Abraham Lincoln in Illinois
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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Lincoln was one of twenty persons who signed this petition to Illinois Governor Thomas Ford asking that he release Samuel Smith from prison. Smith had been convicted of assault and sentenced to three days in prison and a fine. According to the petition he had already served longer than his three-day sentence.

Thomas Ford, to whom the petition was addressed, was Illinois' eighth governor. A Democrat, he served from 1842 to 1846. He is considered one of Illinois' better governors because he instituted a financial program that helped solve the deep debt Illinois faced due to the failure of its internal improvements plan. Ford's program included raising taxes, borrowing money and limiting spending. Although the debt wouldn't be completely paid off until well after the Civil War, his efforts allowed construction to begin again on the Illinois and Michigan Canal, which, when completed in 1848, created a waterway connecting the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. It was during Ford's administration, however, that Mormon leader Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were murdered by a mob in Carthage, Illinois after being promised protection by the governor. After Ford left office, he wrote a history of early Illinois, covering the years from 1818 to 1847.

Among those signing the petition were Stephen T. Logan, Lincoln's former law partner, and William H. Herndon, his third and final law partner. Also signing the petition was Samuel H. Treat, the judge who had sentenced Smith in the first place. Although a Democrat, Treat and Lincoln were friends. According to the book Now They Belong to the Ages, Lincoln argued more than 870 cases before Treat when he served as a judge on the Eighth Judicial Circuit, appeared in at least 162 cases before Treat when he was on the Illinois Supreme Court and appeared in another 136 cases before him after Treat became a federal judge.

Smith had been sentenced in November 1845. Governor Ford pardoned him on December 2.

Points to Consider

Why was Thomas Ford considered a good governor?

Why do you think Samuel Smith was kept in jail for longer than three days?

Why do you think the petition emphasized that Samuel Smith "was a poor man and is unable to pay the fine and costs of suit?"

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