Lincoln's Failed Murder Case
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 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
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.
Marker series. This marker is included in the Looking for Lincoln marker series.
Location. 40° 24.792′ N, 91° 8.13′ W. Marker is in Carthage, Illinois, in Hancock County
Other nearby markers. At least 7 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. 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. ¼ mile away); Historic Carthage Jail (approx. ¼ mile away); The "Old Jail" (approx. 0.3 miles away).
Categories. • Government • Notable Events •
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on July 26, 2012, by Bill Pfingsten of Bel Air, Maryland. This page has been viewed 447 times since then and 32 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3. submitted on July 26, 2012, by Bill Pfingsten of Bel Air, Maryland.