Saturday, August 08, 2009

Patents, and the assassination of President Lincoln

The military trial of those involved in the assassination of President Lincoln was presided over by Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt. Holt, a Southerner from Kentucky and a lawyer, supported James Buchanan in the presidential election of 1856, and, as a reward, was appointed Commissioner of Patents, which position he held until 1859, when he became Postmaster General, and advanced to Secretary of War upon the resignation of John B. Floyd. Holt was responsible for sending the "Star of the West" to relieve Fort Sumter in early January 1861.

Meanwhile, Lincoln, on taking the presidency, did a rather thorough house-cleaning at the Patent Office, and had a strong interest in inventions related to weaponry, such as the Spencer repeating rifle. Lincoln, of course, is the only US President to hold a US patent.

As noted elsewhere on IPBiz, Lincoln had a peripheral involvement in a litigation involving the patent on the McCormick reaper, wherein (later) Secretary of War Stanton had a greater role. John H. Manny of Wisconsin obtained patents for a reaper in the 1850's. In November 1854, Cyrus H. McCormick filed suit against Manny. The trial was in Cincinnati in 1855, three years before Lincoln obtained national prominence in the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Manny was represented by Stanton (with a minor role from Lincoln) and McCormick was represented by Reverdy Johnson (who would be a US Senator from Maryland, a pallbearer at Lincoln's funeral, and lawyer for Mary Surratt). Several players in the patent case played a role in the later assassination trial. As described in the book by Chamlee [below]"

The principal issue in the case centered on the invention of a special curved divider at the end of the cutter bar. W.P Wood [later Superintendent of the Old Capitol prison where assassins were kept], having purchased an old McCormick reaper, removed and straightened the curved divider rod. The Manny patent, Wood figured, would not be an infringement on what now appeared to be a straight divider rod on the early McCormick reaper. Wood doctored the altered rod to look old and rusty and sent it to Washington, where it was exhibited in court. As a result, Stanton won the case. Wood admitted that Stanton never knew that the reaper had been tampered with, but Stanton was impressed with the colonel's ability. Thereafter, Stanton placed great confidence in William Wood and used him for his most confidential assignments. Chamlee, Vol. 1, page 135.

McCormick appealed the case to the US Supreme Court.

Details of the legal issues of the Military Commission which tried the assassins are presented in the book "Lincoln's Assassins: a complete account of their capture, trial, and punishment" written by Roy Z. Chamlee, Jr. (McFarland & Company Publishers, 1990; ISBN 978-0-7864-4088-7;364.1524)

Chamlee gives some discussion of the accused Lewis Payne, including the bond to Thomas T. Eckhert, but does not delve the possibilities of Payne's possible connections to the Confederate government. Payne was (sort of) defended by the attorney W. E. Doster, although he requested Mason Campbell of Baltimore, who was the son-in-law of (deceased) Chief Justice Taney. (p. 220).

Chamlee also gets into confusion in the initial investigation because of competition between General Auger and Lafayette Baker. Chamlee also gets into the issues with Secretary of War Stanton's arrest of John Ford, owner of Ford's Theater.


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