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Wilson, Douglas L., ed.; Davis, Rodney O., ed.; Shaw, J. Henry. '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=herndon332.html


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

Beardstown Ills. Sept. 5, 1866.

Dear Sir,

Six of the seven interrogatories propounded by you in yours of the 1st inst. have relation to a motion for a writ of Habeas Corpus in the Armstrong case. In reply, I would say that I have no recollection of there having been an effort made for a habeas corpus in that case. I went to the record & also searchd all the papers in the case, but nothing can be found intimating that such a motion was made. It is not usual, or at least necessary, that the papers connected with such a motion be filed with the Indictment, and possibly by writing to Judge Harriott at Pekin you might find the facts in the case. My impression is, that no such motion was made. My recollections of that trial are rather good, from the fact that I was with Mr. Lincoln a great deal of the time during both of the terms in which the Armstrong case was pending. My connection with him during those terms was as follows,

Not knowing that he was intending to attend our Nov. Term 1857, I wrote to him that I wished his assistance for defendant in the case of Ruth A. Gill vs. Jonathan Gill at that term, which was a suit for divorce, custody of child & alimony. He came down, as I then supposed, exclusively to attend to that case. The question of divorce was left for a Jury, who bro't in a verdict for complainant, who also got the custody of the child; but the question of Alimony, the most important point in that case, was left open until the next term of court. At this term, Nov. 1857, Mr. Lincoln argued the motion in the Armstrong case to admit to bail,

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which was overuled. At the May term I expected Mr. Lincoln down to assist in the Alimony case again, & he came in due time, called at my office, & said I had "been sueing some of his clients, & he had come down to attend to it." He then had reference to a new Chancery case entitled "George Morre vs. Christina Moore & the heirs of Peter Moore" for a specific performance, the defendants all living near Springfield. I explained the case to him, & showed him my proofs. He seemed surprised that I should deal so frankly with him, & said he should be as frank with me, that my client was justly entitled to a decree, & he should so represent it to the court, that it was against his principle to contest a clear matter of right. So my client got a deed for a farm, which, had another Lawyer been in Mr. Lincoln's place, would have been litigated for years, with a big pile of costs, & the result probably the same. Mr. Lincoln's character for proffessional honor stood very high. He never vexed an opponent, but frequently threw him off his guard by his irresistable good humour. But I digress — I still thought that Mr. Lincoln had come to our court more particularly to attend to the Gill & Morre cases, and was very much surprised afterwards to see the immense interest he took in the Armstrong Case. He went into it like a Giant. The evidence bore heavily upon his client.

There were many witnesses, & each one seemed to add one more cord that seemed to bind him down, till Mr. Lincoln was something in the situation of Gulliver after his first sleep in Lilliput. But when he came to talk to the jury (that was always his forte) he resembled Gulliver again; he skillfuly untied here and there a knot & loosened here & there a peg, until, getting fairly warmed up, he raised himself in his full power & shook the arguments of his opponent from him as though they were cobwebs. He took the jury by storm. There were tears in Mr. Lincoln's eyes while he spoke. But they were genuine. His sympathies were fully enlisted in favor of the young man, and his terrible sincerity could not help but arouse the same passion in the jury. I have said it a hundred times, that it was Lincoln's speech that saved that criminal from the Gallows, and neither money or fame inspired that speech, but it was incited by gratitute to the young man's father, who, as Mr Lincoln said "was his only friend when he was a poor homeless boy."These are the only facts which I now recollect occurring at our Court worthy of your notice concerning that case. I might say however, as part of the previous history of the case, that the Indictment was found at the Oct. Term 1857 of the Mason Cir. Court, against James H. Norris & Wm. Armstrong. The indictment charges that on the 29th day of August 1857 they murdered James Preston Metzker — Norris striking him on the back of the head with a club & Armstrong striking him in the right eye with a slung shot. [1] Norris was tried at the Oct. Term 1857 Mason Cir. Court, found guilty of Man-Slaughter & sent up for 8 years. Dilworth & Campbell [2] were council for Norris.

At the Oct. term 1857 Mason Co Wm. Walker appeared as Counsel for Armstrong, and made two Motions, one to quash the indictment, which was overuled. The other to discharge the prisoner, which was withdrawn.

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At the close of the trial of Armstrong in the Cass Cir. Ct. Mr. Lincoln had possession of the slung-shot with which it was shown Armstrong killed Metzker.

He, Mr. L. handed it to me, saying, "here, Henry, I'll give you this to remember me by."

I have that same Slung-shot now. It was made by Armstrong for the occasion. He took a common bar of pig lead, pounded it round, about the size of a large hickory nut, then cut a piece of leather out of the top of one of his boots, & with a thread & needle he sewed it into the shape of a slung-shot, & thus improvised in a few minutes a very fatal weapon. If I can be of any other assistance to you in your worthy undertaking, shall be at your service

Yours Respectfully
J. Henry Shaw.

Library of Congress: Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 2634 — 35; Huntington Library: LN2408, 2:300 — 304

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Wilson, Douglas L., ed.; Davis, Rodney O., ed.; Shaw, J. Henry. '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=herndon332.html
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