Lincoln and the Eighth Judicial Circuit
For more than two decades, the Eighth Circuit brought Lincoln to McLean County and its seat of Bloomington.
Once in the spring and once in the fall, the circuit judge and a band of lawyers would make a “swing” from one county seat to another, providing a rough but generally fair system of justice.
Fair, that is, for white males. But not for most others.
Although Illinois was a free state, its Black Laws denied African Americans basic civil and political rights. Blacks could not testify in court, serve on juries, or even vote.
To settle in Illinois, African Americans had to register with local officials, provide proof of freedom, and pay a $1,000 bond that ensured they would not become wards of the state. In addition, persons caught harboring or assisting Blacks without proper documentation could be fined $500.
Women too faced discrimination
not vote, serve on juries, nor run for office. But,
unlike Blacks, they could testify in court.
Look at this 1859 illustration of a Washington, D.C. murder
trial. Do you see any African Americans? What about
While in Bloomington, Eighth Circuit lawyers, like Lincoln, borrowed desk space to catch up on correspondence and casework.
Lincoln often settled into David Davis’ law office,
located at the northeast corner of Front and Main
Streets in Downtown Bloomington.
A Letter From Lincoln
The letter on the desk speaks to Lincoln’s busy practice with the Illinois Central Railroad.
Dear Sir I have to day drawn on you in favor of the
McLean County Bank, or rather its’ cashier, for one hundred
and fifty dollars. This is intended as a fee for all services
done by me for the Illinois Central Railroad, since last
September, within the counties of McLean and DeWitt. Within that term,, and in the two counties, I have assisted, for the Road, in at least fifteen cases (I believe, one or two
more) and I have concluded to lump them off at ten dollars
a case. With this explanation, I shall be obliged if you
will honor the draft
Yours truly A. Lincoln
After the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas Debates, Fell
asked Lincoln to write something about his
life and career so newspapers back east could
share his story with would-be voters.
Fell caught Lincoln coming out of the McLean County Courthouse and invited him to his brother Kersey’s law office, just across the street.