. Their first-ever case, Hope v. Beebe, was heard in March 1845, but claims continued well into 1846. Our research indicates that this newly discovered manuscript is a motion filed in connection with that case in March 1846.

It begins in Lincoln’s handwriting, “And for further replication,” before switching to Herndon’s for a legal summary, then back to Lincoln for a description of the damages. Lincoln also signed it on behalf of “Lincoln & Herndon.” 

At the same time that this case was making its way through the courts, Lincoln was campaigning for his first federal elected position. He won the race in August 1846 and subsequently served one term as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Illinois’s 7th district.

The parties involved in Hope v. Beebe finally reached an agreement in March 1847, just as Lincoln took his seat in Congress. A final version of this document was filed (and has been published by the Papers of Abraham Lincoln), but this original draft, revealing the collaborative relationship between Lincoln and Herndon, took a different journey.   

Unseen in a Century 

Public sale records show that this document last exchanged hands nearly a century ago. An American collector purchased it in 1929 from the New York autograph dealer Thomas Madigan, and his heirs have held onto it ever since. 

Long in private hands, this important manuscript thus escaped notice and has not been seen or studied by anyone outside that family. To learn more about this exciting discovery, Nathan Raab is available for interviews. The letter will be on display at The Raab Collection May 13-17. Appointments for viewings are necessary; please email or call to schedule.

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