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.