Pioneers of Menard & Mason Counties
Including Personal Reminiscens of Abraham Lincoln & Peter Cartwright
By T.G. Onstot, 1902

The Shirt Sleeve Court in the Corn field

Page 41

Harvey L. Ross had a quarter section of land two miles south of Macomb. It was left to him from his father's estate. It was a fine quarter, but there was some small defect in the title which could only be remedied by the evidence of a man named Hagerty, who lived six miles west of Springfield, and who knew the facts, which he wished to prove.

He noticed by the papers that court was in session at Springfield and as court only convened twice a year, he immediately started for that place which was sixty miles from his home. He found his witness and took him with him. On arriving at Springfield, he went directly to Mr. Lincoln's office, which was over a store west of the square. The office was fourteen feet square and contained two table, two book cases and a half dozen chairs. The door was perfectly bare. He told Lincoln his story and showed him his title papers. Lincoln looked them over and then remarked," I am sorry to have to tell you that you are a little too late for the court has adjourned and will not meet again for six months and Judge Thomas has gone home. He lives on a farm about a mile east of town, but we will go and see him and see if he can do anything for you." Ross said he would get a carriage and they would drive out but Lincoln said, "No I can walk if you can." Ross said he would as soon walk as ride. Before they started, Lincoln pulled off his coat, laid it in a chair and took from his pocket a large bandana handkerchief to wipe the perspiration from his face, as it was a warm day in August. He strode off across the square in his shirt sleeves with the red handkerchief in one hand and the bundle of papers I the other, while Ross and his witness followed. They soon came to Judge Thomas' residence, which was a one story frame house. Mr. Lincoln knocked at the door (at that time there were no door bells) and the judge's wife came to the door. Mr. Lincoln asked if the judge was at home and she replied that he had gone to the north part of the farm, where they had a tenant house, to help his men put up a corn crib. She said if they went the main road it would be a half mil, but if they cut across the corn field it would only be a quarter of a mile. Mr. Lincoln said if she would show them the path they would take the short cut , so she came out of the house and showed them where the path struck off across the corn field from their barn. They followed the path, Mr. Lincoln in the lead and Ross and Hagerty following in Indian file and soon came to where the Judge and his men were raising a log house about twelve by twenty feet. It was to serve as a corn crib and a hog house. Mr. Lincoln told the judge how Ross had come from Fulton county and had brought his witness to town just after court had adjourned and so he thought he would come out and see if anything could be done.

The judge looked over the title papers and said he thought it could be fixed up. The judge and the rest of them were in their shirt sleeves and Lincoln remarked that it was a kind of a shirt sleeve court. "Yes" replied the judge "a shirt sleeve court in a corn field." After the business had been transacted, Mr. Lincoln asked Judge Thomas if he did not want some help in rolling up the logs and the judge said that there were two logs that were pretty heavy, and he would like to have a little help in rolling them up. Before they left they helped them roll them up. Lincoln steered one end and the judge the other. Ross offered to pay the judge for taking the deposition of his witness, but he guessed he had paid enough with the raising of the logs to pay for that, and would take nothing for his work. When they got back to Lincoln's office they had walked about three miles. Lincoln put the papers in a large envelope with the names of Stewart & Lincoln printed on the top. "Now", said he, "when you get home put these papers on record and you will have a good title to your land." Ross then took out his pocket book to pay him and supposed he would be charged ten dollars. He knew that Lincoln was moderate in his charges. "Now, Mr. Lincoln" said he, "how much shall I pay you for this long walk through the hot sun and dust?" Lincoln paused (end page) for a moment, took the large handerkerchief and wiped the perspiration from off his face and said, "I guess I will not charge anything for that. I will let it go on the old score." When he said that Ross could not keep the tears back, for he could recall many instances when Lincoln had been so good and kind to him when he was carrying the mail through Salem years before. But when he said he would charge nothing for his work it was more kindness than Ross could stand. Lincoln probably meant by "old score" that he had helped him in his store and in the postoffice, and that his father had helped him to get the postoffice. Judge Jesse R. Thomas, who was at end of the log, had served as a member of the territorial legislature, had twice been elected to the United States senate, once as a supreme judge, was a member of the constitutional convention, which formed the first constitution of Illinois, and he had done more and exerted more influence forward making the state of Illinois a slave state than any other man. The man at the other end of the log was Abraham Lincoln, the great emancipator, who afterwards served in the legislature, in congress and as president of the United States. It was his pen, which set four million slaves free. He did more to banish slavery from the United States than any other man. The name of Judge Thomas is lost in oblivion while the name of Lincoln sands on the top round of the world's greatest benefactors.

It is related that while in the White House, Lincoln was called on by a lot of English snobs, for whom he had no great love or reverence. They sat back on their dignity. Abe sauntered around the room and talked to them occasionally and finally he picked up an old blacking brush, put his foot up on a chair, and began to brush off his old shoes in a careless manner. The English dukes were astounded and one of them managed to say, "Why Mr. Lincoln, no man who belongs to the aristocracy in England blacks his own shoes." Lincoln quickly replied, "Whose shoes does he black then?" the Dukes saw the point and soon excused themselves and departed. If there was one thing that Lincoln despised it was snobbishness. He never got so high on the pinnacle of fame that he forgot the common class of people. He never forgot the rock from which he was hewn.

The county of Menard was set off from Sangamon in 1840 and the county seat was located at Petersburg.

Transcribed by:Rajean Gallagher


1902 Index

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Illinois Ancestors