Abraham Lincoln



Abe Lincoln is best known in Rock Island County for his defense of the railroads against the steamboat company that owned the Effie Afton which ran into one of the pillars of the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi built in 1856.


I have always assumed that he won the case, since railroads survived and steamboats did not. However, Larry McHenry submitted this research that clarifies why the results of this trial are so muddy. The issue between the railroads and the steamboats really focused on which way goods should travel across the country: across the prairies by rail or up the rivers from the South. The trial did not result in a definitive answer to this question.
The trial in which Lincoln defended the railroad ended in a hung jury 9:3. With a hung jury the party can have it retried, if it is a win of an acquittal then the case is over.

Actual proceedings against the bridge were instituted by James Ward, a St. Louis steamboat owner. He had been a member of the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce Committee which had investigated the bridge.

On May 7, 1858, Ward filed a bill "in the District Court of the United States for the District of Iowa, praying for an abatement of the Rock Island Bridge as a public nuisance, especially injurious to him as an owner and navigator of steamboats. to and from St. Louis, Missouri, and St. Paul, Minnesota."

Rendering his decision in November, 1859, Judge John M. Love declared the bridge "a common and public nuisance" and decreed that the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad Company "remove the three piers and their superstructure which lay within the State of Iowa."

However the Bridge Company then appealed it to the Supreme Court with William(?) Stanton and won. Not being detoured the St. Louis river interest then appealed to United States Congress and had the Bridge declared a hazard and removed, and that is why we now have the government bridge.

It was never a definite "win" for the railroads, but it did help Lincoln begin his law career as he argued well in favor of the railroad interests.

Stanton later became Lincoln's Secretary of War.

Submitted by Larry McHenry

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