Join us February 23-24 and March 2-3, 2018 in historic Potter Auditorium at the Chatfield Center for the Arts, Wit’s End Theatre will premier a new play called Abraham Lincoln for the Defense. It is a tale with all the makings of great drama. A man attacked and killed in the dark of night. A widow’s son accused of the murder. A jury trial that will decide whether the boy hangs. Add the most interesting part—Abraham Lincoln defends the young man at trial—and you have a fascinating story.
The accused was a young man named Duff Armstrong. Duff’s mother, Hannah, was Lincoln’s old friend. When Duff was charged with the murder of James Preston Metzker, in October of 1857, Hannah asked Lincoln to defend the boy. Lincoln tried hundreds of cases in his long legal career. The defense of Duff Armstrong—in a dramatic trial that would be known to history as “the almanac trial”—was one of his last and most important.
1857-58 was a pivotal time in Abraham Lincoln’s life. The threat that slavery would expand into the new Kansas and Nebraska Territories had brought him out of political retirement. He was about to run against Stephen Douglas for the United States Senate-- the race that would include the famous “Lincoln-Douglas debates,” and propel Lincoln to national prominence and, two years later, the presidency. These were times and people that would reshape America’s destiny.
But in the meantime, Abraham Lincoln was still a practicing trial lawyer in Springfield, Illinois, and his friend’s son would go to the gallows if convicted of murder.
The play’s author is Chatfield native Joe Chase. He isn’t the first one to see the dramatic potential in the story of the Armstrong trial. John Ford’s 1939 movie Young Mr. Lincoln, starring Henry Fonda, is also based on the case.
This is an ambitious production for Wits’ End Theatre. The cast will include 25 talented actors and actresses-- a significant number of them trial lawyers who can be found practicing their profession every day in the courtrooms of southeastern Minnesota. The big stage in magnificently renovated Potter Auditorium in Chatfield is the perfect venue to tell this irresistibly compelling, but relatively little known, story of the man who would become America’s greatest president.