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Lincoln Defends Guilty Client Against Breaking and Entering Charge Brought by Chester Moon, Who Lincoln Beat a Year Later in a Case of Assault with a Deadly Weapon
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In May 1845, Chester Moon filed suit against Isaac Preston in the Menard County Circuit Court for trespass and requested $150 in damages. Moon charged that in October 1844, Preston broke into a dwelling house that Moon owned and “made a great noise and disturbance therein” and continued for “thirty entire days.” In doing so, Preston “broke to pieces, damaged, and spoiled” two doors and broke the glass, sashes, and shutters of the windows.  During the entire time, Moon and his family were “not only greatly annoyed and disturbed” but Preston’s actions prevented Moon from “carrying on and transacting therein his lawful and necessary affairs and business.”

ABRAHAM LINCOLN. Autograph Manuscript Signed by Lincoln as “Lincoln & Herndon.” Bottom portion of Plea, Joinder, and Notice, in the case of Moon v. Preston, June 1845. ½ p., 4½ x 7¾ in. Small repair to chips and archival Japanese tissue reinforcement to crease on verso.

Inventory #24544.01       ON HOLD

Complete Transcript

[Notice:] And the defendant notifies the plaintiff that he will offer to prove on the trial of said cause, that whenever, at any time he entered the house of the plaintiff, he did so by the leave of said plaintiff.

Lincoln & Herndon pd

[Acknowledgment:, in another hand:] And the Pltff takes notice / by Harris Atty

[verso: Portion of File Note] Moon v. Preston / Pleas & notice / Filed June 10 1845 / N. Dresser clk

Historical Background

By the end of 1844, Abraham Lincoln had been an attorney in Springfield, Illinois, for eight years, first as junior partner to his wife’s cousin John Todd Stuart, and then to Stephen T. Logan, who became “almost a father to me,” Lincoln later reflected.  When Logan wanted to take his son David into practice, he and Lincoln amicably dissolved their partnership in December 1844.  Lincoln chose William H. Herndon, who was nine years younger than he, as his new junior partner.  Herndon never knew why Lincoln chose him, and “no one else does,” the younger man reflected decades later. While Lincoln traveled the Eighth Judicial Circuit making political friends and impressing juries, Herndon generally practiced in Springfield and nearby counties and managed their law office.

The action of Trespass was a common law remedy for landowners when someone “broke the close” or entered the invisible boundary around the owner’s real property. On June 9, 1845, the Menard County Circuit Court judge gave Preston until the following morning to respond. This document is part of Preston’s plea and notice written by Abraham Lincoln as his attorney. The plea asserted that Preston was not guilty because he only entered the house with Moon’s permission. A jury of twelve men, including William Armstrong (who had lived with Lincoln in New Salem), heard the evidence and arguments and found Preston guilty but awarded only $5 in damages plus $11.94 in court fees.

Both of these litigants were no strangers to the court. On the charge of breaking into Moon’s house and breaking his windows, the state’s attorney indicted Isaac Preston for malicious mischief in the November term of the Menard County Circuit Court. Preston retained Lincoln and Herndon and pleaded not guilty. The court found Preston guilty and fined him $5 plus court costs.

The Town of Petersburg passed an ordinance in May 1844 banning unlawful gaming, riotous conduct, and selling liquor on Sundays in groceries, with a $10 fine for violations. In October 1844, the Petersburg officials sued Moon in a Menard County Justice of the Peace Court for violating the ordinance nine times and requested $90. The jury found for Moon, and the Petersburg officials retained Lincoln and appealed to the Menard County Circuit Court.  There, at the November 1844 term, the jury found for the town and awarded $90. The court denied Moon’s motion for a new trial but granted him an appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court.  However, he and the town officials reached a settlement; Moon paid $50 plus court costs.

Chester Moon (d. c. 1870) was a Yankee who settled in what became Menard County in the mid-1830s. He apparently ran a grocery in Petersburg. In the fall of 1846, Johnson Elmore claimed that Moon beat and shot him, leaving him lame. Elmore retained Lincoln and Herndon to sue. The jury found Moon guilty of assault with a deadly weapon and awarded Elmore $50 in damages. In early 1848, Moon still owed taxes on his town lot in Petersburg for 1845-1847. He died in Morris, Illinois.

Isaac Preston (1811-1848) married Mary Primm in Sangamon County, Illinois, in 1829, and they had six children. He purchased 40 acres of public domain land in Sangamon (later Menard) County in 1835. He died in Middletown, Menard County, Illinois.


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