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Lincoln Almanac Courthouse, Beardstown, IL

Original Courthouse in Beardstown, Illinois

     The “Lincoln Almanac Courtroom,” also known as the Beardstown Courthouse, is located in the city of Beardstown, IL, where IL St. Hwy. 125 runs into U. S. Hwy. 67.

     According to http://showcase.netins.net/web/creative/lincoln/sites/beards.htm , the Beardstown Courthouse, Third and State streets in Beardstown, Illinois, was put on the map, so to speak, by Abraham Lincoln when he tried a murder case two there years before he was elected president.  The town, about 45 miles northwest of Springfield, in the heart of Illinois farm country, was settled around 1820 by Thomas Beard of Ohio.  Lincoln’s association with the town goes back to August, 1832, when he was living in New Salem and piloted a Texas-bound family and their household goods on a raft down the Sangamon River to Beardstown.  The following April he volunteered for service in the Black Hawk War and marched from New Salem to Beardstown, where he was elected captain of his company.  The approximate site is marked in Schmoldt Park.  After his military service, he traveled to Beardstown to pick up supplies for his store.

     The “Almanac Trial” courthouse, built by Beard in 1844, served Cass County nearly 30 years before nearby Virginia became the county seat. The original brick building still stands on the town square. The first floor houses city offices — you must go upstairs to see the courtroom where Lincoln defended 24-year-old William (“Duff”) Armstrong from a murder charge. This is said to be the only courtroom still in use where Lincoln once practiced law. The trial resulted from a nighttime brawl, and the resourceful Lincoln produced an 1857 almanac (the year the incident occurred) to argue that the state’s witness could not have seen Armstrong kill the victim. There was no moonlight at the time and he was a long distance from Armstrong, so theoretically he could not see that far in the dark. Lincoln also produced a witness who helped acquit Armstrong.

     On the wall there is a copy of a Lincoln ambrotype taken on May 7, 1858, the day he won the case. After the acquittal, 22-year-old Abraham Byers stopped him in the street and asked him to pose in his studio. Lincoln protested that his rumpled white linen suit was not fit for a portrait, but the younger Abraham prevailed.  On August 12, 1858, a few months after the trial, Lincoln appeared in Beardstown to speak as the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. He spoke on a platform in the city park, a site marked by a plaque across from the courthouse. His opponent, Stephen Douglas, spoke the next day, and later that month they officially began their famous series of debates.

     As one approaches the intersection of routes 67 and 100 southeast of the Illinois River, there is a sign which proclaims Beardstown as the home of Lincoln’s famous “Almanac Trial.” The site may be found by taking route 67 to Sixth Street, which is the last street before the bridge, to State Street, turning left, and proceeding to Third Street.

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