“Try your hand at making six hundred dollars in some other way”

by Walter Olson on October 24, 2012

Via Futility Closet, a story of Abraham Lincoln and litigation:

Dear Herndon:

One morning, not long before Lincoln’s nomination — a year perhaps — I was in your office and heard the following: Mr. Lincoln, seated at the baize-covered table in the center of the office, listened attentively to a man who talked earnestly and in a low tone. After being thus engaged for some time Lincoln at length broke in, and I shall never forget his reply. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘we can doubtless gain your case for you; we can set a whole neighborhood at loggerheads; we can distress a widowed mother and her six fatherless children and thereby get for you six hundred dollars to which you seem to have a legal claim, but which rightfully belongs, it appears to me, as much to the woman and her children as it does to you. You must remember that some things legally right are not morally right. We shall not take your case, but will give you a little advice for which we will charge you nothing. You seem to be a sprightly, energetic man; we would advise you to try your hand at making six hundred dollars in some other way.’

Yours,

Lord

{ 3 comments }

1 Ron Miller 10.24.12 at 12:57 pm

First, I want to point out that $600 invested in 1860 is worth 970,000,000 today (assumes 10% return).

More seriously, how much is this widow worth and what did she do that would lead to a $600 claim? I have said on here many times that there are many legally meritorious claims that should not be filed. But I’d like a few more facts. Because, after all, Leona Helmsley and Imelda Marcos were widows with children, too.

And I think when you are giving a moral lecture, throwing in the whole “I’ll charge you nothing” is pretty condescending.

That said, nice job on the Gettysburg Address. That was the bomb.

2 John Burgess 10.24.12 at 9:48 pm

Umm… I think the whole “we’re not going to take your case because it’s scummy” sort of gave the game away about condescension.

3 Ron Miller 10.25.12 at 11:00 am

Well, that’s true.

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