1 Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice
of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition (Urbana:
University of Illinois Press, 2000); Howard F. Dyson, “Lincoln in
Rushville,” Transactions of the Illinois State Historical Society
(Springfield, IL: Phillips Brothers, 1904), 224-25.
2 Henry J. Atkins to Howard M. Atkins, 31 January 1859, SC 2661,
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL.
3 Dyson, 224-25; Roy P. Basler et al., eds., The Collected Works of
Abraham Lincoln, 8 vols. (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University,
BAD TIMING FOR A DEPOSITION
around 1900, George E. Walker, the son of Judge Pinckney
H. Walker, of Rushville, Illinois, owned it, as well as those
for two other attorneys (including Atkins).8
The whereabouts of Lincoln’s letter to Moore is
unknown. In 1868, Greene moved to Springfield, where he
practiced law for over thirty years. During that time, he was
associated with several firms. At the time of his death, Greene
partnered with J. Otis Humphrey in the firm of Greene and
4 “Judge H. S. Greene Dead,” Illinois State Journal (Springfield),
26 February 1899, 4:1.
5 Clifton H. Moore to Abraham Lincoln, 19 January 1860, Robert
Todd Lincoln Collection of Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of
Congress, Washington, DC.
6 “Judge H. S. Greene Dead,” 4:2.
7 Dyson, 225; Basler, 3:515.
8 Dyson, 224.
9 “Judge H. S. Greene Dead,” 4:1-2; Springfield City Directory
1898, Volume 1 (Springfield, IL: R. L. Polk & Co., 1898), 8, 235.
By the late 1850s, Abraham Lincoln was well known
across the country politically. He also enjoyed a national
reputation as a lawyer, corresponding with fellow attorneys
along the east coast regarding debt claims against Illinois
residents. In one such exchange,
attorneys from Poughkeepsie,
New York, asked Lincoln to assist
them with a case in New York by
taking the deposition of a witness
In 1859, William
Houghtaling and Richard Van
Nostrand were involved in a legal
dispute in the Supreme Court of
Dutchess County, New York, over
a debt. Van Nostrand’s attorneys,
William Wilkinson and Joseph H.
Jackson of Poughkeepsie, needed
the testimony of Ebenezer Stevens
of Menard County, Illinois.
Wilkinson had met Lincoln during
a recent visit to Springfield and
recommended to the court in
February 1860 that Lincoln take Stevens’s deposition. Homer
Nelson, the opposing attorney and a Stephen Douglas
supporter, agreed that Lincoln, then a Republican candidate
for the presidential nomination, should take the deposition.
The court “ordered that a commission issue in this action, to
be directed to Abraham Lincoln Esq. Counsellor at Law, of
the City of Springfield . . . to examine on oath upon
interrogatories to be annexed to the said commission,
Ebenezer Stevens of Sweet Water, in Menard County, State
of Illinois, farmer, on the part of the
said Defendant, & that the Plaintiff
in this action have leave to join in
the said Commission & that the
same may be returned by mail
addressed to the clerk of the
County of Dutchess.” Wilkinson
sent Lincoln a letter with the
commission and interrogatories on
February 18, 1860.1
The timing was not good
for Lincoln. He may have received
the letter before he left for New
York City to deliver his Cooper
Union address, but he did not have
time to obtain the deposition. While
in New York, Lincoln received
another letter from Wilkinson, who
had read in the newspaper that
Lincoln was giving a speech there. Wilkinson noted that he
had sent a commission to Lincoln in Springfield and hoped
that it could be returned to Poughkeepsie by March 9. Lincoln
Humphrey, which was located in the Illinois National Bank
Building on the corner of Fifth and Washington streets.9 Less
than a year after Greene’s admission to the bar, Lincoln won
the presidential election. That fact, no doubt, added prestige
to Greene’s “diploma” and arguably put it on par with any
ivy-league-issued law degree.
Marilyn Mueller, Research Assistant
Part of an order directing Abraham Lincoln to
serve as a commissioner.
Image courtesy of Dutchess County Clerk’s Office,
Poughkeepsie, New York.
Continued on page 8 ...
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