By 1847, attorney Clifton H. Moore of Clinton, DeWitt County, Illinois, had become good friends with Abraham Lincoln of Springfield, 55 miles away. Both worked on the 8th Judicial Circuit and travelled many of the same counties. Though they had very different personalities, Moore and Lincoln shared a love of learning. Now evidence has appeared that Moore lent one of his books to Lincoln, probably because of a nasty legal case – and what a book.
Types of Mankind was a 700-page work first published in 1854, based in part on notes left behind by Samuel G. Morton (d. 1851). Morton was a physician and professor of anatomy who firmly believed that the different races were actually different species, with Caucasians naturally superior to the rest. Given the national turmoil over race and slavery, it was natural that Lincoln took an interest in such a subject. Lincoln's immediate interest, though, may have concerned a beleaguered law client of his.
In borrowing the tome from Moore -- who eventually owned 5,000 books -- Lincoln wrote Moore’s name in it so it would be returned to its owner.
C. H. Moore, Esq
De Witt Co
Following that inscription is an attestation by Lawrence Weldon, another Clinton, Illinois, attorney well known to both men.
The above was written by Prest Lincoln
in 1861 - Just before he left for
Washington. L Weldon.
For over half a century, the staff of the Vespasian Warner Public Library District, based in Clinton, Illinois, knew the rumor that one of its books had been written in by Abraham Lincoln. A few staff had seen the book, which in fact circulated to the public for many decades. But no one could believe it was true.
To settle the matter, new Library Director Joan Rhoades took the book to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, in Springfield. James Cornelius, curator of the Lincoln Collection there, quickly recognized the writing as Lincoln's true hand. Confirmation from other staff soon followed.
James Lander, author of the 2010 book Lincoln and Darwin: Shared Visions of Race, Science, and Religion, has seen the inscription by Lincoln and is at work on a scholarly article that will place Lincoln and Moore's legal work in context. "Types of Mankind was the sort of book Lincoln was bound to loathe but also felt it important to understand," he said. Lander, an American who teaches and works in England, thinks that Lincoln wrote out Moore's name and address in part to keep the book from falling into the collection of Lincoln's law partner William Herndon, a serious book hound.
The full title of the book opens the story to why Lincoln was interested. Types of Mankind: or, Ethnological Researches, based upon the Ancient Monuments, Paintings, Sculptures, and Crania of Races and upon their Natural, Geographical, Philological, and Biblical History was compiled from Morton's papers by Josiah Nott and George Gliddon. It rode the interest in phrenology (cranial-personality links) and racial separatism through several editions by 1871, in a way that intrigued lawyer-politician Lincoln, who often read his opponents' views the better to debate against them.
The book makes the case that the races of man were formed at different times and places, rather than all at once by a Creator (as in the Book of Genesis). Thus, Africans were of a different race from Caucasians as well as from American Indians, and enslaving these other creatures could thus be part of the natural order. Nor did the Biblical invocation to be kind to one's fellow man apply under this view, since Africans were not 'fellow men.' Slave-owners seized upon the book as support for their way of life.
But Lincoln had a client at DeWitt County, Bill Dungey, whose brother-in-law had got into an argument with Dungey and soon called him "a negro" and "Black Bill" to everyone in town because his skin was darker than average. Dungey explained that he was part Portuguese, and sued for libel because being classed as a black man would undermine his marriage to the accuser's sister; possibly deprive him of his property and other civil rights; and make him look like a liar to all those he knew in white society. This may have been the point in 1855 at which Lincoln borrowed the book from Moore; the edition Moore owned was printed in 1855. James Lander's article will reveal much else about the scientific and legal background to the story, but suffice it to say that Lawyer Lincoln won the case for his client, and Dungey's racist accuser was obliged to pay more than $300 in damages and legal fees. Moore was the opposing attorney in the case.
It is also possible that Lincoln borrowed the book later, during his debates against (pro-slavery) Stephen Douglas in 1858 or during the heated 1860 presidential campaign. Clearly Lincoln and Moore had reason to take a deep interest in this topic.
When the Vespasian Warner Library in Clinton opened to the public in 1908, Moore’s books formed the basis of its circulating collection. Types of Mankind suffered the wear and tear that is the fate of all library books. The front cover and Lincoln's inscription page have become detached from the rest of the book, and the spine is mostly gone. At some point the book was relocated to the basement with the rest of the Moore collection, where it stayed until a library addition was built in 1992. The Moore collection was then moved back into the original library, where it remains today. Types of Mankind no longer circulates, though a paperback reprint is available.
Joan Rhoades has both historic and current reasons to be excited about this find. In hopes of bringing attention to her library's rich and unique local-history collection, she continues to express surprise at the entire episode. "The old rumor was true!" she said. "We are beyond excited that we have held a book that Lincoln read and which also bears his handwriting. We are currently raising the funds to restore the book, along with other important pieces of local history, after which it will be on display to the public.”