Saturday, December 27, 2014

Lincoln’s Wit/Wisdom 281

In 1854 Lincoln represented James Dunlap who had assaulted a newspaper editor by the name of Peter Selby. Selby wanted $10,000 in damages. ‘There wasn’t much Lincoln could do about getting his client entirely off the hook; Dunlap had in fact assaulted Selby. When the time came for his turn to address the jury, Lincoln slowly stood, picked up a copy of Selby’s motion, and then suddenly burst into a long, loud laugh accompanied by his most wonderfully grotesque facial expression. The very sight of this caused several members of the jury to snicker, at which point Lincoln apologized. He said he had looked at the motion and noticed that the original amount of the suit had been only $1,000, but that this had been crossed out and replaced with the $10,000 figure. Lincoln snickered that, somehow, Selby had had second thoughts and “concluded that the wounds to his honor were worth an additional nine thousand dollars.” His little joke was calculated to rob the assault case [and the plaintiff] of dignity. Apparently it worked; the jury returned a decision for damages of only $300.’

- Brian Dirck

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