— Looking for Lincoln —
Murder, larceny, and even rape- - -the young circuit lawyer Abraham Lincoln, practicing in Urbana, handled cases involving all of these in the courthouse which stood on this city block. Lincoln unsuccessfully defended William Weaver, the first man accused of murder in Champaign County. Lincoln appeared in court here from 1841 to 1860. The cases weren't all felonies: Lincoln more often represented ordinary citizens with their divorces, land title disputes, and contested debts. He worked with local attorneys like J. O. Cunningham (later a Champaign County Judge, county benefactor, and historian) and Henry Clay Whitney (a Lincoln biographer). Each court visit required working through the entire docket of cases until they were settled, tried, or continued. Sometimes Lincoln presided as judge pro tem, when the standing judge, David Davis could not be present. Lincoln might serve as counsel for the plaintiff- - -or the defendant. In the document pictured below, Lincoln is signing for himself and local lawyer William Coler, pleading for Vannata, who was being sued for improper care of Burgess' sheep.
* * * Photo Text * * *
Lincoln also advanced his political career in Urbana. On May 31, 1854 while in Urbana, Lincoln learned of the adoption of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, allowing for popular sovereignty, and the potential spread of slavery to U. S. Territories. On October 14, 1854, in the Circuit Courtroom on this site, Lincoln delivered one of a group of speeches against the expansion of slavery.
Abraham Lincoln was reputed never to "touch whiskey or play cards." During an 1848 court session, he also admitted that he had never played billiards. J. C. Sheldon, another young attorney who, in his physical appearance, was the direct opposite of the lanky Lincoln, was also new to the game. Lincoln and Sheldon met for a match.
H. M. Russell, a local hotelier's nephew, reported: "No matter where the balls lay, Mr. Lincoln would lean his whole body over the rail and with his long arms reach anywhere on the table. Mr. Sheldon's large prominence came in contact with the rail for nearly every shot. He could not lean over, but would try to lie on the table with his feet off the floor." The game (for 100 points) lasted well into the night, and no one remembered who won.