Personal Finances of Abraham Lincoln
Pratt, Harry E.
Page  131

IX. Administration of the Estate

My beloved husband assured me the latter part of March last at City Point that he had determined not to spend a cent of his next four years salary and that he would en|deavor (which we could easily have done) to live on the interest of what he had accumulated.


PLEASE come at once to Washington & take charge of my father's affairs." Thus read the telegram received by David Davis, Justice of the United States Supreme Court, from Robert T. Lincoln on the morning of President Lincoln's death.1 Davis, who was then in Chicago sitting with Judge Thomas Drummond on the bench of the United States Circuit Court, telegraphed his acceptance.

Court had not opened when news of the death of President Lincoln flashed over the city of Chicago. Business was suspended, political dif|ferences laid aside, all protests forgotten, and an atmosphere of grief enveloped the city. Lincoln the man alone was remembered as mourn|ers filed into the federal court room. Aware that Davis and Drummond were both old friends of the President, those present expected that the judges would speak of the deceased before dismissing the court. Justice Davis arose, his massive countenance indicating his great personal loss. "This nation," he began, "is striken by a great calamity and a great sorrow. My sorrow is a double one. I sorrow, not only as a citizen of the United States, but as a personal and devoted friend of the President.

"The President of the United States has been murdered. Atrocious crimes, with few parallels in history have been committed. Let us take Page  132 a day for reflection and meet on Monday and give public expression to our feelings and duties."2

But Davis did not remain to attend the memorial meeting. Instead, he left immediately for Washington, where he found Mrs. Lincoln prostrated with grief. There he remained for ten days. To his brother-in-law, Judge Julius Rockwell, who had served in Congress with Lin|coln and had signed Robert's bond when he entered Harvard College, he expressed his grief:

The terrible crimes which have saddened the country as the country was never saddened before, and the length and breadth of which cannot now be told, brought me here. I should have come, anyhow, but Lincoln's son telegraphed me to come on and take care of his private affairs.

I could not avoid the responsibility and care, I went on with the remains to Baltimore, Saturday, and have been busy getting his papers ready to take to Illi|nois. They will be ready today, I hope, and I will return direct to Chicago tomorrow. I am tired, very tired and worn out with excitement, and want to get with my loved ones for a day. I shall accompany the remains from Chicago to Springfield.3

A week later he wrote:

I got home Thursday and came here [Chicago] yesterday to attend Mr. Lincoln's remains to Springfield. Shall go with a committee of 100 to Michigan City tomorrow to meet them. It is raining and has been for ten days. I fear that tomorrow will be rainy. If it is clear, it is estimated that 300,000 people will be here. I cannot be reconciled to Mr. Lincoln's death and the manner of it.4

Mrs. Lincoln's and Robert's choice of Justice Davis to aid and advise them in their time of trial was a natural one. Davis was already prac|ticing in the courts of central Illinois when Lincoln was admitted to the bar, and from 1848 until 1860 he presided over the courts of the Eighth Circuit. He was just as closely associated with Lincoln in politics as in law, and played a larger part than any other individual in the latter's nomination in 1860—a debt which Lincoln repaid by appointing him to the Supreme Court of the United States two years later. He was also Page  133

[missing figure]
facsimile of telegram

Robert T, Lincoln's telegram to Justice David Davis, on the morning of President Lincoln's death. Original in the Illinois State Historical Library.
an excellent business man, and had accumulated a fortune through far|sighted investments.5

No will of the President being found, Mrs. Lincoln and Robert wrote to the judge of the Sangamon County Court, asking that letters of administration be granted to Davis. On June 14, 1865, Davis made affidavit of the "decease of Abraham Lincoln on or about the 14th day Page  134 of April, A.D. 1865, intestate as it is said and that his Estate will proba|bly amount to the sum of $85,000; that said Abraham Lincoln left at the time of his decease, Mary Lincoln his widow, and Robert T. Lincoln and Thomas Lincoln his children."6

On June 16 Judge Norman M. Broadwell issued letters of adminis|tration to Davis, who took the oath to "well and truly administer the estate," and signed an administrator's bond for $160,000 with John T. Stuart, Lincoln's first law partner, as surety.

The law of Illinois provided that upon granting letters of adminis|tration, a warrant should be issued under the seal of the probate court authorizing three persons to appraise the goods, chattels, and personal estate of the deceased. No such appraisal was made in the Lincoln estate.

Mrs. Lincoln was entitled to one-third of the personal property and to a widow's award—an allowance of certain chattels and a sum of money sufficient to maintain her and her children for a period of a year. No record of a widow's award is found in the estate papers, although she undoubtedly received the various chattels to which she was entitled.

Justice Davis found the financial affairs of Mr. Lincoln in good con|dition. Checking over the President's personal papers and his bank ac|counts at Riggs & Co. and the First National Bank in Washington, he was able to estimate the estate very closely. He brought to Springfield the President's last four salary warrants, all uncashed, in the amounts of $1,981.67, $1,981.67, $1,976.22, and $1,981.67. He also brought an un|cashed draft for $133 on The First National Bank, Springfield, Illinois, from the President's last law partner, William H. Herndon.7The salary warrants and the Hemdon draft he deposited in an account which he opened in the Springfield Marine and Fire Insurance Company in the name of David Davis, Administrator.

Page  135Robert Irwin, whom Lincoln entrusted with the care of his finances when he went to Washington, had died on March 8, 1865. From Thomas Condell, the administrator of Irwin's estate, Davis received $9,048.64 in cash, this being the notes, bond, and interest which Irwin had collected for Lincoln since February, 1861. From Condell, Davis also received un|paid notes in Lincoln's favor to the amount of $4,427.69, which Lincoln had owned. The cash received from Condell brought the account of Davis as administrator to $17,098.64. With this amount he purchased $17,000 of 7-30 bonds. Upon his return to Washington in July, 1865, Davis received from George Harrington of the Treasury Department government bonds totalling $57,000, which Harrington had purchased for the President in 1864, and a Certificate of Temporary Loan for Page  136 $2,781.04. From Riggs and Co., and the First National Bank Davis col|lected $1,373.53 and $381.66 respectively. Thus he added, from Wash|ington sources, $61,536.23 in cash, bonds, and loan certificate to the assets of the estate in his hands.

To handle the cash transactions involved in the settlement of the estate Davis, as administrator, opened an account at the First National Bank in Washington on July 25, 1865. Here he deposited Lincoln's $1,373.53 from Riggs and Co., the $381.66 from the President's First National account, and $2,445.30. The last sum was the proceeds of the semi-annual interest payment on the $57,000 in bonds which Davis held. Paid in gold in the nominal value of $1,710, it brought $2,445.30 when sold at the prevailing premium of 143. From the total—$4,200.49 —Davis bought 7-30 bonds in the amount of $4,200.

The Certificate of Deposit for $2,781.04, with interest of $88.26, was used by the administrator on August 24, 1865, to purchase $2,850 worth of 7-30 bonds. These were the last bonds purchased for the estate. Davis now held $81,050 of government securities, made up of $49,000 registered bonds of 1861, $8,000 of registered 5-20s of 1862, and $24,050 of 7-3os of 1865.

In January, 1866 General Francis E. Spinner, Treasurer of the United States, paid Davis $847.83, the salary of President Lincoln for the period April 4-15, 1865.

Davis gave notice in Springfield, May 2, 1866, for all persons having claims against the estate to present them for adjustment. The Illinois State Journal and the Illinois State Register published the notice in com|pliance with the law. The only claim filed was one for $11 to Allen N. Ford for a four-year subscription to the Illinois Gazette, a Lacon, Illi|nois, newspaper which President Lincoln was receiving at the time of his death. No claims for accounts of Mrs. Lincoln were filed against the estate.

From time to time Davis received payments of principal and interest on the notes in Lincoln's favor which constituted one of the assets of the Page  137 estate. As has been stated, these totalled $4,427.69 when they came into his hands. All bore interest at ten per cent per annum. Largest of the obligations was the note given September 1, 1859 by Norman B. Judd for $3,000 which netted the estate $5,400 when paid September 2, 1867. A note of John P. Mercer, Shelbyville, of May 25, 1852, for $7.69 was never collected. One given in Washington, November 5, 1864, by M. B. Church for $260 was marked "worthless" by the administrator. A note of William and Golden Patterson made at Urbana, April 25, 1859, for $60 was part of a fee received in a murder trial in the Champaign County Circuit Court. This note was paid in February, 1866. Another, by Milton Davis of Danville, November 7, 1857, for $50, was settled in June, 1867. Two notes of $200 had been given in 1858 to Lincoln by A. and J. Haines of Pekin. The balance due, $154.65, was paid to the Lincoln estate in June, 1867. On July 16, 1858, Thomas J. Turner of Freeport had given Lincoln his note for $400 at ten per cent. In Febru|ary, 1866, Davis recorded the payment of $400 on a compromise. It is likely that he waived the interest in order to get the principal.

In the assets of the estate is listed a payment of Jas. H. and Jas. S. McDaniel of Sangamon County of $349. This was on a note of $250 collected for the estate by Wm. H. Herndon and was probably Lincoln's half of a fee charged for legal services prior to 1861.

Real estate listed by the administrator in the inventory included 40 acres in Tama County and 160 acres in Crawford County, Iowa; a lot in Lincoln, Illinois, and the home in Springfield. The 40 acre tract in Coles County, Illinois, which Lincoln had purchased for his parents, was not listed in the inventory.

In 1861 Lincoln rented his home to Lucian A. Tilton, President of the Great Western Railroad, for $350 a year. The administrator listed the payments for 1865-1867, which totalled $1,050. In 1865 the home had an assessed value of $3,500. City taxes were $52.50, and the state and county taxes $60.50, a total of $113. The next year the amount was $182.80. The valuation remained the same, but the levy of a sewer Page  138

[missing figure]
facsimile of note

Tad Lincoln has financial difficulties. Original in the Barrett Collection.
tax of $35 and the increase of the war tax by the state to $36 account for most of the 60% increase. After payments for taxes, fire insurance, and repairs, there was little net income from the home. During the period of administration the net yearly return amounted to between seventy-five and one hundred dollars, which was divided between Robert and Thomas, Mrs. Lincoln foregoing any claim to this income. Page  139 The administrator's receipts were as follows:
  • Account in Springfield Marine & Fire Ins. Co. $9,044.41
  • U. S. Treasury Warrants (salary) 7,921.23
  • Certificate of Temporary Loan 2,781.04
  • Cash (Riggs and First Natl. Banks) 2,736.02
  • Notes Collected 3,856.18
  • Interest on Notes and Bonds 18,590.01
  • Rents 1,050.00
  • Claim from W. H. Herndon 30.00
  • $46,008.89

The expenditures were as follows:

  • Bonds Purchased for Investment $23,987.80
  • Costs of Administration 92.68
  • Taxes, Insurance and Repairs 395.29
  • Mrs. Lincoln 4,084.83
  • Robert Lincoln 7,267.65
  • Tad Lincoln 1,586.54
  • Claims Proved 11.00
  • $37,425.79

When Davis divided the estate on November 13, 1867, he had in his hands a cash balance of $8,583.10. The bonds in his possession were all worth more than their face value. The $49,000 of 6% registered bonds of 1881 were at a premium of 12%, an additional value of $5,880. The $8,000 of 5-20s of 1862 commanded a premium of 8% or $640. The $24,050 of 7-30 bonds were at a premium of 5% making $1,202.50. With these premiums, which totalled $7,722.50, the $81,050 of bonds were worth $88,772.50 on the day of distribution. With the cash balance of $8,583.10, there was consequently a total of $97,355.60 to divide among the heirs. Withdrawals by the heirs during the period of admin|istration had amounted to $12,941.20. This sum, with the $97,355.60 on hand for division, made Lincoln's net estate $110,296.80, exclusive of his real estate holdings. This amount was divided equally among the Page  140 heirs, Mrs. Lincoln, Robert Todd Lincoln, and Thomas Lincoln. Each received $36,765.60.

Accrued interest for six months on $24,050 of bonds was erroneously left out by the administrator in the settlement. In July, 1868, this in|terest in the amount of $877.82, less $200 paid to Lucian A. Tilton for repairs on the house in Springfield, was divided between the heirs, each receiving $225.94. This amount, with the previous distribution, made a total of $36,991.54 to each heir.

Davis's financial report, reproduced below, summarizes the admin|istration of the estate.

    Inventory of Administration
  • Cash on Hand $2,736.02
  • Bonds (6% interest payable in coin) 57,000.00
  • Warrants (salary) 7,921.23
  • Loan to U.S. Government 2,781.04
  • Claims against Robert Irwin 9,044.41
  • Notes Receivable 3,860.00
  • Net Estate $83,342.70
  • Notes Listed and Marked Uncollectable 267.69

Report of Administrator—November 13, 1867Page  141
Inventory of Administrator  $83,342.70
Unlisted Claims of Herndon  30.00
Loss on Notes Receivable Inventoried 3.82 
Claims Allowed Against Estate 11.0014.82
Net Inventoried Estate  83,357.88
Income During Administration   
Interest Collected$19,467.83  
Prem. on Inventoried Bonds6,520.00  
Gain on Bonds Bought   
During Administration1,264.70  
Rents Collected1,050.00$28,302.53 
Expenses During Administration   
Costs of Administration90.50  
Taxes, Insurance & Repairs on Real Estate595.29685.79 
Gain During Administration  27,616.74
Net Estate for Distribution  110,974.62
To Mary Lincoln (in cash and bonds) 36.991.54 
To Robert Lincoln (in cash and bonds) 36,991.54 
To Thomas Lincoln (in cash and bonds) 36,991.54110,974.62

David Davis filed his final report as administrator on November 13, 1868 just one year after the distribution, and it was approved on December 11. Under his handling, a net estate of $83,343.70 had in|creased to $110,974.62. Not only had he enhanced the value of the property while it was in his control; he had also incurred no expense. He made no claim for the six per cent fee, or $6,600, to which he was entitled under the law, employed no attorney, and made no charge for personal expenses.

His fine achievement was appreciated. On November 18, 1866, Mrs. Lincoln wrote in a letter to him: "Permit me to say, that in no hands save your own, could our interests have been so advantageously placed. Please accept my grateful thanks for all your kindness to myself and family."8 A half century later Robert expressed himself in much the same tone. In a letter to Thomas Dent, September 12, 1919, he wrote: "I cannot remember when I did not know Judge Davis, first as the Cir|cuit Judge of whom I heard as a boy everything good from my father and who was very kind to me. Upon my father's death I went to Judge Davis as a second father, and this he was to me until his death. I am deeply indebted to him for counsel and affectionate help on many oc|casions and revere his memory."9