Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 2.
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.

To Justin Butterfield [1]

Hon J Butterfield Springfield Illinois
Commr of the Gen Land office August 10 1852

Washington City

Dear Sir When the Land office was opened here on the 26th July last for the entry of lands which had been withdrawn from market in consequence of the Central RailRoad more than one application was made for nearly or quite every tract so that a public auction had to take place[.] At this auction, a large number of tracts were run up very high some to between nine & ten Dollars per acre and struck off it being well understood at the time that the successful bidders had no intention of taking the lands and paying for them at their bids[.] The next day or two after the last day of this Public auction to wit on the 31st July 1852, John T. Stuart who had made no application before applied to the Register to enter at the minimum price of the lands bid off and forfeited as above the South half of Section 28 the Wfrac12; of Sec 29 the entire Sec 32 and the Nfrac12; of Sec 33 all in township No 20 North of Range No 2 West of the 3d principal meredian---and tendered payment for the same[.] The Register refused to allow the entry & purchase but gave Stuart a certificate of the facts of the application and tender[.] No other application was made for these lands on that day[.] Some days after this these lands were again put up at public auction and all bid off at a Dollar & twenty five cents per acre under a combination doubtless among those who were concerned in making and forfeiting the former exorbitant bids. These last sales the Register & Receiver have ratified so far as in them lies and Stuart and I as interested with him wish to contest their legality and to insist on Stuarts legal right to have the lands upon his application[.]

Will you please do or advise us how to do what ever may be necessary to insure us a fair hearing of our case. Your obt servant


P.S Lest I be misunderstood I wish to say I do not intend by any thing I have said in the above letter to cast any censure upon the Register or Receiver [2] here A. L.

Page  135Again since writing the above I have been applied to by Mr. William J Black [3] who made an application and tender on the same day precisely as Stuart did (and whose claim in all respects is like Stuarts) for the entire Sec 27 the South half of Sec 33 and the entire Sec 34 in the same township & Range as Stuarts application[.] I wish his case to be considered with Stuarts [4] Yours & c



[1]   Copy, DNA RG 49, Land Office Files, Miscellaneous Letters Received, B37823. The original letter is missing, but a copy was enclosed by Richard M. Young, attorney for William J. Black, in a letter addressed to John Wilson, the new commissioner, on February 10, 1853.

[2]   The register of the Springfield office was Turner R. King; the receiver was Walter Davis.

[3]   William J. Black was clerk and attorney for the City of Springfield.

[4]   The decision in this case is recorded in John Wilson's letter to the Register and Receiver at Springfield, May 2, 1854 (ibid., Register and Receiver Letter Record, Vol. 42), which reads in part as follows: ``That on the interval between the first and second offerings, Mr. Stuart applied to purchase at private entry, a portion of the lands for which application had been received on the 25th July, the bid forfeited, and which, according to notices given, were again to be offered on the 5th August. The Attorney General in an opinion given on the 14th July, 1837, says that `one of the most important points to be observed in the execution of the law is the securing to all persons a fair and equal opportunity to become purchasers of the public lands.' To carry out the principle, the necessity and propriety of the instructions given by this Office to the District Land Officers for bringing these lands into market, cannot be questioned. If Mr. Stuart's application had been entertained, this important principle would have been wholly violated, hence his application is void in itself, independent of the action of the officers in relation to the other applications. The only errors of the land officers were first, in permitting a party to bid who had forfeited his bid. Second, in permitting others to bid than those who had applied. Under the peculiar circumstances of the case, perhaps the only mode to carry out the opinion of the Attorney General was that adopted by them; at all events, the only persons who had a right to complain of this course were those who had applied, and for whom the circle of competition was thus enlarged. There is no evidence to show that there was any combination to prevent fair competition of the sale of 5th August. Hence the land officers were correct in refusing Mr. Stuart's application, and in permitting the entries as made.''