Wednesday, April 9, 2014


One of the enduring legends of Lincoln’s Almanac Trial (beyond his use of the almanac) is the story of how Lincoln intentionally chose a jury of young men because he figured that young male jurors could empathize with his client, the young man who stood trial for murder stemming from a drunken brawl at a whiskey camp. In Lincoln’s Most Famous Case I argue that the age of the jurors was more a product of chance than of careful planning on Lincoln’s part.

I won’t recapitulate the reasoning which led me to this conclusion, but I would like to discuss one more factor I didn't know about when I wrote the book. A little over a year after he litigated the Almanac Trial, Lincoln took on one final murder case. In his last murder case Lincoln stepped in to defend the grandson of one of his fiercest political adversaries, Peter Cartwright, the only man to ever defeat him in a popular vote (Douglas lost the popular vote but was elected to the Senate by the Illinois legislature).
The case was People of Illinois versus Peachy Quinn Harrison. Harrison and another young man, in addition to being political enemies, were apparently rivals for the affection of a young lady. They almost came to blows at a Fourth of July picnic, and afterward exchanged threats and counter threats. Greek Crafton threatened to “whip” Harrison, and Harrison threatened to shoot or kill Crafton if Crafton laid a hand on him.
They came to blows in a drugstore one Sunday morning in August of 1859. Crafton apparently was the aggressor, with Harrison saying he did not want to fight. Crafton grabbed Harrison, and in the ensuing scuffle Crafton suffered a severe stab wound. Harrison fled the scene and it was several days before officers could get him arrested. In the interim Greek Crafton died of his wounds. The Sangamon County Grand Jury indicted Harrison for the murder of Crafton, and the trial commenced on August 31, 1859. They believed in speedy trials in those days.

Since both men came from prominent families, it was anticipated that jury selection would be difficult. Instead of the 24 potential jurors normally summoned for a week of jury duty, they summoned 100. Jury selection took a full day, and most of the panel was examined before they could settle on twelve jurors to hear the case.
Here’s my point. The Almanac Trial involved a brawl between two young men. The Harrison case involved a brawl between two young men. It would seem that the same type of juror would be wanted for both cases. The Almanac Trial jury had an average age of 28, and the Harrison jury an average age of 40. This fact adds weight to the other considerations which led me to believe that the age of the potential jurors was not a controlling consideration in Almanac Trial

No comments:

Post a Comment