Most people are familiar with the famous “Almanac Trial” in which lawyer Abraham Lincoln defended William Armstrong who was charged murder of James Preston Metzker on August 29, 1857 in Mason County, Illinois.
In an earlier trial, a third person who was present during the altercation, James Norris, had been found guilty of murdering Metzker with a lethal blow to the back of the head.
Armstrong was now on trial being accused of hitting Metzker on his forehead with a slung-shot.
Star witness, Charles Allen, who testified that he saw Armstrong from about 150 feet away swinging the slung-shot clearly by the “light of the moon” was charged by Lincoln who handed out several copies of a Farmer’s Almanac to the judge and the jury, showing that in that particular night there was only a quarter of a moon present to begin with and that it had set a few minutes past midnight – hardly an hour after the lethal confrontation took place.
While this was one of several inputs from Lincoln to prove his client innocent, whom he represented pro bono, it was the introduction of the almanac that proved to be the strongest evidence against the witness Charles Allen.
Abraham Lincoln prepared very carefully for this trial which was moved to Cass County and held at the courthouse at Beardstown, Illinois in May of 1858 since William Armstrong was the son of Lincoln’s close friend Jack Armstrong who had died a few years earlier.
Six years later, President Lincoln had the chance to once more prove his loyalty to the Armstrong family when his friend’s widow begged for the release of her son from the Union Army after William fell ill with rheumatism.
With a simple stroke of his pen, Lincoln discharged William and wrote back to Mrs. Hannah Armstrong on September 18, 1864:
“I have just ordered the discharge of your boy William, as you say, now at Louisville, Ky. A. LINCOLN.”
And because it gives me the chance to post another picture, here is another not so well known part about the Almanac Trial in 1858.
Abraham Lincoln really brought all his layer skills forward in his closing speech about which Assistant prosecuting counsel J. Henry Shaw said:
"He took the jury by storm. There were tears in Mr. Lincoln’s eyes while he spoke. But they were genuine.
His sympathies were fully enlisted in favor of the young man, and his terrible sincerity could not help but arouse the same passion in the jury.
I have said it a hundred times, that it was Lincoln’s speech that save that criminal from the Gallows, and neither money or fame inspired that speech, but it was incited by gratitute to the young man’s father, who, as Mr Lincoln said ‘was his only friend when he was a poor homeless boy.”
It was also the one time that Abraham Lincoln was ever seen to wear a white suit to court.
Never before and never again afterwards did he dress like this.
And we have a picture to prove it – since later that day, Lincoln had his photo taken at Abraham Byers studio in Beardstown, Illinois.
This is what Abraham Lincoln looked like on the day he got William Armstrong acquitted of the murder charges: