Looking for Lincoln in Beardstown, Illinois

The site of the Almanac Trial is still an active courtroom today.

In 1858, the tiny courtroom in Beardstown, Illinois witnessed the Almanac Trial, one of Abraham Lincoln’s few criminal cases when he was a lawyer.  When court is not in session, the Old Lincoln Courtroom and Museum is open for tours.

On May 7, 1858 Abraham Lincoln defended William Duff Armstrong who was accused of murdering James Metzler.  Armstrong and Metzler had been involved in a fight on August 29, 1857.  Several men spent that day drinking on the outskirts of a Methodist camp meeting and by the time night falls most of them are very drunk.  An argument is settled by a fistfight.  A very inebriated and injured Metzler is assisted atop his horse and sent on his way.  He falls off his horse before he arrives home and later dies from an injury to his head.  Armstrong and James Norris are accused of causing the head injury that killed Metzler.

Charles Allen was the state’s main witness.  Allen testifies that “by the light of the moon” he saw Armstrong strike Metzler on the front of the skull.  Abraham Lincoln questions Allen and Allen states that on August 29, 1857 the moon was full, bright, and high in the sky.  Lincoln produces a copy of the 1857 almanac showing that the moon was not quite full and that at 11:00 pm the moon was very low in the west weakening Allen’s testimony.  William Duff Armstrong was acquitted.  Lincoln won his case.

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