Abraham Lincoln in Illinois
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives
DOCUMENT 31PETITION TO GOVERNOR WILLIAM BISSELL FOR A PARDON IN THE CASE OF DAVID THOMPSON
This document is the fourth page of a petition from Woodford County residents asking for a pardon for David Thompson, who had been convicted in 1856 of manslaughter and sentenced to eight years in prison. The case occurred in Metamora, which was then the county seat of Woodford County and on the Eighth Judicial Circuit, where Lincoln practiced law. David Davis, Lincoln's friend and a leading Republican in the state, served as the judge in the case but still supported granting the pardon. Lincoln added a postscript to the petition noting that the court had appointed him as defense attorney.
Elected in 1856, William Bissell was the first Republican governor of the state. The newly formed Republican Party was created out of the remnants of the old Whig Party, Democrats opposed to the Kansas-Nebraska Act who were known as Anti-Nebraska Democrats, abolitionists and members of a third-party known as the Know-Nothings.
Party members had wanted Lincoln to run for governor in 1856, but he wisely urged that they nominate Bissell, a former congressman. As an Anti-Nebraska Democrat, Bissell could capture some Democrat votes that Lincoln couldn't. Plus, he had been a hero in the Mexican War, whereas Lincoln had opposed the war, which had been popular in Illinois.
Bissell was in failing health and by 1854 needed a crutch to walk. He barely campaigned in 1856 and as governor he conducted most of his business from the governor's mansion. He became the first Illinois governor to die in office, passing away on March 21, 1860.
Lincoln, whose home was only three blocks from the mansion, often visited the governor and gave him advice. Bissell granted Thompson the pardon.
Points to Consider