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Wilson, Douglas L., ed.; Davis, Rodney O., ed.; Shaw, Henry J. 'J. Henry Shaw to William H. Herndon' in 'Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements About Abraham Lincoln' . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998. [format: book], [genre: letter]. Permission: University of Illinois Press
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=herndon316.html


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217. J. Henry Shaw to William H. Herndon.

Beardstown Ills. Aug. 22. 1866

Dear Sir:

In the case of the People vs. Wm. Armstrong, I was assistant prosecuting counsel. The prevailing belief at that time, (& I may also say at the present) in Cass Co. was as follows. Mr. Lincoln, previous to trial, handed an almanac of the year previous to the murder, to an officer of court, stating that he might call for one during the trial, & if he did, to send him that one. An important witness for the People had fixed the time of the murder to be in the night, near a camp-meeting, that "the moon was about in the same place that the sun would be at ten o'clock in the morning & was nearly full," therefore he could see plainly &c. At the proper time Mr. Lincoln called to the officer for an Almanac, & the one prepared for the occasion was shown by Mr. Lincoln, he reading from it that at the time referred to by the witness the moon had already set. That in the roar of laughter following, the jury & opposing counsel neglected to look at the date. Mr. Carter, a lawyer of this city who was present at, but not engaged in the Armstrong case, says he is satisfied that the almanac was of the year previous, & thinks he examined it at the time. This was the general impression in the court-room. I have called on the Sheriff who officiated at that time, James A. Dick, who says that he saw a "Goudy's" Almanac laying upon Mr. Lincoln's table during the trial, & that Mr. Lincoln took it out of his own pocket. Mr. Dick does not know the date of it. I have seen several of the petit juryman who sat upon the case, who only reccollect that the almanac floored the witness; but one of the jury, the foreman, Mr. Milton Logan, says that the almanac was a "Jayne's Almanac," that it was the one for the year in which the murder was committed, & that there was no trick about it, that he is willing to make an affidavit that he examined it as to its date and that it was the almanac of the year of the murder. My own opinion is, that when an almanac was called for by Mr. Lincoln, two were brought, one of the year of the murder and the other of the year previous; that Mr. Lincoln was entirely innocent of any deception in the matter. I the more think this, from the fact that Armstrong was not cleared by any want of testimony against him, but by the irresistable appeal of Mr. Lincoln in his favor. He told the jury of his once being a poor, friendless boy; that Armstrong's father took him into his house, fed and clothed him & gave him a home &c. the particulars of which were told so pathetically that the jury forgot the guilt of the boy in their admiration of the father.

It was generally admitted that Lincon's speech and personal appeal to the jury saved Armstrong.

Mr. James Taylor (now a resident of Springfield) was Clerk of the Circuit Court

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of Cass County at that time. By calling upon him, you can probably get his description of the affair.

The murder occurred, I think, in 1857. He was indicted in Mason Co. & a change of venue to this county. At the Nov. Term 1857 of Cass Cir. Court, Mr. Lincoln labored hard to get Armstrong admitted to bail, but his motion was overuled. The trial & aquital occurred at the May term 1858.

Yours Respectfully
J. Henry Shaw.

Library of Congress: Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 2602 — 3; Huntington Library: LN2408, 2:305 — 7

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Wilson, Douglas L., ed.; Davis, Rodney O., ed.; Shaw, Henry J. 'J. Henry Shaw to William H. Herndon' in 'Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements About Abraham Lincoln' . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998. [format: book], [genre: letter]. Permission: University of Illinois Press
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=herndon316.html
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