Lincoln, Abraham [President] (12 February 1809 - 15 April 1865)
Lincoln was born in Hardin County, Kentucky, in a one-room log cabin on a 348-acre farm. Largely self-educated, he worked on farms, split logs for fences, and clerked at a store. He became a leading lawyer in Illinois, was a leader of the Whig Party (earning one term as a Congressman), and when the slavery issue became so important in 1854 he became a leading Republic Party leader in Illinois. He was elected the first president from the Republican Party (1861 - 1865), opposed the expansion of slavery, led the Union war effort during the American Civil War, and was the first U. S. President to be assassinated.
On October 5th, 1818, Abraham's mother, Nancy, passed away. She died reportedly of "milk sickness," a disease contracted by drinking milk from cows that had grazed on poisonous white snakeroot. In later years, Abraham would recall helping to carve pegs for his mother's coffin. His father, Thomas Lincoln, had hauled the coffin, which was made of green pine, on a sled to the top of a thickly wooded hill and buried her without a formal funeral service.
On December 2nd, 1819, his father married Sarah Bush Johnston. Sarah's first husband, Daniel Johnston, had died in the summer of 1816. She added three new children by her former marriage to the Lincoln household - Elizabeth, 12; John, 9; and Matilda, 8. Abraham reportedly grew to be much closer to his step-mother than he was to his father. Of the books borrowed from neighbors, he was said particularly to have liked Pilgrim's Progress, Aesop's Fables, Arabian Nights, and Robinson Crusoe.
William H. Herndon, Lincoln's law partner, contends that Ann Rutledge had been Lincoln's first and only love. When she died at the age of 22, the 6' 4" Lincoln married Mary Todd, who was 16" shorter, and whom he had met at a ball. James Harvey Matheny was the best man. Abraham gave Mary a gold wedding ring with the words "Love is Eternal" engraved inside the band. Mary wore the ring until the day she died. The marriage took place in the parlor of the Edwards's home, and the ceremony was performed by Reverend Charles Dresser, an Episcopal minister. The Lincolns moved into the Globe Tavern, a two story wooden structure in Springfield, where they boarded for $4.00 a week. The first son of the Lincolns, Robert Todd, was born 1 August 1843 at the Globe Tavern. He was so-named in honor of Mary's father. Late in the year the Lincolns moved out of the Globe Tavern and began renting a 3- room frame cottage at 214 South Fourth Street in Springfield.
Theirs was not the happiest of marriages. To some, she was a devoted partner who shared his ups and downs. To others, she made his life stressful. Poet Carl Sandburg described her as a termagent.
In 1844 Abraham and Mary purchased a home from Dr. Dresser in Springfield for $1500. It was located at the corner of Eighth and Jackson. The family moved in on May 2nd. Lincoln visited his former home in Indiana while campaigning for Henry Clay, the Whig candidate for President. In December Lincoln accepted William Herndon as his law partner.
Their second son, Edward Baker, was born on March 10th, 1846, and on August 3rd Mr. Lincoln was elected to the United States House of Representatives. He took his seat the next year and spoke out against the Mexican War.
The Lincolns boarded at Mrs. Anna G. Sprigg's boardinghouse in Washington (today the site of the Library of Congress).
In 1850, their son "Eddie" died, but a third son - William Wallace Lincon - was born.
In 1851, Lincoln's father, Thomas, died at the age of 73 from a kidney ailment - Lincoln did not attend the funeral.
In 1853, the fourth and last son of the Lincolns, Thomas ("Tad"), was born on April 4th. His nickname stemmed from the fact that his father thought he looked like a tadpole.
President Lincoln’s biographer, Douglas L. Wilson, found some rare details about the private man that innumerable previous writers had not previously described. In Honor’s Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln (1998), Wilson tells of Lincoln’s having been raised a Baptist who never outgrew a sense of fatalism, even “a nameless sense of . . . doom.” But upon reading a Paine work in which “a young woman engaged to be married, and while under this engagement she is, to speak plain language, debauched by a ghost,” Lincoln developed a new take on the Virgin Mary.
As a young man, Lincoln had the reputation of being an outspoken non-believer who read Thomas Paine, one who argued with friends against the tenets of organized religion.
Was Lincoln a religious man, or was he not? Each generation appears to reinvent Lincoln in its own image. Robert Ingersoll adulated our 16th President, and Ingersoll’s granddaughter’s husband, Sherman Wakefield, insisted that Lincoln was not “religious.” In 1889, Joseph Mazzini Wheeler quoted Lincoln’s friend, Ward H. Lamon, as saying,
- Lincoln read Volney and Paine and then wrote a deliberate and labored essay, wherein he reached conclusions similar to theirs. The essay was burnt, but he never denied or regretted its composition.
According to Franklin Steiner's The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, Colonel Lamon, himself a religionist, described Lincoln:
- “Mr. Lincoln was never a member of any Church, nor did he believe in the divinity of Christ, or the inspiration of the Scriptures in the sense understood by evangelical Christians.
- When a boy, he showed no sign of that piety which his many biographers ascribe to his manhood. When he went to church at all, he went to mock, and came away to mimic.
- When he came to New Salem, he consorted with Freethinkers, joined with them in deriding the gospel story of Jesus, read Volney and Paine, and then wrote a deliberate and labored essay, wherein he reached conclusions similar to theirs.”
Others have suggested Lincoln was basically a rationalist when he wrote,
- There was the strangest combination of church influence against me because I belonged to no church. Both northern and southern Christians read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes aid against the other.
In his 1846 Congressional campaign, he found it necessary to say (in his high squeaky voice),
- That I am not a member of any Christian Church is true, but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures, and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general or of any denomination of Christians in particular.
Some evidence exists, claims Michael R. Beschloss in The New Yorker (28 February 1994), that Lincoln’s maternal grandmother was illegitimate and even that Lincoln was sired by someone other than his father of record:
- The President’s former law partner and eventual biographer, William H. Herndon, interviewed dozens of Kentuckians who had known the Lincoln family, and he became convinced that Thomas Lincoln was sterile and could not have been Abraham’s father,” Beschloss wrote. “As early as the eighteen-seventies, there was speculation that Lincoln’s father had actually been, ironically, John C. Calhoun, the champion of states’ rights, or perhaps even Samuel Davis, the father of the President of the Confederacy.”
In Lincoln at Gettysburg, The Words That Remade America, Garry Wills terms Lincoln as interested in a current philosophical movement. At Gettysburg, Lincoln and Edward Everett had been chosen to give an “Oration” and “Dedicatory Remarks” on the field where so many warriors had fallen. Everett, a transcendentalist trained in the classics in Germany and a professor of Greek at Harvard, orated for two hours. Lincoln followed with a 272-word address which, although he had never studied with Everett, attained a classical Greek epitaphios with its two essential and Periclean sections: epainesis, or praise for the fallen; and parainesis, or advice for the living. Remarked Wills, calling it the greatest of all political speeches, “The address does what all great art accomplishes. Like Keats’s Grecian urn, it ‘tease[s] us out of thought / As doth eternity.’ ” Lincoln was a member of no church, but he is called by Wills “a Transcendentalist without the fuzziness,” one who drew on a shared philosophic tradition which Everett also honored.
Lincoln’s law partner, John T. Stuart, however, said “Lincoln was an avowed and open infidel whose beliefs sometimes bordered on atheism. . . . [He] went further against Christian beliefs . . . than any man I ever heard.”
Another biographer, William Barton, has written,
- Was Lincoln a Unitarian? No, he knew the view of certain Unitarians, and these assisted him at important points in defining certain aspects of his faith. The Unitarian books which Mr. Lincoln read cursorily, the books by Parker and Channing, must have assisted him in this, but they gave assurance that there were forward-looking men who believed in God and in human freedom as he did, and who were quite as far from holding the teaching which he had taught to call orthodox as he was, yet who were not infidels, but counted themselves friends of God and disciples of Jesus.
Barton also wrote, “Herndon asserts that Lincoln habitually spoke in his presence in terms of denial of the supernatural birth of Jesus. On a book of Lincoln’s he had changed John 16:27 from ‘Ye have loved me, and have believed that I came from God’ to ‘from nature.’ ” Unitarians often overlook that Lincoln’s Vice President, Hannibal Hamlin, was a Unitarian - whether the two ever talked about their views is unknown.
Joseph McCabe cites the various authorities about Lincoln’s religion:
- As in the case of Washington, the evidence on the side of the angels is strained or tainted while there is ample evidence that he was at the most a deist. His partner and intimate friend [William H. Herndon] affirms it and quotes the support of Mrs. Lincoln in his life of the President. Colonel Lamon, another close friend who has written on him, says emphatically, ‘He was not a Christian.’ General Collis, the chief claimant of orthodoxy, can say no more than that he attended a church (which is a common ailment of politicians) and spoke about God (as, of course, every deist does). Rankin, the second principal claimant of orthodoxy, mainly relies on an old woman’s recollection of a conversation with Lincoln. The most impartial biographer, C. G. Leland, says that ‘as he grew older his intense melancholy and his emotional temperament inclined him towards reliance on an unseen Power and belief in a future state’ - which is not far from agnosticism - and suggests that there is some political tinge in his public references to the deity. It is the way of all political flesh.
Still another biographer, Herbert Donald in Lincoln (1995), grants that Lincoln had early doubts about religion and that he wrote “in early life I was inclined to believe in what I understand is called the ‘Doctrine of Necessity’ - that is, that the human mind is impelled to action, or held in rest by some power, over which the mind itself has no control.” But as Lincoln experienced war, by his Second Inaugural Address he - who had said that he “couldn’t cut the head off of a chicken” and got sick “sick at the sight of blood” - turned to the Bible and theology for some justification of the need to lead the North in the killing of fellow Americans. He expressed the belief that “if God now wills the removal of a great wrong,” then “the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
Did Lincoln believe in racial equality? The People’s Almanac (1975) reported:
- Never a believer in true racial equality, Lincoln moved to free the slaves only after the overwhelming majority of his party had demanded it. Unlike the so-called "Radical Republicans," Lincoln never considered the possibility that the freed Negroes might some day function as full-fledged American citizens. Lincoln favored colonization in Central America as the "final solution" to the Negro problem.
On the one hand, as he wrote to Horace Greeley in 1862,
- My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.
On the other hand, in an 1855 letter to Joshua F. Speed, he wrote,
- How can any one who abhors the oppression of the Negroes be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation we began by declaring that "All men are created equal." We now practically read it "All men are created equal, except Negroes." When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "All are created equal, except Negroes and foreigners and Catholics." When it comes to this, I shall prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty - to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”
Did Lincoln Own Slaves and Was Not A Christian?
Gerald J. Propkopowicz, chair of the East Carolina University History Department, wrote the following (excerpted from Did Lincoln Own Slaves? by Gerald J. Prokopowicz copyright © 2008 by Gerald J. Prokopowicz. Reprinted with permission by Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved):
- As postmaster, did [Abraham Lincoln] really carry letters around in his hat? My children have a book that says he did.
- It’s right.
- There was no home delivery of mail in the 1830s, so Lincoln’s job as postmaster was a sinecure that allowed him to sit around the post office and read other people’s newspapers before they picked them up, which helped him expand his knowledge of national affairs. Although it was not his job to deliver the mail, he made it a point to do so (taking the letters in his hat) if he happened to be traveling to some distant part of Sangamon County, saving someone a long walk to town.
- While Lincoln was not responsible for carrying the mail, as the postal service is today, he also did not have the modern luxury of Sundays off. In 1810 Congress passed a law requiring post offices to be open for mail pickup at least one hour every day, including Sundays. For the next two decades a political controversy raged over whether the government should recognize the Christian Sabbath by prohibiting Sunday mail. Curiously, it was evangelical Baptists who led the opposition to the Sabbatarian movement. A massive religious revival known as the Second Great Awakening, beginning around 1800, had catapulted the Baptists and Methodists to numerical supremacy among American Protestants, overtaking more traditional sects like the Congregationalists and Episcopalians, but the older groups still held political power. In Connecticut, for example, Congregationalism remained the official state religion until 1818. Such lingering connections between traditional churches and the state made members of the newer evangelical denominations deeply suspicious of any government action involving religion, even something as apparently innocuous as banning Sunday mail.
- What did Lincoln think about this? What was his religion?
- In his New Salem days, Lincoln didn’t leave many clues about his views on Sabbatarianism, or on religion in general. His father had been a member of the Little Pigeon Creek Baptist church, and Lincoln must have been exposed to doctrines like predestination at an early age, but he never joined the Baptist church. New Salem had many believers, but no churches, so Lincoln’s failure to belong was not obvious. We know that it was at this time in his life that Lincoln read Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason, and probably the works of Voltaire and other Enlightenment skeptics. By the time he moved to Springfield in 1837, he had begun to develop his unique world view, a mixture of skepticism and providential fatalism that would continue to mature and evolve throughout his life.
- Wasn’t he secretly baptized when he was older?
- No, nor was he planning to convert to (fill in the church of your choice) on Easter Sunday, 1865, only to be tragically murdered on the preceding Good Friday.
- The answers to questions about Lincoln’s church membership are not the ones that most people are hoping to hear. He was never a member of the church you attend, or any church. His religious beliefs were dynamic, complex, and powerful, but not conventional. He wasn’t a Baptist, despite being raised in a Baptist tradition. He wasn’t a Presbyterian, although he attended Presbyterian services much of his adult life. He was not a Catholic, contrary to rumors started by the ravings of Reverend Charles Chiniquy, who published a bizarre diatribe called Fifty Years in the Church of Rome (1886), which accused Catholics of claiming that Lincoln had been born into their Church. According to Mrs. Lincoln, who ought to have known, he was not even a Christian. Many stories have circulated about Lincoln being secretly baptized, or planning to be, but they are all unsubstantiated.
- And yet, Abraham Lincoln was in many ways the most deeply spiritual person ever to occupy the White House. In the same 1866 interview with William Herndon where Mary said that her husband “was not a technical Christian,” whatever that might mean, she also said that “he was a religious man always” who “had a Kind of Poetry in his Nature.” Certainly no one who reads the Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln’s profound meditation on God’s role in earthly events and the proper response thereto, can doubt this.
- For most of the 20th century, historians tended to respond with dismayed contempt to the public’s desire for a conventionally religious Lincoln. They argued that Lincoln’s real faith was his almost mystical devotion to the Union, and harked back to one of Lincoln’s earliest speeches, in which he called for Americans to make a “civil religion” out of “obedience to the laws.” Lincoln’s many Biblical references in his speeches and writings were treated as metaphor or rhetorical embellishment. Not until the late 1990s, particularly after the publication of Allen Guelzo’s Redeemer President in 1999, did it become fashionable for historians to treat Lincoln’s religious and philosophical views with the same serious attention they had long devoted to his politics.
- If Lincoln wasn’t a Christian, why are his speeches full of talk about God?
- Because he believed in God, or Providence, or some kind of supernatural power beyond this earth that controlled the fates of people and nations. He sometimes quoted Shakespeare’s line, “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,/Rough-hew them how we will,” which must have appealed to the former axeman in him. As a child, he absorbed a stern Calvinism from Baptist preachers who emphasized the power of an omnipotent God, the kind of deity who notes the fall of every sparrow. As an adult, he must have spoken of his religious beliefs to his law partner William Herndon often enough to pique Herndon’s curiosity, but not fully enough to satisfy it, as evidenced by Herndon’s inclusion of questions about religion in almost all of his interviews with Lincoln’s New Salem acquaintances.
- Lincoln’s ideas, whatever they were, were not easy to grasp. While he accepted the notion of providence, and referred to it often, he rarely spoke publicly of Jesus Christ. In New Salem Lincoln associated with freethinkers who doubted the divinity of Jesus, and he wrote an essay mocking the idea that Jesus was the son of God. Lincoln’s friends, anxious to protect his budding political career, threw the manuscript into the fire.
- As he matured, Lincoln learned to be more careful about expressing his views on religion. He must have said enough, however, to develop a reputation as an infidel. In 1846, when he ran for Congress against a well known Methodist preacher named Peter Cartwright, he found himself on the defensive against Cartwright’s charges that he was not a believer. Lincoln responded with a public statement that would remain the longest explanation of his religious beliefs he would ever write.
- “I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or of any denomination of Christians in particular,” Lincoln wrote, in carefully measured words that reflect the tone of more recent political denials. Although strictly true, Lincoln left open the possibility that he had spoken with unintentional disrespect. In the next paragraph he agreed with his readers that it would be wrong for any candidate to scoff openly at religion, and stated that he himself would not vote for such a person, because “I still do not think any man has the right thus to insult the feelings, and injure the morals, of the community in which he may live.” Lincoln again managed to have it both ways: he shared his audience’s disapproval of “infidels,” but only those who scoff “openly” and thereby insult the majority’s feelings. He didn’t say that he belonged to the majority, and tacitly reserved the possibility that he scoffed at religion, just not openly.
- Over time, Lincoln’s interest in religion grew. The death of his son Eddie in 1850 gave him cause to ponder the brevity and meaning of life on earth, and of course the casualties of the Civil War forced him to confront the issue every day. By the time he came to write the Second Inaugural Address in 1865, with its mature theological contemplation of the inscrutability and justice of the Almighty, he had gone far beyond the easy skepticism of his youth.
- This religious conversion he went through—didn’t this happen at Gettysburg?
- No, it wasn’t a “conversion” and it didn’t happen in any one place.
- There is no evidence that he ever underwent a conversion experience, but the historical record does give us glimpses of Lincoln gradually developing a more personal relationship with God. For example, in the late summer of 1862 Lincoln was ready to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, but was waiting for the military situation to improve before doing so. When he met with his cabinet on September 22, a few days after Lee’s first invasion of the North was halted at the battle of Antietam, Lincoln told his advisers that the time was right, not just in strategic terms, but as a matter of keeping a divine covenant. He had made a promise “to his Maker,” he explained, that he would issue the Proclamation if the rebel army were driven out of Maryland, and now he was keeping his promise. He acknowledged that “It might be thought strange” to make the decision on this basis, but “God had decided this question in favor of the slaves.”
- Two years later, Lincoln’s old friend Joshua Speed paid a visit to Washington. In a lecture he gave after the war, Speed claimed that he came upon Lincoln reading the Bible, and gently mocked him for it, asking if Lincoln had recovered from his youthful skepticism. Lincoln, according to Speed, said that he had and urged Speed to do the same. Indicating the Bible, Lincoln told Speed that he should “take all of this Book upon reason that you can, and the balance on faith, and you will live and die a happier man.”
- These two stories reveal Lincoln’s greater willingness to accept some of the ideas and sources of traditional Christianity, but they fall far short of implying any kind of conversion experience. In the former, Lincoln referred to his “Maker,” not to Jesus Christ personally, much as he did in all of his religious writings. Lincoln’s God was his Maker, the Old Testament God, the Almighty, a single all-powerful Providence, rather than the triune Christian God who offers salvation specifically through the medium of a personal relationship with His only Son. When Lincoln recommended the Bible to Speed (assuming the story is accurate), he did not say that he believed everything in it, nor that he considered belief necessary for salvation. His endorsement instead conveys the impression that he regarded it as a sort of self-help book that might be in part beyond the bounds of reason, but ought to be taken on faith anyway in order to “live and die a happier man.” The utility of Lincoln’s Bible ends with death; it’s not a ticket to the afterlife. In this, as in most of his religious and philosophical thought, Lincoln showed no evidence of undergoing a conversion to conventional Christianity.
Was Lincoln gay? Playwright Larry Kramer once asked novelist Gore Vidal why in his study, Lincoln, he had not included Lincoln’s relationship with Joshua Fry Speed, which historian Jonathan Katz claims was a gay friendship. Vidal replied, “Well, I wasn’t writing about that era of his life. It seems fairly obvious that he had this very close male relationship.”
Kramer proceeded to promise that he would write about “Abe’s sleeping side by side in a double bed with another man every night for four years.” What is known is that the lanky twenty-eight-year-old lawyer did not have enough money to buy bedding from Speed, a twenty-three-year-old merchant, who told Lincoln, “I have a large room with a double bed upstairs, which you are very welcome to share with me.” For the next several years, the two men shared the Springfield, Illinois, bed.
Kramer gave a speech in Wisconsin (Advocate, 30 March 1999) in which he previewed part of his forthcoming book, The American People. Quoting from diaries and letters of Joshua Speed, Kramer found such tidbits as “He often kisses me when I tease him, often to shut me up. He would grab me up by his long arms and hug and hug. Yes, our Abe is like a schoolgirl.” Eight people shared the one-room log cabin after Lincoln’s mother died. During his lifetime and because of the lack of space and beds in many homes, it was not atypical for males to sleep in the same bed. Speed then moved home to Kentucky, marrying Fanny Henning a year later.
A year following that, Lincoln married Mary Ann Todd. Martin Duberman, of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, has cautioned that it is “irresponsible to quickly label someone from the past ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ unless we have very concrete evidence of genital activity and probably a romantic connection . . . and we almost never do.”
As a young man, Lincoln was said to have enjoyed telling stories with sexual overtones and about beds. Wilson’s Honor’s Voice (1998) cites one such:
- Once when Mr. L. was surveying, he was put to bed in the same room with two girls, the head of his bed being next to the foot of the girls’ bed. In the night he commenced tickling the feet of one of the girls with his fingers. As she seemed to enjoy it as much as he did he then tickled a little higher up; and as he would tickle higher the girl would shove down lower and the higher he tickled the lower she moved. Mr. L. would tell the story with evident enjoyment. He never told how the thing ended.
Wilson described an incident in which Lincoln visited a prostitute and, undressing, realized he had only $3., not the needed $5, whereupon he left the woman, who remained astonished at such integrity. Wilson adds that although this sounds like “a deliberate parody of the Honest Abe Lincoln legend,” another biographer could claim the incident was evidence of the possibility of a bi- or homosexual young man.
Stephen B. Oates, in Abraham Lincoln: The Man Behind the Myths (1984), has pointed out that after Tad’s birth in 1853, Mary contracted a gynecological disease that likely ended sexual intercourse between the Lincolns. The two had separate bedrooms installed when they remodeled their Springfield home. Herndon wrote that his law partner told him about contracting syphilis in the 1830s during a “misadventure” in Beardstown, Illinois. However, Herndon may have told the story to irritate Mary Todd Lincoln, whom he did not like. Again, there is no concrete evidence that Lincoln ever had the disease that was common during his lifetime.
During his first term, in 1864, “In God We Trust” appeared on the two-cent coins. Ironically, when he was murdered he was found to have had a Confederate $5. bill in his wallet.
Much trivia is available about Lincoln's personal life. Carl Sandburg in 1926 alluded to the friendship Lincoln had for his friend Joshua Fry Speed as one that had "a streak of lavender, and spots soft as May violets." Lavender was a word in the 1930s as referring to effeminate men. Sandburg, however, never wrote that the relationship was sexual in nature.
Honest Abe, Maybe - Simple Abe, No
Felicia R. Lee has pointed out that black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. exposed facts that Lincoln used racial epithets, that he questioned black intelligence, and he considered settling the freed slaves out of the country. More than 15,000 books about Lincoln are in print, and Lincoln has become the hero we have created to suit everyone.
The 6’ 4” Lincoln’s net worth of $110,295. was awarded at his death to his wife and two sons. The only U.S. President to die intestate (without a will), he has been claimed both by naturalists and supernaturalists.
However, J. M. Robertson, writing that Lincoln “was certainly a non-Christian deist, and an agnostic deist at that,” cites Ward Hill Lamon’s Life of Lincoln and J. B. Remsburg’s Abraham Lincoln: Was He A Christian? (1893).
Lincoln was assassinated 14 April 1865 while attending a performance at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., and sitting in a specially installed Victorian rocker. He was shot by the actor John Wilkes Booth, whose extravagant acting style Lincoln had admired so much that at one time he had invited Booth to the White House. (Booth declined the invitation, according to David S. Reynolds in Walt Whitman’s America.) (In the audience the night of the assassination had been Peter Doyle, Whitman’s intimate companion.)
Mary Lincoln was so grief-stricken that she could not attend the funeral, crying out for Lincoln to take her with her, incredulous that he was dead. The White House which she had helped decorate was, at that very moment, being pillaged by souvenir hunters who cut pieces of the velvet carpet, stole china and silverware, and even carted off some of the furniture.
In 1876, more than a decade after Lincoln’s burial in Springfield, Illinois, an attempt was made to steal the body for a $200,000 ransom. The coffin was then hidden, for safety, between the walls of his tomb. When in 1900 the old tomb was torn down and a new one was built, Robert worried that another attempted theft would be made and decided against a burglar alarm in favor of burying the remains in a ten-foot hole deep inside the tomb and covered with twenty inches of cement. On 26 September 1901, despite son Robert’s order that the coffin not be opened, local officials opened it to stop rumors that the body was not really there. When workers pried the lid open, the twenty-three witnesses smelled a pungent odor, then gaped at the body, which they recognized because of the beard, hair, and famous wart. His French kid gloves had rotted away on his hands. Fleetwood Lindly, a witness, remembered,
- Yes, his face was chalky white. His clothes [were] mildewed, and I was allowed to hold one of the leather straps as we lowered the casket for the concrete to be poured. I was not scared at the time, but I slept with Lincoln for the next six months.
Lindly, who died in 1963, was the last witness to Lincoln’s last public appearance. Of the four sons Mary Todd Lincoln bore (Robert Todd, Edward Baker, William Wallace, and Thomas or “Tad”), only Robert lived to manhood. In 1985, he died in a nursing home in Saluda, Virginia. An American lawyer and public official, Robert had his mother committed to a mental hospital after she was adjudged insane in 1875. Jean Baker, in Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography (1987), claims that he had done this because he had designs on his mother’s money and his desire to get her out of public view. According to Baker, after Mary managed to spring herself from the asylum, having been incarcerated for only four months, she threatened to kill Robert, her “monster of mankind son,” that she demanded restitution for his “wickedness,” on the ground that “you have tried your game of robbery long enough.” But she did not change her will, resulting in Robert’s inheriting $84,035 and her sixty-four trunks of dresses, jewelry, flatware, and other goods.
In a biography of Myra Bradwell, America’s First Woman Lawyer (1993), Jane M. Friedman describes Bradwell’s correspondence with noted women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony, detailing her successful strategy to secure Mary Todd Lincoln’s release from the mental hospital.