Back | About this image
Bound Down the River
Bound Down the River

This lithograph illustrates the steamboat trade on the Mississippi River in the 1850s. This trade brought Abraham Lincoln one of his most celebrated cases as an attorney. On the night of May 6, 1856, the Effie Afton, the fastest sidewheel steamboat on the Mississippi River, hit the Rock Island Railroad Bridge. The bridge was the first railroad crossing of the Mississippi, and had aroused the ire of steamboat men, who were both fearful of the obstacle and the railroads' threat to their place in the transportation business. Furious over the damage caused to his prize boat and perhaps eager to strike a blow against the railroads, John Hurd, the owner of the Effie Afton, sued the railroad for fifty thousand dollars, claiming that the bridge was an obstacle to navigation. The Rock Island retained Abraham Lincoln for their defense. They realized that more than a simple collision was at stake in the case. If the railroads could not span the Mississippi River with bridges, then they would not be able to connect the railways in the east to the railways in the developing western United States. Lincoln's defense led the presiding judge to dismiss the suit, and secured the railroads' right to bridge navigable waterways like the Mississippi.

Image source: Chicago Historical Society
©Copyright 2002 Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project