“That are Smarter at about Five than Ever After”

Posted on Updated on

To Joshua F. Speed [1]

Dear Speed: Springfield, Octr. 22nd. 1846

Owing to my absence, [2] yours of the 10th. Inst. was not received until yesterday. Since then I have been devoting myself to arive [sic] at a correct conclusion upon your matter of business. It may be that you do not precisely understand the nature and result of the suit against you and Bell’s estate. It is a chancery suit, and has been brought to a final decree, in which, you are treated as a nominal party only. The decree is, that Bell’s administrator pay the Nelson Fry debt, out of the proceeds of Bell’s half of the store. [3] So far, you are not injured; because you are released from the debt, without having paid any thing, and Hurst [4] is in no way left liable to you, because the debt he & Bell undertook to pay, is, or will be, paid without your paying it, or any part of it. The question, then, is,  “How are you injured?” By diverting so much of the assets of Bell’s estate, to the payment of the Fry debt, the general assets are lessened, and so, will pay a smaller dividend to general creditors; one of which creditors I suppose you are, in effect, as assignor of the note to W. P. Speed. [5] It incidentally enlarges your liability to W. P. Speed; and to that extent, you are injured. How much will this be? I think, $100- or $120- being the dividend of 25 or 30 per cent, that Hurst’s half of the Fry debt, would would [sic] pay on the W. P. S. debt. Hurst’s undertaking was, in effect, that he would pay the whole of the Fry debt, if Bell did not pay any part of it; but it was not his undertaking, that if Bell should pay the whole of it, he would refund the whole, so that Bell should be the better able to pay his other debts. You are not losing on the Fry debt, because that is, or will be paid; but your loss will be on the W. P. S. debt,—a debt that Hurst is under no obligation to indemnify you against. Hurst is bound to account to Bell’s estate, for one half of the Fry debt; because he owed half, and Bell’s estate pays all; and if, upon such accounting any thing is due the estate from Hurst, it will swell the estate, and so far enlarge the dividend to the W. P. S. debt. But when Bell’s estate shall call Hurst to account, he will will [sic] I am informed show that the estate, after paying the whole of the Fry debt is still indebted to him. If so, not much, if any thing can come from that quarter—nothing, unless it can be so turned, as to compel him [to?] pay all he owes the estate, and take a dividend only, upon what the estate owes him. If you had paid the Fry debt yourself, you could then turn on Hurst and make him refund you; but this would only bring [you?] where you started from, excepting it would leave Bell’s estate able to pay a larger dividend; and Hurst would then turn upon the estate to contribute one half, which would enlarge the indebtedness of the estate in the same proportion, and so reduce the dividend again. I believe the only thing that can be done for your advantage in the matter, is for Bell’s administrator to call Hurst to account for one half the Fry debt, and then fight off, the best he can, Hurst’s claim of indebtedness against the estate.

I should be much pleased to see [you?] here again; but I must, in candour, say I do not perceive how your personal presence would do any good in the business matter.

You, no doubt, assign the suspension of our correspondence to the true philosophical cause, though it must be confessed, by both of us, that this is rather a cold reason for allowing a friendship, such as ours, to die by degrees. I propose now, that, on the receipt of this, you shall be considered in my debt, and under obligation to pay soon, and that neither shall remain long in arrears hereafter. Are you agreed?

Being elected to Congress, though I am very grateful to our friends, for having done it, has not pleased me as much as I expected.

We have another boy, born the 10th. of March last. [6] He is very much such a child as Bob [7] was at his age—rather of a longer order. Bob is  “short and low,” and, I expect, always will be. He talks very plainly—almost as plainly as any body. He is quite smart enough. I some times fear he is one of the little rare-ripe sort, that are smarter at about five than ever after. He has a great deal of that sort of mischief, that is the offspring of much animal spirits. Since I began this letter a messenger came to tell me, Bob was lost; but by the time I reached the house, his mother had found him, and had him whip[p]ed—and, by now, very likely he is run away again.

Mary has read your letter, and wishes to be remembered to Mrs. S. and you, in which I most sincerely join her. As ever Yours—



[1] ALS, IHi.

[2] Lincoln had been on the circuit attending court.

[3] Nelson Fry got a judgment for $810 against William H. Herndon, administrator of James Bell, and Joshua F. Speed, on July 28, 1846.

[4] Charles R. Hurst who had bought Speed’s interest in Bell & Company.

[5] William Pope Speed, a brother.

[6] Edward Baker Lincoln, named for Edward D. Baker.

[7] Robert Todd Lincoln.

-Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 1.