Tuesday, March 22, 2016


Set forth below is a transcript which I made of the important documents in the court file from one of Lincoln's manslaughter cases. The defendant was a descendant of Davey Crockett. Although Lincoln lost the trial, he was successful in getting his client pardoned.

The document numbers in the right hand column represent the document numbers assigned to the documents by the Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln website.




The Grand Jury came into court and made the following presentments

The People vs John A. L. Crockett; Indictment for Murder Endorsed a true bill, William Thomas foreman of the Grand Jury

The People of the State of Illinois versus John A.L. Crockett; Indictment for Murder

And now at this day came the said Plaintiffs by Campbell their Prosecuting Attorney and the defendant in proper person who after being furnished with a copy of the Indictment and a list of Jurors and witnesses is arraigned and for plea says that he is not Guilty  – Thereupon came the following jury to wit: Lewis I. Berry, John Burg, Joseph P. Hendrix, Barney M. Hastings, David Mitchell, David Crowder, Ellsworth McLansden, Nicholas Libby, Elijah Fleming, Mark Hewland, Joseph Crable, William Cochran – who after being sworn well and truly to try the issue joined and after hearing the evidence and argument of counsel retired to consider of their verdict  – and afterward returned into Court and for Verdict say “We the Jury find the defendant Guilty of Manslaughter and affix the period of his punishment in the Penitentiary at two years[”] – And the defendant saying nothing why judgment should not be pronounced on the verdict of the jury    It is therefore ordered by the Court that the said defendant be confined in the State Penitentiary at Alton for the period of two years and that he serve said time at hard labor –  And it is further ordered that said defendant pay the Costs of Prosecution –  It is ordered that the present Sheriff of this County, after the 1st day of December next, convey said prisoner to Alton, and deliver him to the warden of the Penitentiary, And that the said present Sheriff have ten days in which to convey him to Alton after said first day of December next.

Sullivan, Moultrie Co.
Novr 1852

His Excellency A.C. French

Dear Sir

At the present term of the Circuit Court of this County John A.L. Crockett was convicted of Manslaughter and sent to the Penitentiary for two years – There was no question of the killing made on the trial – The defense set up was that the young man’s mind was so weak, or rather that he was so destitute of intellect, that he had not consciousness of right and wrong, and was therefore not amenable by law for the commission of crime –

The proof was very clear that the young man from early infancy if not an imbecile was of the lowest grade of intellect – Although some 26 years of age, his amusements have been chiefly with children – he has never voted, nor given evidence in court –

There was plenty of evidence that the young man, when sent to work in the field or anywhere else, would forget what he was sent to do and stand for a half hour or hour gazing –

He had never learnt to plough as other boys – Although his father had sent him to school, as other boys in the country, yet he had never larnt to read or write – The young man, it was proved, had a spell of sickness when very young, which the doctor called “Pleurisy of the brain” – and since that sickness his mind seemed to have given way –

It seems wrong, considering the state of the man’s mind, to send him to the Penitentiary – The court could not give him a new trial because the Jury had a right to convict him of manslaughter, if they were satisfied that he knew he was doing wrong –

The Pardoning power has to be invoked in order to save him from the Penitentiary – The young man is weak in body as well as mind – His father says that he will take him home and guard him and protect him so that he cannot hereafter do him any harm –

He cannot be sent to an insane asylum because he is not insane but only weak in intellect or destitute of intellect – as the evidence satisfies the mind

I think that it will not result in any harm to the public to pardon this man and it does look as if it would be inhumane to send him to the Penitentiary

With great respect
D Davis

I concur in the above
D.B. [illegible]

Shelbyville Ill.
Nov 22nd 1852

His Excellency
A.C. French
Gov. of the State of Ill.


John A. L. Crockett was, at the Nov. term 1852 of the circuit court of Moultrie County convicted of manslaughter, and sent to the penitentiary for two years. I have seen said Crockett several times, and have conversed with a number of persons about him who have known him from his boyhood. I was present at his trial in Moultrie County; and I came, to the conclusion from the testimony produced at the trial, that Crockett is almost, if not quite, an idiot. It appeared from the proof that though the father of the prisoner had used every effort to have his son taught, yet he had never learned the multiplication table nor to spell. It was further proved that he never could be taught to work, with any system or judgment. Though he was disposed to succeed, yet, when alone he never could lay off corn ground. Sometimes the rows would be too close and sometimes ten feet apart. When he was using two horses would most frequently go to the field with only one. Very often he would go to the field to plough and leave his harness at the stable. A number of witnesses testified that they have seen Crockett very frequently alone in the field standing by his plough, or with a hoe in his hand, and gazing at vacancy for a half of an hour, and an hour. – When there was nothing to attract his attention. It was proven that, though 26 years of age, he had never manifested any fondness for the society of men; but rather a distaste; and that his conversation and association had always been with children. Witnesses to the number of ten or more, who had known him from his boyhood, expressed the opinion that he had very little, if any reason; and that upon the slightest excitement, they were satisfied, he was not conscious of right and wrong.

It does seem to me, from the testimony at the trial, that it would be cruel and inhuman to inflict punishment upon such a man.

I have carefully examined four petitions, marked A.B.C. & D., presented to me by Elliott Crockett the father of the unfortunate young man. I am personally acquainted with most of the signers. They reside in Shelby, Coles, and Moultrie Counties* [fn: His father’s residence is near where the three counties join – ]  I recognize among them a number of our most respectable and moral citizens; and a number of them are Mr. Crockett’s neighbors. And have known his son from his infancy. I also recognize, among the signers a reputable physician of Coles County who has attended upon young Crockett. Four of the jury, who sat upon the case, as well as the clerk and sheriff of Moultrie County, and nearly all the prominent citizens of Sullivan, including the Merchants and a physician, have signed the petition, marked D.

The father of young Crockett will present this to you. John Crockett is now in the custody of the sheriff of Moultrie County, until the 1st of December.

If consistent with the discharge of the duties of your Excellency, you can grant a pardon to this young man, you would not only render a favor to a large number of your fellow-citizens, but to the cause of humanity.

Respectfully, your obt Sert.
Anthony Thornton

I assisted in the defense of J.A.L. Crocket, and of course heard and noted the evidence, and I concur generally with the statement of Mr. Thornton above. I think him most clearly a proper subject of the Executive Clemency –

A.Lincoln –


No comments:

Post a Comment