The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7

In 1834 the circuit-court system was again established throughout
the State, circuit judges appointed to hold the courts, and the
judges of the Supreme Court were relieved from the performance of
circuit court duties. The change was recommended by the then
acting governor of the State, General W. L. D. Ewing, in the
following terms:

“The augmented population of the State, the multiplied number of
organized counties, as well as the increase of business in all,
has long since convinced every one conversant with this
department of our government of the indispensable necessity of an
alteration in our judiciary system, and the subject is therefore
recommended to the earnest patriotic consideration of the
Legislature. The present system has never been exempt from
serious and weighty objections. The idea of appealing from the
circuit court to the same judges in the Supreme Court is
recommended by little hopes of redress to the injured party
below. The duties of the circuit, too, it may be added, consume
one half of the year, leaving a small and inadequate portion of
time (when that required for domestic purposes is deducted) to
erect, in the decisions of the Supreme Court, a judicial monument
of legal learning and research, which the talent and ability of
the court might otherwise be entirely competent to.”

With this organization of circuit courts the people have never
complained. The only complaints which we have heard have come
from circuits which were so large that the judges could not
dispose of the business, and the circuits in which Judges Pearson
and Ralston lately presided.

Whilst the honor and credit of the State demanded legislation
upon the subject of the public debt, the canal, the unfinished
public works, and the embarrassments of the people, the judiciary
stood upon a basis which required no change–no legislative
action. Yet the party in power, neglecting every interest
requiring legislative action, and wholly disregarding the rights,
wishes, and interests of the people, has, for the unholy purpose
of providing places for its partisans and supplying them with
large salaries, disorganized that department of the government.
Provision is made for the election of five party judges of the
Supreme Court, the proscription of four circuit judges, and the
appointment of party clerks in more than half the counties of the
State. Men professing respect for public opinion, and
acknowledged to be leaders of the party, have avowed in the halls
of legislation that the change in the judiciary was intended to
produce political results favorable to their party and party
friends. The immutable principles of justice are to make way for
party interests, and the bonds of social order are to be rent in
twain, in order that a desperate faction may be sustained at the
expense of the people. The change proposed in the judiciary was
supported upon grounds so destructive to the institutions of the
country, and so entirely at war with the rights and liberties of
the people, that the party could not secure entire unanimity in
its support, three Democrats of the Senate and five of the House
voting against the measure. They were unwilling to see the
temples of justice and the seats of independent judges occupied
by the tools of faction. The declarations of the party leaders,
the selection of party men for judges, and the total disregard
for the public will in the adoption of the measure, prove
conclusively that the object has been not reform, but
destruction; not the advancement of the highest interests of the
State, but the predominance of party.

We cannot in this manner undertake to point out all the
objections to this party measure; we present you with those
stated by the Council of Revision upon returning the bill, and we
ask for them a candid consideration.

Believing that the independence of the judiciary has been
destroyed, that hereafter our courts will be independent of the
people, and entirely dependent upon the Legislature; that our
rights of property and liberty of conscience can no longer be
regarded as safe from the encroachments of unconstitutional
legislation; and knowing of no other remedy which can be adopted
consistently with the peace and good order of society, we call
upon you to avail yourselves of the opportunity afforded, and, at
the next general election, vote for a convention of the people.


Committee on behalf of the Whig members of the Legislature.


February 26, 1841

For the reasons thus presented, and for others no less apparent,
the undersigned cannot assent to the passage of the bill, or
permit it to become a law, without this evidence of their
disapprobation; and they now protest against the reorganization
of the judiciary, because–(1) It violates the great principles
of free government by subjecting the judiciary to the
Legislature. (2) It is a fatal blow at the independence of the
judges and the constitutional term of their office. (3) It is a
measure not asked for, or wished for, by the people. (4) It will
greatly increase the expense of our courts, or else greatly
diminish their utility. (5) It will give our courts a political
and partisan character, thereby impairing public confidence in
their decisions. (6) It will impair our standing with other
States and the world. (7)It is a party measure for party
purposes, from which no practical good to the people can possibly
arise, but which may be the source of immeasurable evils.

The undersigned are well aware that this protest will be
altogether unavailing with the majority of this body. The blow
has already fallen, and we are compelled to stand by, the
mournful spectators of the ruin it will cause.

[Signed by 35 members, among whom was Abraham Lincoln.]


SPRINGFIELD June 19, 1841.

DEAR SPEED:–We have had the highest state of excitement here for
a week past that our community has ever witnessed; and, although
the public feeling is somewhat allayed, the curious affair which
aroused it is very far from being even yet cleared of mystery.
It would take a quire of paper to give you anything like a full
account of it, and I therefore only propose a brief outline. The
chief personages in the drama are Archibald Fisher, supposed to
be murdered, and Archibald Trailor, Henry Trailor, and William
Trailor, supposed to have murdered him. The three Trailors are
brothers: the first, Arch., as you know, lives in town; the
second, Henry, in Clary’s Grove; and the third, William, in
Warren County; and Fisher, the supposed murdered, being without a
family, had made his home with William. On Saturday evening,
being the 29th of May, Fisher and William came to Henry’s in a
one-horse dearborn, and there stayed over Sunday; and on Monday
all three came to Springfield (Henry on horseback) and joined
Archibald at Myers’s, the Dutch carpenter. That evening at
supper Fisher was missing, and so next morning some ineffectual
search was made for him; and on Tuesday, at one o’clock P.M.,
William and Henry started home without him. In a day or two
Henry and one or two of his Clary-Grove neighbors came back for
him again, and advertised his disappearance in the papers. The
knowledge of the matter thus far had not been general, and here
it dropped entirely, till about the 10th instant, when Keys
received a letter from the postmaster in Warren County, that
William had arrived at home, and was telling a very mysterious
and improbable story about the disappearance of Fisher, which
induced the community there to suppose he had been disposed of
unfairly. Keys made this letter public, which immediately set
the whole town and adjoining county agog. And so it has
continued until yesterday. The mass of the people commenced a
systematic search for the dead body, while Wickersham was
despatched to arrest Henry Trailor at the Grove, and Jim Maxcy to
Warren to arrest William. On Monday last, Henry was brought in,
and showed an evident inclination to insinuate that he knew
Fisher to be dead, and that Arch. and William had killed him.
He said he guessed the body could be found in Spring Creek,
between the Beardstown road and Hickox’s mill. Away the people
swept like a herd of buffalo, and cut down Hickox’s mill-dam
nolens volens, to draw the water out of the pond, and then went
up and down and down and up the creek, fishing and raking, and
raking and ducking and diving for two days, and, after all, no
dead body found.

In the meantime a sort of scuffling-ground had been found in the
brush in the angle, or point, where the road leading into the
woods past the brewery and the one leading in past the brick-yard
meet. From the scuffle-ground was the sign of something about
the size of a man having been dragged to the edge of the thicket,
where it joined the track of some small-wheeled carriage drawn by
one horse, as shown by the road-tracks. The carriage-track led
off toward Spring Creek. Near this drag-trail Dr. Merryman found
two hairs, which, after a long scientific examination, he
pronounced to be triangular human hairs, which term, he says,
includes within it the whiskers, the hair growing under the arms
and on other parts of the body; and he judged that these two were
of the whiskers, because the ends were cut, showing that they had
flourished in the neighborhood of the razor’s operations. On
Thursday last Jim Maxcy brought in William Trailor from Warren.
On the same day Arch. was arrested and put in jail. Yesterday
(Friday) William was put upon his examining trial before May and
Lovely. Archibald and Henry were both present. Lamborn
prosecuted, and Logan, Baker, and your humble servant defended.
A great many witnesses were introduced and examined, but I shall
only mention those whose testimony seemed most important. The
first of these was Captain Ransdell. He swore that when William
and Henry left Springfield for home on Tuesday before mentioned
they did not take the direct route,–which, you know, leads by
the butcher shop,–but that they followed the street north until
they got opposite, or nearly opposite, May’s new house, after
which he could not see them from where he stood; and it was
afterwards proved that in about an hour after they started, they
came into the street by the butcher shop from toward the brick-
yard. Dr. Merryman and others swore to what is stated about the
scuffle-ground, drag-trail, whiskers, and carriage tracks. Henry
was then introduced by the prosecution. He swore that when they
started for home they went out north, as Ransdell stated, and
turned down west by the brick-yard into the woods, and there met
Archibald; that they proceeded a small distance farther, when he
was placed as a sentinel to watch for and announce the approach
of any one that might happen that way; that William and Arch.
took the dearborn out of the road a small distance to the edge of
the thicket, where they stopped, and he saw them lift the body of
a man into it; that they then moved off with the carriage in the
direction of Hickox’s mill, and he loitered about for something
like an hour, when William returned with the carriage, but
without Arch., and said they had put him in a safe place; that
they went somehow he did not know exactly how–into the road
close to the brewery, and proceeded on to Clary’s Grove. He also
stated that some time during the day William told him that he and
Arch. had killed Fisher the evening before; that the way they
did it was by him William knocking him down with a club, and
Arch. then choking him to death.

An old man from Warren, called Dr. Gilmore, was then introduced
on the part of the defense. He swore that he had known Fisher
for several years; that Fisher had resided at his house a long
time at each of two different spells–once while he built a barn
for him, and once while he was doctored for some chronic disease;
that two or three years ago Fisher had a serious hurt in his head
by the bursting of a gun, since which he had been subject to
continued bad health and occasional aberration of mind. He also
stated that on last Tuesday, being the same day that Maxcy
arrested William Trailor, he (the doctor) was from home in the
early part of the day, and on his return, about eleven o’clock,
found Fisher at his house in bed, and apparently very unwell;
that he asked him how he came from Springfield; that Fisher said
he had come by Peoria, and also told of several other places he
had been at more in the direction of Peoria, which showed that he
at the time of speaking did not know where he had been wandering
about in a state of derangement. He further stated that in about
two hours he received a note from one of Trailor’s friends,
advising him of his arrest, and requesting him to go on to
Springfield as a witness, to testify as to the state of Fisher’s
health in former times; that he immediately set off, calling up
two of his neighbors as company, and, riding all evening and all
night, overtook Maxcy and William at Lewiston in Fulton County;
that Maxcy refusing to discharge Trailor upon his statement, his
two neighbors returned and he came on to Springfield. Some
question being made as to whether the doctor’s story was not a
fabrication, several acquaintances of his (among whom was the
same postmaster who wrote Keys, as before mentioned) were
introduced as sort of compurgators, who swore that they knew the
doctor to be of good character for truth and veracity, and
generally of good character in every way.

Here the testimony ended, and the Trailors were discharged, Arch.
and William expressing both in word and manner their entire
confidence that Fisher would be found alive at the doctor’s by
Galloway, Mallory, and Myers, who a day before had been
despatched for that purpose; which Henry still protested that no
power on earth could ever show Fisher alive. Thus stands this
curious affair. When the doctor’s story was first made public,
it was amusing to scan and contemplate the countenances and hear
the remarks of those who had been actively in search for the dead
body: some looked quizzical, some melancholy, and some furiously
angry. Porter, who had been very active, swore he always knew
the man was not dead, and that he had not stirred an inch to hunt
for him; Langford, who had taken the lead in cutting down
Hickox’s mill-dam, and wanted to hang Hickox for objecting,
looked most awfully woebegone: he seemed the “victim of
unrequited affection,” as represented in the comic almanacs we
used to laugh over; and Hart, the little drayman that hauled
Molly home once, said it was too damned bad to have so much
trouble, and no hanging after all.

I commenced this letter on yesterday, since which I received
yours of the 13th. I stick to my promise to come to Louisville.
Nothing new here except what I have written. I have not seen
_____ since my last trip, and I am going out there as soon as I
mail this letter.

Yours forever,


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