Abraham Lincoln in Illinois
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives
DOCUMENT 30LETTER TO GOVERNOR WILLIAM BISSELL FROM LINCOLN CONCERNING A PARDON FOR SAMUEL AND JAMES JONES
March 22, 1858
This letter from Abraham Lincoln to Governor William Bissell asks for a pardon for Samuel and James Jones, a father and son from Logan County who had been convicted of stealing five shoats, or small hogs. The letter contains many items of interest.
The letter is written from Lincoln, Illinois, the county seat of Logan County. Lincoln, Illinois has the distinction of being the only city named after Abraham Lincoln in his lifetime. Lincoln had surveyed the town and so in 1853 the owners of the land named the town after him. Lincoln was in the town of Lincoln when he wrote the letter as part of his law practice, which consisted of traveling to the different county courthouses on the Eighth Judicial Circuit.
The letter also shows Lincoln's sense of humor and his honesty. Lincoln jokingly writes, "he is an old citizen (the father I mean) . . ." as if he needed to clarify his remarks. Rather than try to adorn his letter with lengthy arguments about why the Joneses should be pardoned, Lincoln honestly admits that he doesn't know much about the case. Still, he makes a compelling argument in favor of the pardon.
The letter was one of several letters sent to the governor on behalf of Samuel and James Jones. Governor Bissell also received a letter from Lincoln's friend David Davis, who was the judge in the case, a letter from Ward Hill Lamon, a Lincoln friend who prosecuted the case, and a petition signed by several attorneys.
Bissell, the first Republican governor of the state, granted the pardon. The Joneses were released from prison on April 22, 1858.
Points to Consider
Why does this letter show Lincoln's honesty?
Why would the citizens ask Lincoln to write a letter if he wasn't involved in the case?
Why was Lincoln, Illinois named after Abraham Lincoln?