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Legal Writ in the Hand of Abraham Lincoln

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The Law Library of Congress houses approximately 60,000 rare items, 25,000 of which are contained in a climate controlled vault. To be classified as rare, an item generally must have been published prior to 1801. One of our interesting rare items is a petition for a writ of process handwritten by a young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln in 1839.

A piece of paper with writing in black ink, text is a legal writ signed by Abraham Lincoln.
Abraham Lincoln Legal Writ, 1839

Abraham Lincoln signed the document “Stuart Lincoln.” “Stuart” is a reference to Abraham Lincoln’s law partner, John Todd Stuart. John Todd Stuart (November 10, 1807 – November 23, 1885) was born near Lexington, KY, graduated from Centre College in Danville, KY in 1826, and was admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1828.2 Stuart met Abraham Lincoln during the Black Hawk War, in which both served as members of the Illinois militia. Stuart encouraged Lincoln to study law, and the two became law partners from 1837 to1841.1  Stuart was no stranger to politics, serving in the Illinois State House of Representatives from 1832 to1836. He was also elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Whig during the 26th and 27th Congresses, and as a Democrat to the 38th Congress.2 Stuart found occasion to disagree with Lincoln politically, backing John Bell in the 1860 presidential election and voicing his opposition to some of Lincoln’s policies, including emancipation. Nevertheless, Stuart remained friends with Lincoln, and frequently visited the White House. After Lincoln passed away, Stuart became the President of the Lincoln Monument Association in Illinois.1

This writ came to the Library of Congress when it was purchased from an autograph shop for $39.00 in 1942. The document was recently analyzed by Dr. Fenella G. France, the Chief of the Library of Congress Preservation Research and Testing Division, using a process known as hyperspectral imaging. This non-invasive process can reveal non-visible information, such as “erased pencil, fingerprints, etc. that may be present.” The process is on-going, but a scan has revealed the presence of a human thumbprint on the document. The Library is currently searching for a verified copy of Abraham Lincoln’s fingerprint with which to compare to the print on the document.

1. John Todd Stuart (2012, December 3). In Kentucky’s Abraham Lincoln, presented by the Kentucky Historical Society. Retrieved from

2. Stuart, John Todd (2012, December 3). In Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved from


Comments (3)

  1. The doc is signed “Stuart & Lincoln”–the & is connected to the “L”–not “Stuart Lincoln.”

  2. Was the fingerprint ever verified?

  3. Thanks for your question. Unfortunately we do not have a known print of Lincoln’s to compare it with, so that is still an ongoing project. The Library is now looking to see if it can put together part fingerprints from other documents he wrote that would yield a print for purposes of comparison.

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