On Bob’s Jinx

Bob should have lived a charmed life. Born into wealth and privilege, Bob attended the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy for his high school. He got his undergraduate degree at Harvard. He got a law degree from Northwestern in Chicago.

During the American Civil War, Bob served on the staff of an important union general. However, by the time he died in the 1920s, people who knew him reported that Bob felt that he was one of the most unlucky men who had ever lived.
You see, Bob thought himself jinxed.
Three events in Bob‘s life let him to feel this way. The first one was almost an accident of fate. He was in Washington DC the night that President Abraham Lincoln was shot. In fact, Bob had tickets to see the same play that the president saw that night at Ford’s Theater. However, he decided not to attend the performance. Like many in Washington, when he heard of the president being shot, he made his way down to the boarding house across the street from the theater where Lincoln‘s dying body was carried. In fact, Bob was allowed into the room where he joined the large crowd who witnessed the great man draw his last breath early the next morning. So, he indirectly saw the Lincoln assassination.
The second event that caused Bob to feel like his life had been unlucky occurred about 15 years later. By this time, Bob had made a name for himself as a lawyer and in politics. His experience had earned him a job in government. It was in this capacity that the president at the time, James Garfield, invited Bob to catch a train with him in Washington. It was while standing on the train platform with Garfield that an assassin came up and put a bullet into the president, a bullet from which Garfield would eventually die. Two presidents—two deaths.
The third event happened in 1901. Again, the situation involved a sitting president. This time, President William McKinley invited Bob to the opening of the Buffalo worlds fair. Bob was standing outside of the building at the exposition where the president was having a reception when another assassin came up and shot McKinley, fatally wounding him.
That was it for Bob. A man who had wealth and prestige and some power felt that his connections to three presidential assassinations made him some sort of a jinx. After 1901, when any president would invite Bob to an event he would answer, “No, I’m not going, and they’d better not ask me, because there is a certain fatality about presidential functions when I am present.“
Oh, there is one other interesting historical footnote about Bob’s life. When Bob was in college at Harvard, he was accidentally pushed off a train platform in New Jersey and into the path of an oncoming train. To hear Bob tell the story in later years, the next thing he knew was that a large hand grabbed him by the collar and, in one quick motion, pulled him up to the safety of the platform. He turned around to see who his savior was and found himself looking into the face of the famous American actor, Edwin Booth, the brother of the man who would be Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth.
Lincoln’s assassin—his father’s assassin. For, you see, Bob was known publicly as Robert Todd Lincoln.

On A Partnership

Partners in any business can be a tricky situation—law partners especially. Take the case of Will Herndon and his partner.

Will was a more than competent attorney. He understood that law is sometimes a business that requires a quick turnaround on the case so you can get to the next one. Better to be paid five times handling five quick cases than one time handling one long one. At least that was the way Will saw things.

That’s what frustrated him so about his older law partner. The older man seemed to have a deliberate nature when it came to both researching a case and arguing it. Even the simplest case, Will‘s partner would pursue it like a bulldog, researching arcane rulings that may or may not apply to the situation, and then taking his own sweet time in the court room to talk to witnesses. It was all sometimes maddening to Will.

In addition, this partner would often allow opposing counsel‘s points to go unchallenged. He told Will that it was better sometimes to concede six or seven small points as long as you won the last big one.

Perhaps the greatest strain on the relationship between the two partners was Will’s frustration with his partner’s and his partner‘s wife’s inability to discipline their children. The partner didn’t seem to mind that his sons had free run of the offices, often disrupting meetings with clients. It was like having a bunch of wild animals in a place that Will thought should observe at least a modicum of decorum and seriousness.

Yet, despite their differences, the law partnership survived for over 15 years. It dissolved only when the elder partner decided to pursue political office.

In all that time together as partners, Will Herndon was never invited to his partner’s house for dinner or for any social event. Apparently, the animosity between Will and his partner‘s wife proved too great an obstacle to overcome.

Will’s partner went on to great success in public life, and that success was fueled largely by the same dogged practices that made him such an able litigator. The man served well, and he even died in office.

Years later, Will decided he would write a book describing the man he had come to know over those years as his law partner.

The book’s title?

Herndon’s Lincoln.