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Abraham Lincoln Rockwell Painting Abraham Lincoln
and the story behind the Rockwell Painting

The occasion depicted in this Rockwell painting is the 1858 murder trial of an Illinois man named William "Duff" Armstrong. Armstrong was accused of murdering James Preston Metzker with a “slung-shot" - a weight tied to a leather thong, sort of an early blackjack - a few minutes before midnight on August 29, 1857. Lincoln was a friend of the accused man's father, Jack Armstrong, who'd just died, and so he offered to help defend young Duff Armstrong, without pay, as a favor to Jack Armstrong's widow.

The principal prosecution witness against Armstrong was a man named Charles Allen, who testified that he'd seen the murder from about 150 feet away. When Lincoln asked Allen how he could tell it was Armstrong given that it was the middle of the night and he was a considerable distance away from the murder scene, Allen replied, "By the light of the moon."

Enter the Almanac!

Upon hearing Allen's testimony, Lincoln produced a copy of the 1857 edition, turned to the two calendar pages for August, and showed the jury that not only was the moon in the first quarter but it was riding "low" on the horizon, about to set, at the precise time of the murder. There would not have been enough light for Allen to identify Armstrong or anyone else, said Lincoln. The jury agreed, and Duff Armstrong was acquitted.


Lincoln Quote Archives

“I am glad of all the support I can get anywhere, if I can get it without practicing any deception to obtain it.”
 
Quote attributed to Lincoln on October 13, 1858.


“I shall have my hands full. He is the strong man of his party-full of wit, facts, dates-and the best stump speaker, with his droll ways and dry jokes, in the West. He is as honest as he is shrewd, and if I beat him my victory will be hardly one.”
 
Senator Stephen A. Douglas, upon hearing that Lincoln would be his opponent in Illinois’s 1858 U.S. Senate vote.


“On the underlying principles of truth and justice his will was as firm as steel and as tenacious as iron.”
 
William Herndon, law partner and close friend of Lincoln.


“You have nominated a very able and very honest man.”
 
Stephen A. Douglas, upon hearing that the 1860 Republican Convention had nominated Lincoln for the presidency.


“I’ll study and get ready, and then the chance will come.”
 
Ida M. Tarbell and J.M. Davis, The Early Life of Abraham Lincoln (New York: McClure, 1989), 62


“Important principles may and must be inflexible.”
 
John G. Nicolay and John Hay, eds., Complete Works of Lincoln, 212 vols., (New York: Francis D. Tandy, 1905), 11:92 (April 11, 1865)


“The most reliable indication of public purpose in this country is derived through our popular elections.”
 
Basler, Collected Works of Lincoln, 8:138


“A man’s character is like a tree and his reputation like its shadow; the shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”
 
Don Fehrenbacher and Virginia Fehrenbacher, eds., Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996), 43 (quote attributed to Lincoln).


“I am a patient man- always willing to forgive on the Christian terms of repentance; and also to give ample time for repentance.”
 
John G. Nicolay and John Hay, eds., Complete Works of Lincoln, 12 vols. (New York: Francis D. Tandy, 1905) 7:293 (July 26, 1862).


“The best training he [Lincoln] had for the Presidency, after all, was his twenty three years’ arduous experience as a lawyer traveling the circuits of the courts of his district and State. Here he met in forensic conflict, and frequently defeated, some of the most powerful legal minds of the West. In the higher courts he won still greater distinction in the important cases coming to his charge.”
 
President McKinley at the Marquette Club, February 19, 1896.


“Our political problem now is “Can we, as a nation, continue together permanently- forever- half slave, and half free?” The problem is too mighty for me. May God, in his mercy, superintend the solution.”
 
John G. Nicolay and John Hay, eds., Complete Works of Lincoln, 12 vols, (New York; Francis D. Tandy, 1903), 2:280281 (August 15, 1855).


“The people know their rights, and they are never slow to assert and maintain them, when they are invaded.”
 
John G. Nicolay and John Hay, eds., Complete Works of Lincoln, 12 vols, (New York: Francis D. Tandy, 1905), 1:26 (January 11, 1837)


“We proposed to give all a chance; and we expect the weak to grow stronger, the ignorant, wiser, and all better, and happier together.”
 
John G. Nicolay and John Hay, eds., Complete Works of Lilncoln, 12 vols. (New York: Francis D. Tandy, 1905), 2:184 (July 1, 1854)


“In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without begin yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered to heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to “preserve, protect, and defend it.”
 
John G. Nicolay and John Hay, eds., Complete Works of Lincoln, 12 vols., (New York: Francis D. Tandy, 1905), 6:184-85 (March 4, 1861).


“In small and unimportant matters, Mr. Lincoln was so yielding that many thought his excessive amiability was born of weakness. But, in matters of vital importance, he was firm as a rock. Neither Congress nor his cabinet could, in the slightest degree, influence his actions on great questions, against the convictions of his patriotic judgment.”
 
John B. Alley, congressman (R-MA) and friend of Lincoln.


“It was a common notion that those who laughed heartily often never amounted to much- never made great men. If this be the case, farewell to all my glory.”
 
William H. Herndon, “An Analysis of the Character of Abraham Lincoln,” Abraham Lincoln Quarterly I (1940-1941): 420 (quote attributed to Lincoln).


“Some of my generals complain that I impair discipline by my frequent pardons and reprieves; but it rests me, after a day’s hard work, that I can find some excuse for saving some poor fellow’s life, and I shall go to bed happy tonight as I think how joyous the signing of this name will make himself, his family, and friend.”
 
Allen T. Rice, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln by Distinguished Men of His Time, (New York: North American Review, 1888), 338-39.


“I am not at all concerned about that [that is, God’s being on the Northern side in the war], for I know the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it s my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.”
 
F.B. Carpenter, Inner Life of Lincoln, (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1883) 282 (quote attributed to Lincoln).


“[Lincoln] was a master of statement. Few have equaled him in the ability to strip a truth of surplus verbiage and present it in its naked strength.”
 
William Jennings Bryant, politician and orator of the late nineteenth century.


“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, cannot long retain it.”
 
John G. Nicolay and John Hay, eds., Complete Works of Lincoln, 12 vols. (New York: Francis D. Tandy, 1905 5:126 (April 6, 1859).


“If it is decreed that I should go down because of this speech, then let me go down linked to the truth- let me die in the advocacy of what is just and right.”
 
Herndon and Weik, Herndon’s Lincoln, 346 (quote attributed to Lincoln).


“It is not the qualified voters, but the qualified voters who choose to vote, that constitute the political power of the State.”
 
John G. Nicolay and John Hay, eds., Complete Works of Lincoln, 12 vols., (New York; Francis D. Tandy, 1905) 8:157 (December 31, 1862)


“Finally, I insist, that if there is anything which it is the duty of the whole people to never entrust to any hands but their own, that thing is the preservation and perpetuity of their own liberties, and institutions.”
 
John G. Nicolay and John Hay, eds., Complete Works of Lincoln, 12 vols. (New York: Francis D. Tandy, 1905), 2:235 (October, 16 1854).


“If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which…when once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing his judgment of the justice of your cause.”
 
John G. Nicolay and John Hay, eds., Complete Works of Lincoln (hereafter NH), 12 vols. (New York: Francis D. Tandy, 1905), 1:197 (February 22, 1842)


“Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the government, nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us have faith that right makes might; and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it.”
 
John G. Nicolay and John Hay, eds., Complete Works of Lincoln, 12 vols. (New York: Francis D. Tandy, 1905), 5:327-28 (February 27, 1860).


“A few people, in times of peace and quiet-when pressed by no common danger- naturally divide into parties. At such times, the man who is of neither party, is not- cannot be- of any consequence.”
 
John G. Nicolay and John Hay, eds., Complete Works of Lincoln, 12 vols. (New York: Francis D. Tandy, 1905), 2:165 (July 6, 1852)


“If a man had more than one life, I think a little hanging would not hurt this one, but after he is once dead we cannot bring him back, not matter how sorry we may be, so the boy shall be pardoned.”
 
Dorothy Lamon, ed. Recollections of Abraham Lincoln1847-1865 by Ward Hill Lamon (Chicago: A.C. McClung and Co., 1895) 87 (quote attributed to Lincoln).


“No men living are more worthy to be trusted than those who toil up from poverty- none less inclined to take, or touch, aught which they have not honestly earned.”
 
John G. Nicolay and John Hay, eds. Complete Works of Lincoln, 7:159 (New York: Francis D. Tandy, 1905).


“The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.”
 
John G. Nicolay and John Hay, eds., Complete Works of Lincoln, (New York: Francis D. Tandy, 1905) 1:138 (December 26, 1839).


“Let there be no compromise on the question of extending slavery. If there be, all our labor is lost, and ere long, must be done again. The dangerous ground- that into which some of our friends have a hankering to run- is Popular Sovereignty. Have none of it. Stand firm.”
 
Basler, Collected Works of Lincoln, 4:149 (December 10, 1860).


“There is something back of these, entwining itself more closely about the human heart. That something is the principle of “Liberty to all”- the principle that clears that path for all, gives hope to all, and, by consequence, enterprise and industry to all”
 
Basler, Collected Works of Lincoln, 4:169 (January 1861).


“The people of these United States are the rightful masters of both congresses and courts, not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.”
 
John G. Nicolay and John Hay, eds., Complete Words of Lincoln, 12 vols. (New York: Francis D. Tandy, 1905), 5:232 (September 17, 1859)


“Must is the word. I know not how to aid you, save in the assurance of one of mature age, and much severe experience, that you cannot fail, if you resolutely determine that you will not.”
 
Basler, Collected Works of Lincoln, 4:87 (July 22, 1860).


“On principle I dislike an oath which requires a man to swear he has not done wrong. It rejects the Christian principle of forgiveness on terms of repentance. I think it is enough if the man does no wrong hereafter.”
 
Roy B. Basler, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 9 vols., New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1953 7:170


“I do not state a thing and say I know it when I do not….I mean to put a case no stronger than the truth will allow.”
 
John G. Nicolay and John Hay, eds., Complete Works of Lincoln, 12 vols. (New York: Francis D. Tandy, 1905), 4:51 (July 15, 1858).


“I do not consider that I have ever accomplished anything without God; and if it is His will that I must die by the hands of an assassin, I must be resigned. I must do my duty as I see it, and leave the rest with God.”
 
Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, 6 vols. (New York: Scribner’s 1939), 3:559 (quote attributed to Lincoln).


“I don’t want to be unjustly accused of dealing illiberally or unfairly with an adversary, either in court, or in a political canvass, or anywhere else. I would despise myself if I supposed myself ready to deal less liberally with an adversary than I was willing to be treated myself.”
 
John G. Nicolay and John Hay, eds., Complete Works of Lincoln, 4:190-91 (New York: Francis D. Tandy, 1905) (September 18, 1858).


“I have often inquired of myself, what great principle or idea it was that kept this Confederacy so long together. It was not the mere matter of the separation of the colonies from the mother land; but something in that Declaration giving liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, so that all should have an equal chance.”
 
John G. Nicolay and John Hay, eds., Complete Works of Lincoln, 12 vols., (New York: Francis D. Tandy, 1905); 6:157 (February 22, 1861).


“ “Liberty to all”- the principle that clears the path for all- gives hope to all- and, by consequence, enterprise, and industry to all.”
 
Basler, Collected Works of Lincoln, 4:168-69 (February 12, 1861).


“They were pillars of the temple of liberty; and now, that they have crumbled away, that temple must fall, unless we, their descendants, supply their places with other pillars, hewn from the solid quarry of sober reason.”
 
Source: John G. Nicolay and John Hay, eds., Complete Works of Lincoln, 12 vols. (New York: Francis D. Tandy, 1905) I:49-50 (January 27, 1838).


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an experienced and aggressive federal and state criminal attorney.