Abraham Lincoln [ ]

Abraham Lincoln and His Partner Petition Court for Widow's Dower Rights

Abraham Lincoln and His Partner Petition Court for Widow’s Dower Rights


[ABRAHAM LINCOLN]. WILLIAM H. HERNDON, Autograph Document Signed “Lincoln & Herndon” (by William Herndon), Petition for Dower in Porter v. Sarpy, September 15, 1851, Sangamon County Circuit Court. 2 pp., 8" x 12.5"



“Your oratrix Margaret Porter most respectfully represent unto your Honor that she was married to one William Porter in the month of March AD 1832…and that during said marriage said Wm Porter was seized in fee simple and possessed of the following piece of land lying and being in the city of Springfield…on which are erected two (2) brick stores…that said Wm Porter purchased said lot of Jas D Henry.... And your oratrix would further show that she has not legally released her right of dower in and to said lands although she signed the deed with said Wm Porter to said Hoffman. And your oratrix would further show that Wm Porter departed this life on or about the 8 of March 1851 leaving your oratrix his widow....

            “In tender consideration of all which premises your oratrix prays that John B. Sarpy may be made defendant to this bill and that the Peoples writ of subpoena issue for said Sarpy commanding &c. And that he answer this bill particularly and explicitly. And your oratrix prays upon a finder hearing of this cause your Honor will decree and adjudge that she have her dower in and to the lot aforesaid. And that your Honor will appoint commissioners in pursuance to the statutes of this State in relation to dower....”


Historical Background

When a husband died in antebellum Illinois, his widow was entitled to dower, or one-third of all of the property that he had owned during their marriage. If the husband sold the land, his wife could release her dower rights in the land, but the law specifically required that a judge or justice of the peace interview her separately from her husband to make certain she understood that she was giving up her dower rights and did so voluntarily.  A woman who received dower held the land until her death, when the land passed to her husband’s heirs.


William Porter (1803-1851) was born in Massachusetts and migrated to Illinois in the early 1820s. He became a clerk in the federal land office in Springfield in 1823. He also worked as a money lender and land agent. He ran a steam mill and in 1840 was a partner in a Springfield auction and commission agency. He married Margaret Kline on March 18, 1832.


To receive dower, a woman had to have been married, her husband had to have owned property during their marriage, and her husband had to have died. As Margaret Porter’s attorney, Herndon carefully asserted each of these facts in this petition for dower. In this case, Porter admits that she signed the deed but asserts that “she has not legally released her right of dower.” Her legal argument was likely therefore that she either did not understand the significance of signing the deed or that she did so under the compulsion of her husband.


Abraham Lincoln and William Herndon filed Porter’s petition for dower in the Sangamon County Circuit Court at its November 1851 term.  The court gave defendant John B. Sarpy, who was a trader in St. Louis, until March 1, 1852, to respond to Porter’s petition. In the spring 1852 term on March 24, Margaret Porter dismissed the case at her costs, which likely meant either that she had reached a monetary settlement with Sarpy or that she no longer believed she could win the case.


William H. Herndon (1818-1891) was born in Kentucky and moved to Springfield, Illinois, with his family in 1823. After briefly attending Illinois College in Jacksonville, Herndon worked as a store clerk before studying law in the Logan and Lincoln partnership. Admitted to the bar in 1844, Lincoln later that year chose him as his junior partner. The partnership of Lincoln and Herndon lasted until Lincoln’s death in 1865, and handled at least 3,200 cases in the county courts of central Illinois, the Illinois Supreme Court, and the federal courts in Illinois.


Ex-Norman Boas, Seaport Autographs, Christie's.

Condition: Expected folds; very good.




Item: 63870

Price: $1,500.00
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