Lincoln on Race and Slavery

By Henry Louis Gates Jr.; Donald Yacovone et al. | Go to book overview

19

AL to Newton Deming and George P. Strong:
CW, 2:[online edition only]

While traveling on the Ohio River in May of 1854, a flat-bottom cargo boat carrying sixty railroad cars was engulfed by the waves of a passing steamboat and sank. Between 1855 and 1858, a series of trials took place—Eads & Nelson v. Ohio & Mississippi RR— first in Missouri and later in Illinois, to determine the correct compensation for the salvage company's work on the sunken cars. In 1857, Eads & Nelson and its representatives, Benjamin F. Hickman, John T. Stuart, and Benjamin S. Edwards, appealed to the U.S. Circuit Court for the Southern District of Illinois to increase the compensation settlement awarded in Missouri. Lincoln, a prominent corporate lawyer who had successfully handled railroad disputes in the past, at the request of the law firm Page & Bacon, became the third representative for the railroad company. Lincoln corresponded with the two lawyers who originally represented the railroad, Newton D. Strong and George P. Strong, and in May 1857 advised them to arrange a court date for the upcoming appeal. Two months earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court had infamously ruled against the appeal of Dred Scott for his freedom, thus helping to nationalize the institution of slavery and establishing as constitutional principle the idea that African Americans had no rights. Lincoln mocked the court's questionable ruling. However, his casual use of the term “nigger,” written with quotation marks, is well worth noting in what was otherwise a standard note to his colleagues. Lincoln rarely used such language until he campaigned for the Illinois U.S. Senate seat in 1858. For further information about these cases, see: Eads & Nelson v. Ohio & Mississippi Railroad, in The Papers of Abraham Lincoln: Legal Documents and Cases, ed. Daniel W. Stowell (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008), 3:205–224.

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