“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Bloomington in McLean County, Illinois — The American Midwest (Great Lakes)

Illinois Central R. R.

Looking for Lincoln

Illinois Central R. R. Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Beverly Pfingsten, June 10, 2012
1. Illinois Central R. R. Marker
"I am now free to make an engagement for the road; and if you think fit you may 'count me in,'" wrote Lincoln to Illinois Central Railroad attorney Mason Brayman in October 1853. In 1851, the Illinois Central Railroad charter had exempted it from local taxes, but McLean County taxed its property despite the exemption. The railroad filed suit to avoid paying the local taxes, engaging Lincoln to work with its own attorneys to avoid the taxes. To get the case before the Illinois State Supreme Court, attorneys for the railroad and the county agreed that the McLean County Circuit Court should dismiss the case, which it did, allowing the railroad to appeal it to the Illinois State Supreme Court where Lincoln was the lead attorney. Lincoln argued that, because the state had exempted the railroad from paying local taxes in the charter, the county could not tax its property. In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Illinois Central Railroad charter was constitutional and that the Illinois General Assembly had the authority to do so. Despite the victory, Lincoln was forced to sue the railroad for his fee.


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Lincoln received his largest fee ever for representing the Illinois Central Railroad in a suit against McLean County in 1853-1857. When the company rejected his $5,000 fee, Lincoln sued, bringing "forth testimony to prove that his charges were very reasonable under the circumstances." The court ordered the railroad to pay Lincoln the amount, less the $200 retainer already received. Lincoln deposited the check in a Springfield bank on August 12, 1857. On August 31, he withdrew that amount (see the warrant on the left) and shared half the fee with his partner, William H. Herndon; Lincoln lent the other half to Norman Judd to purchase land in Iowa.

In the 1850's Bloomington became an important railroad hub. Bloomington's State Senator Asahel Gridley had been instrumental in securing the passage of the Illinois Central Railroad through Bloomington, and in 1854 the Alton and Sangamon Railroad reached Bloomington, while the Toledo, Peoria and Western crossed northern McLean County. The presence of the railroads spurred Bloomington's economy, and its population grew rapidly.

The Illinois Central Railroad depot, depicted here in an 1860 lithograph, is evidence of Bloomington's rapid growth and prosperity in the 1850's. Abraham Lincoln was placed on retainer by the Illinois Central Railroad through much of the 1850's and handled more than fifty cases for it. As one of the

Illinois Central R. R. Depot image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Bill Pfingsten, June 10, 2012
2. Illinois Central R. R. Depot
railroad's principal attorneys, he continued to receive an annual pass over the railroad even after he had sued for his fee.
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in this topic list: Railroads & Streetcars. In addition, it is included in the Former U.S. Presidents: #16 Abraham Lincoln, and the Looking for Lincoln series lists. A significant historical month for this entry is October 1853.
Location. 40° 28.689′ N, 88° 58.91′ W. Marker is in Bloomington, Illinois, in McLean County. Marker is on East Grove Street. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 907 E Grove St, Bloomington IL 61701, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Edmund O'Connell House (approx. 0.2 miles away); John & Matilda Heffernan House (approx. 0.2 miles away); Cloverlawn (approx. 0.2 miles away); Augustus & Jennie Elbe House (approx. 0.2 miles away); George H. & Clara Bruner Cox House (approx. 0.2 miles away); David Davis III & IV House (approx. 0.2 miles away); Eliel & Malinda Barber Cottage (approx. 0.2 miles away); Sain & Gertrude Welty House (approx. ¼ mile away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Bloomington.
Credits. This page was last revised on December 21, 2020. It was originally submitted on July 16, 2012, by Bill Pfingsten of Bel Air, Maryland. This page has been viewed 619 times since then and 36 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on July 16, 2012, by Bill Pfingsten of Bel Air, Maryland.

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Jun. 2, 2023