Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Abraham Lincoln: Employment Lawyer

No, I'm not trying my hand at writing alternate history, a la Abe Lincoln: Vampire Slayer (a movie I have unsuccessfully attempted to watch twice now). No, Abraham Lincoln did in fact practice a little employment law.

I'm reading Lawyer Lincoln right now, a book about Lincoln's life as a lawyer that was published in the 1930s (and not to be confused with The Lincoln Lawyer about a guy who practices law out of his town car). He practiced a broad range of law from railroad cases to whether "fixing" the neighbor's hog constituted the tort of conversion. The book also includes a brief reference to employment law!
Thus Lincoln helped settle a leading principle of the law of contracts in a case involving only $26.75 claimed as wages by a farmhand. Eldridge v. Rowe (7 Ill. 91). Lincoln for Appellee.
I found the Court's opinion. The employee walked off of the job about four months in to an eight month contract. The employee then sought compensation for the four months on a theory of quantum meruit. The Illinois Supreme Court held:
[T]he plaintiff below had no legal right to recover for the four months' labor he had performed. He had agreed to labor on the farm of Eldridge, for the term of eight months for the sum of ninety dollars, and he has not performed his agreement; and it is no objection to say that Eldridge has received the benefit of his labor, this being a case, where, from its nature, Eldridge could not separate the products of his labor from the general concerns of his farm, and ought not, therefore, to be responsible to any extent whatever, for not doing that which was impossible.
The employee could not recover for his partial performance of the contract. Lincoln represented the employee, so I guess he lost. He did draw an opinionless dissent though.

Image: Cover of Lawyer Lincoln used in commentary on the book.