Personal Finances of Abraham Lincoln
Pratt, Harry E.
Page  58

III. Land Holdings

As to your farm matter, I have no sympathy with you. I have no farm, nor ever expect to have, and consequently have not studied the subject enough to be much interested in it.


IN the early spring of 1836 Lincoln surveyed the town of Huron, on the left bank of the Sangamon River twelve miles north of New Salem. In return for his services he received title to several lots. How many lots he held cannot now be determined, nor can it be ascertained how long they remained in his possession. Menard County tax returns, however, show that the Huron property was still on the tax books in his name after 1839.

Of one fact one may be sure: Lincoln received neither income nor profit from the Huron lots. Huron was a speculation of several men whom he was later to know well—John T. Stuart, Stephen T. Logan, Ninian W. Edwards, who was to be his brother-in-law, Simeon Francis, editor of the Sangamo Journal, Samuel H. Treat, before whom he was to practice in both county and federal courts. The town site was located at Miller's ferry, the main crossing of the Sangamon between Springfield and Havana, and it was to be the terminus of a proposed canal to Beards|town. But the canal never materialized, and few houses were ever built in Huron. Like many another land speculation in Illinois, the town soon reverted to uncultivated prairie.

The survey of Huron, however, probably led Lincoln to make a speculation of his own in the vicinity. At any rate, on March 16, 1836, at the Springfield land office he entered a forty-seven acre tract on the right bank of the Sangamon one mile east of the new town site. The Page  59 tract is now in Crane Creek Township on the southern boundary of Mason County. The purchase price was the government minimum of $1.25 an acre—$58.75 for the forty-seven acres.1 Doubtless Lincoln made the payment from the $162 he had received in salary and expenses in the recent session of the legislature. The land was not subject to taxa|tion for five years after it was purchased from the federal government. Lincoln received no revenue from it. On May 9, 1837 he sold an un|divided half interest for $30 to Gershom Jayne, a Springfield physician and one of the proprietors of Huron. Lincoln retained his interest in the other half until October 27, 1848, when he and Jayne, their wives joining, gave a warranty deed for the tract to Pleasant Armstrong and John Yardley, the consideration being $100.2

Lincoln's second speculation in land was made on March 24, 1836, when he bought two lots in Springfield from Thomas S. Edwards. Ed|wards was an eccentric farmer living near New Salem for whom Lincoln was a bondsman in 1833, when Edwards was indicted for rape and for riot.3 Edwards was disposing of his property preparatory to removing to Pike County, Illinois. Lincoln paid $25 for each lot, taking a quit|claim deed in which the property is described as Lots six and eight in Block one of the Old Town Plat. The lots were on the north side of Jefferson Street between Sixth and Seventh streets.4

Lincoln retained ownership of Lot six until April 20, 1837—five days after his removal to Springfield—when he gave Josephus Hewett and Edward D. Baker, Springfield attorneys, a quitclaim deed to the property. The consideration was $75, three times the sum he had paid for the lot. It is impossible to say when and for what price he sold Lot eight, for the deed by which he conveyed it was not recorded. However, the sale must have been made at a date earlier than the sale of Lot six, Page  60 for on April 3, 1837, John White deeded Lot eight to William Butler.5

Lincoln's next venture in Springfield real estate took place on June 2, 1838, when he paid Elijah Iles and his wife $300 for Lots twelve and thirteen in Block seven, Elijah Iles' Addition to the Town of Spring|field.6 Elijah Iles was one of the founders of Springfield, and captain of a company in which Lincoln served in the Black Hawk War. The lots were in the center of the block across the street from the property which Lincoln purchased in 1844 for his home. Both of these lots he retained for a number of years. On March 30, 1850 he sold the south half of Lot twelve to Frederick S. and Harriet W. Dean for $125, and on March 2, 1853, he sold Lot thirteen and the north half of Lot twelve to Alexander Graham for $375.7 Both Dean and Graham erected houses upon their lots, thus becoming neighbors of Lincoln.

Lincoln's next purchase was in Coles County. In this instance, filial duty, rather than investment, was his motive. On August 4, 1837, John D. Johnston, the son of Sarah Bush Lincoln, entered a forty-acre tract on Goose Nest Prairie, eight miles south of Charleston.8 On May 21, 1839 Reuben Moore and his wife entered two forty-acre tracts directly west of Johnson's forty acres. These tracts they deeded to Thomas Lin|coln on March 5, 1840, for $400.9 On the last day of the same year Thomas Lincoln paid Johnston $50 for his land, thus increasing his holdings to 120 acres.

In acquiring this farm Thomas Lincoln stretched his resources con|siderably, and within less than a year was in financial difficulty. Finally he appealed to his son for help, and on October 24, 1841, Lincoln eased his father's distress by paying him $200 for the east forty acres of the farm, allowing Thomas and Sarah Bush Lincoln to retain a life estate.10Page  61 To this deed Thomas Lincoln signed his name, but Mrs. Lincoln made her mark. By paying his father $200 for the tract that had cost only $50, Lincoln was making his parents a substantial gift. The next day he signed a bond agreeing to convey this land to Johnston at any time within a year after the death of the survivor of Thomas and Sarah Lin|coln, upon payment of $200.11

But this by no means ended Thomas Lincoln's troubles. In Decem|ber, 1848, when Lincoln was in Congress, a creditor who had obtained a judgment threatened to force a sale of his father's land. Once again Thomas Lincoln appealed to his son, and again the son came to his assistance. But he was becoming manifestly impatient with his father's improvidence, as the following letter indicates.

Your letter of the 7th was received night before last. I very cheerfully send you the twenty dollars, which sum you say is necessary to save your land from sale. It is singular that you should have forgotten a judgment against you; and it is more singular that the plaintiff should have let you forget it so long, par|ticularly as I suppose you always had property enough to satisfy a judgment of that amount. Before you pay it, it would be well to be sure you have not paid, or at least that you cannot prove that you have paid it.12

Thomas Lincoln died on the farm January 17, 1851. Soon after|ward, on August 12, 1851, Lincoln, as his father's heir, conveyed his interest in the west eighty acres to Johnston for a nominal considera|tion, subject to Sarah Lincoln's dower right.13

But the farm continued to be a source of difficulty. On November 4, 1851, Lincoln wrote to Johnston from Shelbyville:

When I came into Charleston day before yesterday, I learned that you are anxious to sell the land where you live and move to Missouri. I have been thinking of this ever since, and cannot but think such a notion is utterly foolish. What can you do in Missouri better than here? Is the land any richer? Can you there, any more than here, raise corn and wheat and oats without work? Will anybody there, any more than here, do your work for you? If you intend to go Page  62 to work, there is no better place than right where you are; if you do not intend to go to work, you cannot get along anywhere. Squirming and crawling about from place to place can do no good. You have raised no corn this year; and what you really want is to sell the land, get the money, and spend it. Part with the land you have, and, my life upon it, you will never after own a spot big enough to bury you in. Half you will get for the land you will spend in moving to Missouri, and the other half you will eat, drink and wear out, and no foot of land will be bought. Now, I feel it my duty to have no hand in such a piece of foolery. I feel that it is so even on your own account, and particularly on moth|er's account. The eastern forty acres I intend to keep for mother while she lives; if you will not cultivate it, it will rent for enough to support her—at least, it will rent for something. Her dower in the other two forties she can let you have, and no thanks to me. Now, do not misunderstand this letter; I do not write it in any unkindness. I write it in order, if possible, to get you to face the truth, which truth is, you are destitute because you have idled away all your time. Your thousand pretences for not getting along better are all nonsense; they deceive nobody but yourself. Go to work, is the only cure for your case.14

Notwithstanding this advice, Johnston persuaded Lincoln's step|mother to relinquish her dower right in the west eighty acres, and pro|ceeded to sell this tract, with the old cabin, to John J. Hall, her grand|son for $250. Not satisfied with this, Johnston urged Lincoln to allow him to sell the remaining forty acres, although he owned no interest in it. Finally, on November 25th, Lincoln told him plainly what he thought of his proposal:

Your letter of the 22d is just received. Your proposal about selling the east forty acres of land is all that I want or could claim for myself; but I am not satisfied with it on mother's account. I want her to have her living, and I feel that it is my duty, to some extent, to see that she is not wronged. She had a right of dower (that is, the use of one-third for life) in the other two forties; but, it seems she has already let you take that, hook and line. She now has the use of the whole of the east forty, as long as she lives; and if it be sold, of course she is entitled to the interest on all the money it brings, as long as she lives; but you propose to sell it for three hundred dollars, take one hundred away with you, and leave her two hundred at 8 per cent, making her an enormous sum of 16 dollars a year. Now if you are satisfied with treating her in that way, I am not. It is true, that you are to have that forty for two hundred dollars, at mother's death; but you are not to have it before. I am confident that land can Page  63 be made to produce for mother at least $30 a year, and I can not, to oblige any living person, consent that she shall be put on an allowance of sixteen dollars a year.15

Lincoln never relinquished this forty-acre tract. John J. Hall, pur|chaser of the west eighty acres, cultivated it as a part of his farm, and on May 7, 1888, acquired legal title to it by reason of undisputed posses|sion for more than twenty years.

Lincoln's next acquisition of real estate took place on March 17, 1842, when Ninian W. Edwards and his wife Elizabeth, deeded Lincoln and Stephen T. Logan the east half of the west half of Lot six in Block fourteen in the Old Town Plat, on the north side of Adams Street be|tween Fourth and Fifth streets, in the City of Springfield. The con|sideration was $400.16 This was the only piece of property which Lin|coln acquired in partnership. It is probable that Logan & Lincoln, then partners, took the lot in payment of fees, and Lincoln made some ar|rangement by which Logan gave him possession of the lots. The as|sumption seems well founded in that Lincoln used the lot as part of the purchase price of his own home.

Lincoln's first step in the purchase of his house at the northeast corner of Eighth and Jackson streets was taken on January 7, 1844, when he drew up a contract for a deed with the Rev. Charles Dresser, pastor of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Springfield. The minister agreed to deed to Lincoln the premises where he was residing, on or before the first of April, for $1,200 and a lot on Adams Street in the business dis|trict, on which stood a building occupied by H. A. Hough as a shop. The contract described the lot as the premises conveyed by N. W. Ed|wards and wife to Lincoln & Logan for $400 on March 17, 1842.17

A month after the contract was drawn Lincoln paid $750 to Seth M. Tinsley, a Springfield storekeeper and owner of the building in Page  [unnumbered]

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facsimile of contract
Page  65
Contract for the purchase of the Lincoln Home, and a receipt for payment of $750.00. Original owned by Mrs. Katherine Dresser White, Springfield, Illinois.
which Logan & Lincoln had their law office. On the back of the con|tract Lincoln wrote a receipt signed by Dresser:

Received of A. Lincoln on the within seven hundred fifty dollars, on which he is to be allowed interest at the rate of twelve per cent per annum, until the within contract is complied with, or performance offered by said Dresser; and in case said Dresser shall fail to comply with the within, we hereby bind our|selves to refund said seven hundred and fifty dollars to said Lincoln with interest at the rate of twelve per cent per annum from date.

On April 23, 1844 Lincoln and Logan, with their wives joining in the deed, conveyed the Adams Street lot to Dresser. The consideration Page  66 was only $300, a decrease of $100 in two years.18 On May 2, 1844 Dresser gave Lincoln a warranty deed for the property at Eighth and Jackson streets, completing the transaction begun four months earlier.19 Thus the $1,500 "cash in hand paid" by Lincoln to Dresser in fact consisted of $1,200 in cash and the Adams street lot, which was valued at $300.

While these negotiations were in progress Mrs. Lincoln had become the owner of eighty acres in what is now Curran Township, three miles southwest of Springfield. The tract was a gift from her father, Robert S. Todd of Lexington, Kentucky. On the same day—March 18, 1844— Todd deeded eighty-acre tracts to another daughter, Frances Wallace, and to a granddaughter, Julia Edwards. All three deeds were given in consideration of natural affection and one dollar.20 Together, the three tracts made up a parcel of 240 acres which Todd had purchased—doubt|less as a speculation—from Nathaniel A. Ware of Clinton, Mississippi, on June 1, 1841. Mrs. Lincoln held her eighty acres until September 18, 1854, when she sold it to Robert Anderson for $1,200. Lincoln, as the possessor of a dower interest, joined in the deed.21

On a visit to Springfield not long after his daughter's marriage Robert S. Todd arranged that Mrs. Lincoln should receive from him cash advances of $120 a year until her husband should be well established in the practice of his profession. After Todd's death in 1849, his widow stated, in a document filed in a settlement suit, that he had advanced $1157.50 to the Lincolns during his lifetime.22

Seven years after he purchased his Springfield house, Lincoln ac|quired two lots in Bloomington, county seat of McLean County. On October 6, 1851 he took from Levi Davis and his wife Lucy, of Alton, Illinois, a deed to Lots eleven and twelve in Evans Addition to the City Page  67 of Bloomington. The lots were situated at the northwest corner of Jeffer|son and McLean streets. Lincoln paid $325.08 for the lots to Judge David Davis, who held a power of attorney from his cousin, Levi Davis. He retained the two lots until April 12, 1856, when he sold them for $400 to Francis Thomas.23 Some writers have concluded from Lincoln's purchase of these lots that he intended to remove to Bloomington, an assumption which has no foundation in fact.

Six years after purchasing the Bloomington lots, Lincoln became the owner of a lot in Lincoln, Illinois—the town which had been named in his honor—through his inability to say no to a borrower. In the summer of 1857 James Primm, of Lincoln, was in New York City. Need|ing money, he asked former Governor Joel A. Matteson of Illinois to lend him $400. Matteson agreed on condition that Lincoln, who was also in New York at the time, endorse Primm's note. This Lincoln did, only to find himself compelled to pay the principal at maturity. In re|imbursement Primm conveyed to him, on March 11, 1858, Lot three, Block nineteen, in the Town of Lincoln, located on the south side of the courthouse square. On one of his last visits to the Logan County Circuit Court, Lincoln is said to have remarked, as he looked across the street and saw that some one had pastured mules on his lot: "I do not mind his using it, but at least he could pay the taxes." The taxes for 1858 were $2.40.24

Other real estate Lincoln acquired as a result of his service in the Black Hawk War. Following precedent, Congress, in the fifties, voted land bounties to the volunteers. Lincoln thus received forty acres under the act of September 28, 1850, and 120 acres under the act of March 3, 1855. Although he was described in the certificates given him as "Captain Fourth Illinois Volunteers," both acts granted lands equally to officers and privates.25

Page  68Under the act of 1850 the amount of land to which a veteran was entitled was determined by the length of service. The act provided that "those who engaged to serve for any or an indefinite period, and actually served one month, shall receive forty acres." Those who served four months received eighty acres, and double this quantity for nine months of service.

Lincoln's warrant for forty acres was issued on April 16, 1852. He was entitled to locate the land in any land office in the United States. He turned over his certificate to Clifton H. Moore of Clinton, Illinois, with whom he was associated as counsel for the Illinois Central Rail|road. Moore was the partner of Judge David Davis in buying and selling land in Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa, and had extensive holdings of his own. Relying on Moore's judgment, Lincoln adopted his suggestion that he enter the land in Tama County, Iowa, where Moore had bought heavily. Moore's letter to Robert T. Lincoln in 1867, described the entry. He wrote:

In 1854 I entered for your Father 40 acres, the N.W. ¼ of the S. W. ¼ Sec. 20 T. 84 R. 15 West in Tama Co. Iowa and have paid the taxes on it ever since but am now instructed to turn it over to you by Judge Davis. The land is now worth $10.00 pr acre cash or 12.00¼ down bal in 1, 2, 3 years 6 pr ct. George Davis and myself were on it in '65. It is improved all around it. The Judge and I have still about 1200 acres in that Co.26

Moore sent Lincoln's certificate to his agent, John P. Davies of Dubuque, Iowa, where Tama County land was subject to entry. Davies entered the land on July 21, 1854, receiving in return certificate of pur|chase No. 52,076. The patent thereunder, dated June 1, 1855, was not recorded until June 15, 1916. Lincoln never visited Tama County to see the land. Moore paid the taxes, which were only $1.60 in 1858, and $2.90 in 1859.27

Page  69The President having died without a will, this land descended in undivided interests of one-third each to Mrs. Lincoln and her sons Robert and Thomas. On April 6, 1874, for a consideration of $100, Mrs. Lincoln executed a quitclaim deed of her interest in the Tama County land to her son Robert. On December 1, 1874, Robert T. Lincoln and his wife, Mary Harlan Lincoln, executed their warranty deed to Adam Brecht for a consideration of $500.28

Lincoln received a second grant under the act of March 3, 1855, which provided that every soldier and sailor who had served at least fourteen days was entitled to receive a certificate or warrant from the Department of the Interior for 160 acres. Land received under any previous act was to be subtracted. Lincoln, having received forty acres previously, was given a certificate for 120 acres on April 22, 1856. He located the land himself at the Springfield land office on December 27, 1859, receiving certificate of purchase No. 68,465. He selected land in Crawford County, Iowa, 144 miles west of the Tama County forty acres. It was described as the east half of the northeast quarter and the north|west quarter of the northeast quarter of section 18, in township 84, north of range 39, west.29 Lincoln may have located the entry in Craw|ford County at the suggestion of Moore, who was a heavy investor in lands there. Lincoln's patent was mailed on October 30, 1860, from Washington to William E. Keefer, register of the Springfield land office. Lincoln received it on the eve of his election to the presidency. Title remained in the Lincoln family until March 22, 1892, when Robert T. Lincoln and his wife conveyed it by warranty deed to Henry Edwards for a consideration of $1,300.30

It is unlikely that Lincoln ever received any revenue from the Page  70 bounty lands, for David Davis, the administrator of his estate, recorded no income during the years 1865-68. Possession of the land, however, was a source of gratification to Lincoln. He made fun of the Black Hawk War and the part he had played in it, but underneath his raillery lay a vein of pride. When Congress voted the bounty to volunteers he was pleased, and after he had located his first warrant, he remarked to Hern|don that he would die seized of that land.31 The hidden future bore out his prediction.

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facsimile of insurance policy

Fire Insurance Policy on the Lincoln Home in 1861. From original in the office of Hartford Fire Insurance Co.

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