Wednesday, June 17, 2015


Lincoln Makes a Jury Argument
Less than two years after Abraham Lincoln was admitted to practice law, Lincoln's co-counsel trusted him with making the final argument to the jury in a sensational murder case. Their trust was not misplaced, and the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. Interestingly, Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln's future opponent for the Senate, handled the prosecution.

Here are the contemporary news reports of the case:

“Deplorable Catastrophe.” Illinois State Journal. March 17, 1838. LPAL 84698.

Last week our town was the scene of a most deplorable catastrophe. On Wednesday evening last, Dr. J.M. Early, of his town, received a mortal wound from a pistol fired by Henry B. Truett. Dr. Early died on Saturday night, and was interred on Sunday afternoon. The gloom which this occurrence has thrown over our community can with difficulty be realized by those who have not witnessed it.

Several versions of this most fatal affair have already appeared—differing, in some points, essentially, from each other. In such a case as this, the ends of public justice can best be secured and the laws best administered, should public opinion be formed only on properly authenticated evidence. We therefore fully coincide in sentiment with the Republican, “that nothing should be said that could forestall public opinion, and prevent a calm, dispassionate and fair investigation by an impartial tribunal.”

We give the statement of the “Illinois Republican” on this subject:

From the Illinois Republican

It becomes our painful duty to record the lamentable death of one of our most useful and esteemed citizens, Doct. JACOB M. EARLY, who died on Saturday night last of a mortal wound inflicted by Henry B. Truett. As Mr. Truett is now confined in jail awaiting his trial for the awful deed, we are unwilling to say anything that would tend to increase the excitement that pervades the community, or that would by possibility forestall public opinion and prevent a calm, dispassionate and fair investigation by an impartial tribunal. But the melancholy affair having got into the public prints in other parts of the State, It will be expected of us to give a brief outline of the facts as they occurred. ON Wednesday last Dr. Early had been out on the rail road line and at night returned to Col. Spottswood’s Hotel, where he usually stopped when in town. He was seated in a chair in the sitting room, reading, when Truett entered the room and took a seat upon the settee on the opposite side of the fire place, and fixed his eye upon the Doctor, who did not seem to notice him. They remained in this situation until all the gentlemen present, ten or twelve in number, left the room but one. When Truett, rising to his feet, addressing himself to the Doctor, enquired if he was the author of a resolution passed at Peoria, disapproving of his (Truett’s) nomination as Register of the Land Office at Galena, and adding that he was informed that he was.  In reply the Doctor asked Truett who was his informant, to which Truett replied he was not at liberty to tell. Doct. Early then informed Truett that he declined saying wither he was or was not the author of the Resolution, but that he would do so as soon as he, Truett, would inform him who was his informant. Truett then pronounced the Doctor a d—d liar and scoundrel, &c. To which the Doctor replied that he wanted no difficulty with him and could not listen to his abuse. Truett again repeated the above, and added the epithet d—d coward, hypocrite, &c. Dr. Early then rose from his seat and took up a chair. Truett immediately stepped to the opposite side of the room passing round the Doctor, and he followed him with the chair before him, when Truett turned and shot him in the left side with a rifle pistol, dropped the pistol upon the floor and escaped from the house. The ball entered  the left side of Dr. Early, passed through the lower part of the stomach and the liver, and was taken out on the right side nearly opposite where it entered. This occurred about 8 o’clock on Wednesday Evening the 7th inst. And the Doctor endured his sufferings with Christian fortitude and firmness until about 12 o’clock on Saturday night the 10th inst. When he died with firm reliance upon the mercy of the Redeemer. Such is a brief sketch of this unfortunate occurrence, which has thrown a gloom over this community, and terminated in the untimely death of a valuable citizen, an affectionate husband, and a kind father.

Deeply we regret this melancholy affair, and much as we sympathize with the friends of the deceased, we hope that no undue excitement will prevail, that our citizens will refrain from the expression of their feelings and opinions, and let the law of the country have their course, and justice administered accordingly.

We have deemed it necessary to say thus enough to satisfy the expectation of the public and to correct the rumors and reports that are afloat, and are so well calculated to deceive.

On Sunday we attended the funeral: it was a solemn occasion. There was an unusually large concourse of People.

“The Springfield Affair.” Galena Gazette. March 23, 1838. LPAL 123271

The following account of an affair which has been the subject of much conversation for a week past, is copied from the Jacksonville Standard.— It may be necessary to explain the ground of the quarrel between Dr. Early and Mr. Truett, to state, that they belonged to different factions of the administration party now existing in this State—the former was a “Douglass man,” the latter a “May man.” Mr. Truett was appointed Register of the Land Office in this town, which appointment is understood to have given great party dissatisfaction. In the course of human events, a certain convention met at Peoria, to do some party business, and among other things, as it proved, to pass upon the following resolution:—

“Resolved, That in the opinion of this convention, the recent appointment of H.B. Truett to the office of register of the land office at Galena, was not in accordance with the wishes and feelings of the democratic party in this district, and that his standing is such as to require of us a recommendation to the president for his immediate removal.”

Which resolution, Mr. Truett deemed personally offensive—and about which the dispute arose, resulting unfortunately as it has. Dr. Early died on Saturday; and Mr. Truett was in jail, at the last accounts, awaiting his trial. There are many reports afloat respecting the affair,--the whole of which it will be safe to discredit, till they are judicially proven. It may be proper to state, that the account following, taken from a paper supposed to be under the control of the faction different from that to which Mr. Truett belonged; but may be strictly true for all that.

“Mr. Truett entered the bar-room of Col. Spottswood, sometime after night, and commenced abusing and using very provoking and insulting language to Dr. Early, in relation to some resolutions passed by the recent Peoria convention. The Doctor bore his insults for some time, and seemed disposed to explain, and not have a difficulty with him. But, when Mr. Truett continued his abuse, the Doctor requested him to desist, saying, if he did not he would be forced to compel him to do so, as he would not be insulted any more by him. The Doctor then rose from his seat, and took hold of the back of a chair; and Mr. Truett, being already upon his feet drew out his pistol and continued his abuse. The Doctor then raised the chair, but whether it was for the purpose of striking Truett or defending himself against Truett’s pistol, is not known; but while he had the chair raised in his hand, Truett shot him, and immediately dropped his pistol and made his escape through the back part of the house. The pistol ball passed in on the left side, near the lower rib, and was taken out on the opposite side, immediately above the hip bone.

“Mr. Truett is in custody of the law, and we hope will receive a fair trial. There are many reports in circulation in relation to this affair, not very favorable to him, and to the truth of which we know nothing; and as we do not wish to prejudge his case, or prejudice the public mind against him, we will not repeat them.”

“People vs. Henry B. Truett.” Peoria Register. October 20, 1838. LPAL 123275.

The trial of Truett for killing Dr. Early was concluded on Saturday night last, having occupied five days, two of which were consumed in selecting a jury. The following statement contains substantially and truly all the testimony in the case: It will be necessary to bear in mind that the dying declarations of the deceased were admitted by the court, in evidence, according to a well-known principle of law which admits such declarations, on the ground that the awful situation of a person apprehensive of immediate death, and standing, as it were, in the presence of his God, binds his conscience with as high an obligation as that of an oath.

It appeared in testimony that Truett had been for years in the habit of carrying pistols, and that he was generally considered a coward. He had been appointed to the office of Register of the land office at Galena, a short time before the Peoria Convention met in November last. Dr. Early was a member of that convention, and served on a committee which reported a resolution disapproving the appointment of Truett, and declaring it to be the opinion of the convention that his “standing was such as to require them to recommend his immediate removal.” The resolution was agreed to by the convention and published with the other proceedings. About the 4th or 5th of March last, Truett came from Galena to Springfield, during court in the latter place, he having suits to call his attention to court. He put up at the hotel of Maj. Spottswood. Dr. Early lived in the country four or five miles from Springfield. He was a rail-road contractor, and had business in town nearly every day. He sometimes put up overnight at said hotel. On the two evenings previous to the fatal occurrence, the overcoat of Truett was discovered by young Mr. Spottswood to have a pistol in its pocket, and said overcoat was both of those nights left carelessly about the house and used by said young Spottswood to sleep upon, the house being very full of guests. On the evening of the disaster, the overcoat, having the pistol still in the pocket, was hung up in the passage adjoining the sitting room. After supper that evening, Dr. Early, Truett and a number of gentlemen were in the sitting room. Most of the gentlemen left very soon, and Dr. Early, Truett, Gen. Ewing and two others remained. Early was sitting by a small table reading. Truett presented a paper to gen. Ewing about some private business and he and Gen. Ewing left the room to consult about said business; after which Ewing left the house and Truett returned to the room where Early was coming out of the passage where the pistol aforesaid had been in the coat pocket. Shortly after [the return of Truett, one man left] leaving in the room only one person besides Truett and Early. Truett had taken a seat on a settee by the fire, and now a remarkable expression in his countenance attracted the attention of the witness. Early soon finished reading, and also took a seat on the settee, and put his feet to the fire as if to warm them. Soon afterwards, Truett rose from the settee , passed over and placed himself standing immediately in front of Dr. Early, and with an expression and tone of deliberate energy, demanded of Early whether eh was the author of the Peoria resolution aforesaid. Early not answering immediately, Truett again made the same demand and added he was informed that Early was the author. Early asked Truett who was his informant, and promised to avow or disavow the authorship of the resolution as soon as Truett would give his informant. Truett then called Early a damned scoundrel. The witness thinking there might be serious difficulty, interposed and endeavored to check Truett. Then Truett continued in a less offensive tone and asked Early if they had not formerly been friends; to which the reply was yes. And Truett again asked if they were not friends when he left for Galena; to which the reply was, yes. Then Truett demanded again to know whether Early wrote the resolution. Early asked again for his informant, and Truett replied by calling Early a damned scoundrel and a damned rascal; but added, that if you (Early) are not the author of the resolution the language does not apply to you. Early then told Truett he could not take such insults, and remarked that he did not regard such a fellow. About this time the door opened, and the person who had last left the room came in, and walked to the corner of the rom some distance off, and was taking off his boots. A short pause ensued. Early still sitting; when Truett again, with greater energy and marked anger, demanded of Early whether he was the author of the Peoria resolution. Early made the same reply as before, promising to satisfy Truett whenever he would tell his informant. Truett then called Early a damned hypocrite and a damned coward. At this time Early saw the pistol of Truett, and according to the evidence of his dying declarations, was apprehensive of danger on account of Truett’s evident anger and apparent determination to urge on the controversy. In order, as Early’s dying declarations prove, protect him from the pistol, he then rose from his seat and took a chair in his hands and raised it bottom upwards, just in front of himself holding out his arms in nearly a horizontal position. Truett hastily passed round Early and performed a circle nearly around the room, passing near the door as if to get round Early, while early moved round also after Truett, with the chair still in the position as aforesaid, as if to keep it constantly facing Truett. Truett reached the corner of the fireplace, where the aforesaid settee [illegible] nearer the jam, when he suddenly fired his pistol and then dropped it and ran out of the house. It was the same pistol mentioned aforesaid as having been in the coat pocket of Truett that evening in the passage. The witness was firmly of the opinion that Truett brought the pistol cocked into the room, from the fact of his not hearing the click or seeing the motion of the hand, and from other circumstances. Truett was about three feet from Early when he shot. The ball passed through Early’s body, and he died on Saturday night following. It was also proven that Dr. Early was a stouter and much taller man than Truett. It was the opinion of one of the surgeons, from the range of the ball through the body, that Early must have held the chair in a striking position when he was shot. In addition to what the two eye witnesses said of the position of the char, Dr. Early’s dying declarations were that he lifted the chair to keep from being shot, and did not wish or intend to do more than prevent Truett from killing him.

This being the evidence, it was contended by the attorneys for the prosecution that a clear case of murder was made out—that the killing itself implied malice by law—that express malice was proven from the fact of his getting the pistol that night after seeing Early—the expression of his countenance before speaking to Early—the determined manner in which he spoke to Early—the abuse—the repeated insults—the provoking epithets—these too spoken by a cowardly man to one his superior in size, strength, and courage—all went to prove that he was prepared to execute vengeance, and had the advantage of Early in having a cocked pistol well loaded—which pistol he drew, and it was seen b Early before he rose from his seat. That Early evidently had a right to take a chair or anything else to protect himself from a man standing before him with a pistol, and calling him a damned scoundrel, an damned rascal, a damned hypocrite and a damned coward. The prosecution contended that Truett was the assailant from the beginning—that he sought the controversy—urged on the quarrel for the purpose of seeking an opportunity to take Early’s life—and that when Early lifted the chair before him Early passed round so that he might safely shoot after a sham appearance of retreat and that Early pressed towards Truett to prevent him from shooting rather than stand still and be shot down by the deliberate aim of his antagonist.

For the defense it was contended that Early had a deadly weapon, to wit, a chair, within striking distance of Truett—that Early could have immediately crushed Truett with the chair—that he intended to do so, or that Truett supposed he intended to do so—that Truett was authorized to make the demand about the authorship of the Peoria resolution—that his pride of character was much wounded by the resolution—that the frailties and passions of human nature should be somewhat indulged—that he had suffered in prison seven months, &c. &c.

The jury retired about seven o’clock in the evening, and in about three hours returned a verdict of NOT GUILTY!

“Truett’s Trial.” Illinois State Journal. October 20, 1838. LPAL 123274.

This case came up for trial on Tuesday morning the 9th inst. That day and Wednesday were spent in obtaining eleven jurors—The twelfth was got in about an hour’s trial on Thursday morning; after which the evidences were completed on that day. On Friday morning the argument commenced, and continued (a part only of Friday night excepted) until between 6 and 7 o’clock on Saturday evening, when it was concluded and the jury, after a retirement of one hour and forty minutes, returned a verdict of “Not guilty.”

In making the jury, about twenty persons were challenged peremptorily, and three or four hundred for cause.

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