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

Lincoln's Failed Murder Case

Looking for Lincoln

Lincoln's Failed Murder Case Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Beverly Pfingsten, June 10, 2012
1. Lincoln's Failed Murder Case Marker
Abraham Lincoln lost a murder case here in April, 1839 A drunken Irish deckhand, William Fraim, killed a shipmate while their steamboat was docked at Frederick on the Illinois River in Schuyler County. When the shipmate blew cigar smoke in his face, Fraim attempted to knock the cigar from the smoker's mouth. Meeting resistance, Fraim drew "a long butcher knife from his side and drove it to the hilt" in the victim's chest. Local citizens were outraged. Fraim got his case moved to a supposedly more neutral setting here in Hancock County. He hired the young circuit-riding attorney Abraham Lincoln to defend him. The trial lasted one day. The jury found Fraim guilty. Lincoln tried to set the judgement aside, but he failed. Three weeks later Fraim was hung---the only client that Lincoln lost to a hangman's noose. Among the jury members in this case was Daniel H. Wells, a prominent early Hancock County settler who later converted to Mormonism and became Brigham Young's counselor in the presidency of the Mormon Church.

The second Hancock County Courthouse completed just before the spring docket of 1839, was new

Second Hancock County Courthouse image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Beverly Pfingsten, June 10, 2012
2. Second Hancock County Courthouse
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when Lincoln lost his court case here. The Fraim murder case was one of the first trials to be held in the new building. Court and county offices were on the first floor and a well-lighted courtroom on the second. The courthouse was demolished to make room for the current courthouse, completed in 1908. (Right) Judge James H. Ralston, a Democrat from Quincy who occasionally provided legal counsel to Joseph Smith, presided over the Fraim trial.

Illinois juries usually acquitted defendants in murder trials in Lincoln's day---which made the Fraim case even more remarkable. (Lincoln's clients escaped execution in twenty-five out of twenty-six murder cases where he was defense attorney.) The relative infrequency of public hangings made them memorable local events in frontier Illinois. The people of Carthage were typical of the time in their enthusiastic attendance. Officials constructed a special gallows in a kind of natural amphitheater in a field just southeast of town. School was dismissed for children to attend; many families treated the affair as a kind of picnic. Carthage did not experience another murder trial in its courthouse until six years later, when in May 1845 a local jury followed the usual pattern and acquitted all defendants accused of the murder of Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet.
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists:

Present Hancock Courthouse image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Beverly Pfingsten, June 10, 2012
3. Present Hancock Courthouse
Government & PoliticsNotable Events. 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 April 1839.
Location. 40° 24.792′ N, 91° 8.13′ W. Marker is in Carthage, Illinois, in Hancock County. Marker is at the intersection of Main Street and Madison Street on Main Street. Marker is on the Courthouse grounds. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Carthage IL 62321, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 11 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Lincoln's Carthage Speech (within shouting distance of this marker); Masonic Lodge Building of 1887 (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Lincoln and Agriculture (about 400 feet away); Hamilton House (about 800 feet away); Lincoln in Hancock County (approx. Ό mile away); Historic Carthage Jail (approx. Ό mile away); The "Old Jail" (approx. 0.3 miles away); St. Simon Cemetery (approx. 10.8 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Carthage.
Credits. This page was last revised on August 2, 2020. It was originally submitted on July 26, 2012, by Bill Pfingsten of Bel Air, Maryland. This page has been viewed 662 times since then and 48 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on July 26, 2012, by Bill Pfingsten of Bel Air, Maryland.

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Mar. 31, 2023