Very Early Legal Document in Lincoln’s Hand From His First Law Partnership with John Stuart

Abraham Lincoln enjoyed a successful legal career in Illinois spanning nearly 25 years. Like most lawyers of his time, he did not attend law school. It was customary to study under established lawyers, but he lived in a rural village, and started his legal education by teaching himself. In 1834 John T....

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Very Early Legal Document in Lincoln’s Hand From His First Law Partnership with John Stuart

Abraham Lincoln enjoyed a successful legal career in Illinois spanning nearly 25 years. Like most lawyers of his time, he did not attend law school. It was customary to study under established lawyers, but he lived in a rural village, and started his legal education by teaching himself. In 1834 John T. Stuart, a Springfield attorney, encouraged him to study law and lent him the necessary books. Less than three years later Lincoln was admitted to the bar and joined Stuart as a junior partner. This partnership was the third incarnation of the relationship of the two men who had first met when they both served in the Black Hawk War. The second stage of their relationship began when both men were candidates for the Illinois House of Representatives from Sangamon County.

Becoming Stuart’s partner was a major step up for the backwoodsman Lincoln, as Stuart had connections in society and business. If not for Stuart’s influence, it is conceivable that Lincoln might never have actually engaged in the practice of law – and thus might not ever have become president.

Wharton Ransdell was a tavern keeper in Springfield. Ransdell gave Samuel Fleming a promissory note for $100 but failed to pay. Fleming sued Ransdell in an action of assumpsit to recover the debt. Ransdell retained Stuart and Lincoln and pleaded not guilty. The jury heard arguments, but Fleming agreed to a nonsuit.

Autograph Document Signed, Springfield, March 1838, being the same action of assumpsit mentioned above and filed with the Sagamon Circuit Court.

“Wharton Ransdell ads Samuel Fleming

In Assumpsit

And the said defendant comes and defends the wrong and injury … and says he did not undertake or promise in manner and form as the said plaintiff hath in his declaration alleged against him, and of this he puts himself upon the country.

Stuart & Lincoln
for Defendant

And plaintiff doth the like
Walker and Henett for Plaintiff”

Fleming later reinstated the case. Ransdell confessed judgment for $111.11 in damages, and the court allowed the confession. Stuart and Lincoln received $10 for their legal services.

This document, from less than a year after the Stuart/Lincoln partnership was formed, is about as early as you can find any Lincoln autograph. It is certainly our earliest example.

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