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Riding The Circuit With Lincoln
A new picture of prairie lawyers coping with bad roads and worse inns on the Illinois frontier, drawn from David Davis’ letters
February 1955 | Volume 6, Issue 2
In June, 1850, Sarah was ill and sent for the Judge at Decatur. He came home at once, abandoning the June term at Taylorville. To make up for this omission he called a special term there in August, just prior to the beginning of his fall circuit at Springfield. Captain H. M. Vandeveer, the leading lawyer in Taylorville, wrote him: “I shall provide a private room for you. You may invite any Gentlemen you choose to room with you.” After the special session the Judge reported to his wife: “I had pleasant accommodations at Taylorville in company with Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Thornton of Shelbyville…Sunday we left & got to Springfield towards night. Mr. Lincoln had lost his conveyance & although a heavy drag for my horse I had to take him.”
With the end of his trip the Judge had traversed an area, he informed Sarah’s father, almost as large as the whole state of Connecticut. Travel had been rigorous, living usually miserable, but, despite his complaints, he thoroughly enjoyed it. Most of the joy came from his relations with his companions and particularly Lincoln, the only lawyer, except the State’s Attorney, who traveled the entire circuit with him. Their close friendship soon became well-known throughout the circuit. As early as 1850 a prominent Whig in Taylorville wrote the Judge about the necessity of removing their postmaster who pretended to be a Whig and had a brother in Springfield who was a well-known member of that party. But actually the postmaster paid over all of the profits of the office to the old postmaster who was a rabid Loco and still ran the post office. The Taylorville Whigs had appealed to Congressman Baker without avail. To approach Lincoln through ordinary channels would be fruitless because he knew the postmaster’s brother. “We have consulted about the matter,” the letter ended, “and have concluded to…ask you to use your influence with Lincoln in procuring the removal.” For the rest of Lincoln’s life, Davis heard many such pleas.