Abraham Lincoln, Surveyor (1809-1865)

Abraham Lincoln, Surveyor (1809-1865)

Abraham Lincoln


Settlers were crowding into the country, and there was heavy demand for the establishment of boundary lines, for the location of roads, and for surveys of new towns. John Calhoun, the surveyor of Sangamon County, had more work than he could do. At the suggestion of Pollard Simmons, a farmer and Democratic politician who lived near New Salem, Calhoun offered to appoint Lincoln his deputy and assign him the northwestern part of the county (now Menard County). After being assured that the appointment would carry no political obligation, Lincoln accepted, “procured a compass and chain, studied Flint and Gibson a little, and went at it.”

His first survey of record was made for Russell Godbey, on January 14, 1834. For this, according to Godbey, he received two buckskins, which Hannah Armstrong “foxed” on his pants to protect them from briers. Ordinarily he was paid according to the following scale, established by the legislature on February 19, 1827:

For establishing each quarter section of land …………… $2.50
For establishing each half-quarter section ……………… 2.00
For each town lot over ten, and not exceeding forty ………. 37½
For each town lot over forty, and not exceeding one hundred. .25
For laying off land under a writ of ad quod damnum …….. 2.50

For traveling expenses the surveyor was permitted to charge two dollars a day. This scale of fees had not been altered by 1857, when Lincoln gave Zimri Enos, Sangamon County surveyor, his opinion on moot points of the law, which Enos wished to present to a surveyors’ convention meeting in Springfield. Lincoln said that it was his opinion that “where the law requires a Surveyor to perform services for a person applying and fixes no pay the Surveyor is entitled to a reasonable compensation proportioned to the fees allowed by law.”

Early Sangamon County surveying records are most fragmentary, so it is impossible to compile a complete list of Lincoln’s surveys. He is known, however, to have made surveys of three roads, three school sections, a dozen tracts of farm land ranging in size from four acres to 160 acres, and the towns of Petersburg, Bath, New Boston, Albany, and Huron. Doubtless in the three years he worked with compass and chain–he was re-appointed by Surveyor Thomas M. Neale in September, 1835–he made many others. Odd jobs pieced out Lincoln’s earnings from the postmastership and from surveying. He was not above splitting rails or working as a farm hand when he had nothing else to do, and for a short period he worked in a still house near New Salem.”

Harry E. Pratt, The Personal Finances of Abraham Lincoln (Springfield, IL: Abraham Lincoln Association, 1943) 17-19

Lincoln on fees

THE matter of fees is important,” wrote Lincoln, “far beyond the mere question of bread and butter involved. Properly attended to, fuller justice is done to both lawyer and client. An exorbitant fee should never be claimed. As a general rule never take your whole fee in advance, nor ally more than a small retainer. When fully paid beforehand, you are more than a common mortal if you can feel the same interest in the case, as if something were still in prospect for you, as well as for your client. And when you lack interest in the case the job will very likely lack skill and diligence in the performance. Settle the amount of fee and take a note in advance. Then you will feel that you are working for something, and you are sure to do your work faithfully and well. Never sell a fee note–at least not before the consideration service is performed. It leads to negligence by losing interest in the case, and dishonesty in refusing to refund when you have allowed the consideration to fail.”

Ibid, 25

As an interesting aside, Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin share the same birthday, February 12, 1809.

Recommended reading:

Lincoln’s Speech at Peoria

2010-01-07T10:00:42+00:00 By |Famous Surveyors|