Lincoln and the Law Library
In celebration of the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s 205th birthday on February 12, it seems appropriate to examine one of the more exceptional documents housed in the archive of the Law Library—a certificate of gratitude issued by the Department of War to Union citizens who volunteered their service for one hundred days in a bold move to end the Civil War. These volunteers became known as the Hundred Days Men and their numbers reached over eighty thousand.
The Hundred Days Men came from Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, New Jersey, Ohio and Wisconsin serving as laborers and rear echelon guards to free up veteran units for combat duty, thus bolstering the number of men on the front lines. This campaign was conceived by Ohio Governor John Brough, who then convinced the governors of surrounding states to support his idea and with subsequent proposal proffers to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. Approval by President Lincoln came swiftly thereafter. Although this effort did not end the war within one hundred days, it is certain to have had a monumental impact as the volume of these certificates distributed to volunteers attest.
The certificate from our collection was issued to Sergeant Benjamin M. McCarty of the 134th Regiment of the Indiana Infantry on December 15, 1964. It is unknown how the Law Library obtained this document, as McCarty is not a Law School alumnus, nevertheless, it is a noteworthy slice of history and we are pleased we can preserve its historical and physical integrity.
The Library’s interest in this document was piqued not only because of its historic import but also because it is inscribed by President Lincoln and Secretary Stanton. Initially it appears to be signed by these men, however, upon closer inspection, the validity of the pen strokes comes into question.
Common sense says that Lincoln and Stanton probably did not personally sign tens of thousands certificates as the war that divided the states was culminating, but there are other indicators that Lincoln and Stanton’s hands did not grace these documents. For instance, comparing the intensity of the signatures to that of the clerical information written on the page one can see Lincoln and Stanton’s marks remain as bold as the printed text whereas the handwritten names and dates have substantially faded over time. It can be deduced that the signatures were prepared from engravings and printed along with the text of the document. Thus the autographs are facsimiles, yet the document itself is an authentic Civil War treasure.
In recent years, forgers have taken to clipping Lincoln’s signature from these certificates and inserting them on other documents that appear to be from this era in a move to add worth to an item which has none. This, of course, is a fraudulent practice in of itself, but simultaneously destroys a genuine Civil War artifact.
If you happen to come across a document signed by Lincoln and suspect the signature was taken from one of these certificates, there are a couple of signs this could be the case. Aside from the dark and even flowing ink similar to that of the printed text, the manner in which President Lincoln signed his name for this printing is distinctive, particularly his signing of his entire name and the period following his signature.
If you would like to examine this document for yourself, please contact a reference librarian for assistance.
Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, One Hundred Day Volunteer Certificate, http://www.illinois.gov/ihpa/Research/Pages/signature.aspx
Is it Real? Autograph Opinion & Reference Service, The 100 Day Volunteer Certificates & the Proliferation of Facsimile Abraham Lincoln Signatures, http://www.isitreal.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=721&Itemid=47
University Archives, Authenticating Abraham Lincoln Signatures, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDlj2feJQCY&noredirect=1
Archive and Digital Preservation Specialist
Indiana University Maurer School of Law Library