Mary Todd Lincoln

Mary Todd Lincoln

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Mary Ann Lincoln (December 13, 1818 – July 16, 1882) was the wife of the 16th President of the United States
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

, Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

, and was First Lady of the United States
First Lady of the United States
First Lady of the United States is the title of the hostess of the White House. Because this position is traditionally filled by the wife of the president of the United States, the title is most often applied to the wife of a sitting president. The current first lady is Michelle Obama.-Current:The...

 from 1861 to 1865.

Life before the White House


Born in Lexington, Kentucky
Lexington, Kentucky
Lexington is the second-largest city in Kentucky and the 63rd largest in the US. Known as the "Thoroughbred City" and the "Horse Capital of the World", it is located in the heart of Kentucky's Bluegrass region...

, the daughter of Robert Smith Todd, a banker, and Elizabeth Parker Todd, Mary was raised in comfort and refinement. When Mary was six, her mother died; her father married Elizabeth "Betsy" Humphreys Todd in 1826. Mary had a difficult relationship with her stepmother. From 1832, Mary lived in what is now known as the Mary Todd Lincoln House
Mary Todd Lincoln House
Mary Todd Lincoln House at 578 West Main Street in Lexington, Kentucky, USA, was the family home of the future first lady and wife of the 16th President, Mary Todd Lincoln. The three story home was the home of Robert S. Todd and his family. The family moved to the home in 1832...

, an elegant 14-room residence in Lexington. From her father's two marriages, Mary had a total of 14 siblings.

Mary Lincoln's paternal great-grandfather, David Levi Todd, was born in County Longford
County Longford
County Longford is a county in Ireland. It is part of the Midlands Region and is also located in the province of Leinster. It is named after the town of Longford.Longford County Council is the local authority for the county...

, Ireland
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

, and emigrated through Pennsylvania to Kentucky
Kentucky
The Commonwealth of Kentucky is a state located in the East Central United States of America. As classified by the United States Census Bureau, Kentucky is a Southern state, more specifically in the East South Central region. Kentucky is one of four U.S. states constituted as a commonwealth...

. Her great-great maternal grandfather Samuel McDowell was born in Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 then emigrated to and died in Pennsylvania. Other Todd ancestors came from England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

.

Mary left home at an early age to attend a finishing school owned by a French woman, where the curriculum concentrated on French and dancing. She learned to speak French fluently, studied dance, drama, music and social graces. By the age of 20 she was regarded as witty and gregarious, with a grasp of politics. Mary began living with her sister Elizabeth Edwards in Springfield Illinois in October 1839. Elizabeth (wife of Ninian W. Edwards, son of a former governor
Ninian Edwards
Ninian Edwards was a founding political figure of the state of Illinois. He served as the first and only governor of the Illinois Territory from 1809 to 1818, as one of the first two United States Senators from Illinois from 1818 to 1824, and as the third Governor of Illinois from 1826 to 1830...

) served as Mary's guardian while Mary lived in Springfield. Mary was popular among the gentry
Gentry
Gentry denotes "well-born and well-bred people" of high social class, especially in the past....

 of Springfield
Springfield, Illinois
Springfield is the third and current capital of the US state of Illinois and the county seat of Sangamon County with a population of 117,400 , making it the sixth most populated city in the state and the second most populated Illinois city outside of the Chicago Metropolitan Area...

, and though she was courted by the rising young lawyer and politician Stephen A. Douglas
Stephen A. Douglas
Stephen Arnold Douglas was an American politician from the western state of Illinois, and was the Northern Democratic Party nominee for President in 1860. He lost to the Republican Party's candidate, Abraham Lincoln, whom he had defeated two years earlier in a Senate contest following a famed...

 and others, her courtship with Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

 resulted in an engagement. Abraham Lincoln, then 33, married Mary Todd, age 23, on November 4, 1842, at the home of Mrs. Edwards in Springfield.

Lincoln and Douglas would eventually become political rivals in the great Lincoln-Douglas debates for a seat representing Illinois in the United States Senate in 1858. Although Douglas successfully secured the seat by election in the Illinois legislature, Lincoln became famous for his position on slavery which generated national support for him.
While Lincoln pursued his increasingly successful career as a Springfield lawyer, Mary supervised their growing household. Their home from 1844 until 1861 still stands in Springfield, and is now the Lincoln Home National Historic Site
Lincoln Home National Historic Site
Lincoln Home National Historic Site preserves the Springfield, Illinois home where Abraham Lincoln lived from 1844 to 1861, before becoming the 16th President of the United States...

.

Their children, all born in Springfield
Springfield, Illinois
Springfield is the third and current capital of the US state of Illinois and the county seat of Sangamon County with a population of 117,400 , making it the sixth most populated city in the state and the second most populated Illinois city outside of the Chicago Metropolitan Area...

, were:
  • Robert Todd Lincoln
    Robert Todd Lincoln
    Robert Todd Lincoln was an American lawyer and Secretary of War, and the first son of President Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln...

     (1843–1926) – lawyer, diplomat, businessman.
  • Edward Baker Lincoln
    Edward Baker Lincoln
    Edward Baker "Eddie" Lincoln was the second son of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln. He was named after Lincoln's friend Edward Dickinson Baker, and the youngest Lincoln son to die....

     known as "Eddie" (1846–1850)
  • William Wallace Lincoln
    William Wallace Lincoln
    William Wallace "Willie" Lincoln was the third son of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln. He died at the age of 11. He was named after Mary's brother-in-law Dr. William Wallace.- Final illness and death :...

     known as "Willie" (1850–1862), died while Lincoln was President
  • Thomas Lincoln
    Tad Lincoln
    Thomas "Tad" Lincoln was the fourth and youngest son of Abraham and Mary Lincoln. The nickname "Tad" was given to him by his father who found Thomas "as wriggly as a tadpole" when he was a baby. Tad was known to be impulsive, unrestrained, and did not attend school...

     known as "Tad" (1853–1871)


Of these four sons, only Robert and Tad survived to adulthood, and only Robert outlived his mother.

During Lincoln's years as an Illinois circuit lawyer, Mary Lincoln was often left alone to raise their children and run the household. Mary also supported her husband politically and socially, not least when Lincoln was elected president in 1860.

White House years


During her White House years, Mary Lincoln faced many personal difficulties generated by political divisions within the nation. Her family was from a border state where slavery was permitted. In Kentucky
Kentucky
The Commonwealth of Kentucky is a state located in the East Central United States of America. As classified by the United States Census Bureau, Kentucky is a Southern state, more specifically in the East South Central region. Kentucky is one of four U.S. states constituted as a commonwealth...

, siblings not infrequently fought each other in the Civil War and Mary's family was no exception. Several of her half-brothers served in the Confederate Army and were killed in action, and one full brother served the Confederacy as a surgeon. Mary, however, staunchly supported her husband in his quest to save the Union and maintained a strict loyalty to his policies. Nevertheless it was a challenge for Mary, a Westerner, to serve as her husband's First Lady
First Lady
First Lady or First Gentlemanis the unofficial title used in some countries for the spouse of an elected head of state.It is not normally used to refer to the spouse or partner of a prime minister; the husband or wife of the British Prime Minister is usually informally referred to as prime...

 in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

, a political center dominated by eastern and southern culture. Lincoln was regarded as the first "western" president, and Mary's manners were often criticized as coarse and pretentious. It was difficult for her to negotiate White House social responsibilities and rivalries, spoils-seeking solicitors, and baiting newspapers in a climate of high national intrigue in Civil War Washington.

Mary suffered from severe headaches throughout her adult life as well as protracted depression. During her White House years, she also suffered a severe head injury in a carriage accident. A history of public outbursts throughout Lincoln's presidency, as well as excessive spending, has led some historians and psychologists to speculate that Mary in fact suffered from bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder or bipolar affective disorder, historically known as manic–depressive disorder, is a psychiatric diagnosis that describes a category of mood disorders defined by the presence of one or more episodes of abnormally elevated energy levels, cognition, and mood with or without one or...

.

During her tenure at the White House, she often visited hospitals around Washington where she gave flowers and fruit to wounded soldiers, and transcribed letters for them to send their loved ones. From time to time, she accompanied Lincoln on military visits to the field. She also hosted many social functions, and has often been blamed for spending too much on the White House, but she reportedly felt that it was important to the maintenance of prestige of the Presidency and the Union.

Assassination survivor and later life


In April 1865, as the Civil War came to an end, Mrs. Lincoln expected to continue as the First Lady of a nation at peace. However, on April 14, 1865, as Mary Lincoln sat with her husband to watch the comic play Our American Cousin
Our American Cousin
Our American Cousin is an 1858 play in three acts by English playwright Tom Taylor. The play is a farce whose plot is based on the introduction of an awkward, boorish but honest American, Asa Trenchard, to his aristocratic English relatives when he goes to England to claim the family estate...

at Ford's Theatre
Ford's Theatre
Ford's Theatre is a historic theater in Washington, D.C., used for various stage performances beginning in the 1860s. It is also the site of the assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865...

, President Lincoln was shot in the back of the head by an assassin
Abraham Lincoln assassination
The assassination of United States President Abraham Lincoln took place on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, as the American Civil War was drawing to a close. The assassination occurred five days after the commanding General of the Army of Northern Virginia, Robert E. Lee, and his battered Army of...

. Mrs. Lincoln accompanied her husband across the street to the Petersen House
Petersen House
The Petersen House is a 19th-century federal style rowhouse located at 516 10th Street NW in Washington, D.C. On April 15, 1865, United States President Abraham Lincoln died there after being shot the previous evening at Ford's Theater, which was located across the street. The house was built in...

, where Lincoln's Cabinet was summoned. Mary and her son Robert sat with Lincoln throughout the night, until he died the following day, April 15, at 7:22 am.

Mary received messages of condolence from all over the world, many of which she attempted to answer personally. To Queen Victoria
Victoria of the United Kingdom
Victoria was the monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20 June 1837 until her death. From 1 May 1876, she used the additional title of Empress of India....

 she wrote: "I have received the letter which Your Majesty has had the kindness to write. I am deeply grateful for this expression of tender sympathy, coming as they do, from a heart which from its own sorrow, can appreciate the intense grief I now endure." Victoria herself had suffered the loss of Prince Albert four years earlier.

As a widow, Mrs. Lincoln returned to Illinois. In 1868, Mrs. Lincoln's former confidante, Elizabeth Keckly
Elizabeth Keckly
Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was a former slave turned successful seamstress who is most notably known as being Mary Todd Lincoln's personal modiste and confidante, and the author of her autobiography, Behind the Scenes Or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House. Mrs...

, published Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty years a slave, and four years in the White House. Although this book provides valuable insight into the character and life of Mary Todd Lincoln, at the time the former First Lady regarded it as a breach of friendship.

In an act approved July 14 1870, the United States Congress granted Mrs. Lincoln a life pension in the amount of $3,000 a year, by an insultingly low margin. Mary had lobbied hard for such a pension, writing numerous letters to Congress and urging patrons such as Simon Cameron
Simon Cameron
Simon Cameron was an American politician who served as United States Secretary of War for Abraham Lincoln at the start of the American Civil War. After making his fortune in railways and banking, he turned to a life of politics. He became a U.S. senator in 1845 for the state of Pennsylvania,...

 to petition on her behalf, insisting that she deserved a pension just as much as the widows of soldiers.

For Mary Lincoln, the death of her son Thomas (Tad), in July 1871, following the death of two of her other sons and her husband, led to an overpowering sense of grief. Mrs. Lincoln's sole surviving son, Robert Lincoln, a rising young Chicago lawyer, was alarmed at his mother's increasingly erratic behavior. In March 1875, during a visit to Jacksonville, Florida, Mary became unshakably convinced that Robert was deathly ill. She traveled to Chicago to see him, but found he wasn't sick. In Chicago she told her son that someone had tried to poison her on the train and that a "wandering Jew
Wandering Jew
The Wandering Jew is a figure from medieval Christian folklore whose legend began to spread in Europe in the 13th century. The original legend concerns a Jew who taunted Jesus on the way to the Crucifixion and was then cursed to walk the earth until the Second Coming...

" had taken her pocketbook but would return it later. During her stay in Chicago with her son, Mary spent large amounts of money on items she never used, such as draperies which she never hung and elaborate dresses which she never wore, as she wore only black after her husband's assassination. She would also walk around the city with $56,000 in government bonds sewn into her petticoats. Despite this large amount of money and the $3,000 a year stipend from Congress, Mrs. Lincoln had an irrational fear of poverty. After Mrs. Lincoln nearly jumped out of a window to escape a non-existent fire, her son determined that she should be institutionalized.

Mrs. Lincoln was committed to a psychiatric hospital in Batavia, Illinois
Batavia, Illinois
Batavia was founded in 1833, and is the oldest city in Kane County, Illinois, with a small portion in DuPage County. During the Industrial Revolution, Batavia became known as ‘The Windmill City’ for being the largest windmill producer of the time...

, in 1875. After the court proceedings, Mary was so enraged that she attempted suicide. She went to the hotel pharmacist and ordered enough laudanum
Laudanum
Laudanum , also known as Tincture of Opium, is an alcoholic herbal preparation containing approximately 10% powdered opium by weight ....

 to kill herself. However, the pharmacist realized what she was planning to do and gave her a placebo
Placebo
A placebo is a simulated or otherwise medically ineffectual treatment for a disease or other medical condition intended to deceive the recipient...

.

On May 20, 1875, she arrived at Bellevue Place, a private sanitarium in the Fox River Valley. Three months after being committed to Bellevue Place, Mary Lincoln engineered her escape. She smuggled letters to her lawyer, James B. Bradwell
James B. Bradwell
James Bolesworth Bradwell was a prominent Illinois lawyer, judge, and politician.-Biography:James B. Bradwell was born April 16, 1828, at Loughborough, England, the son of Thomas and Elizabeth Bradwell. Sixteen months after his birth, Bradwell's family moved to Utica, New York...

, and his wife, Myra Bradwell
Myra Bradwell
Myra Colby Bradwell was a publisher and political activist. She was the first woman to be admitted to the Illinois bar to become the first female lawyer in Illinois in 1892.-Life:...

, who was not only her friend but also a feminist lawyer and fellow spiritualist. She also wrote to the editor of the Chicago Times. Soon, the public embarrassments Robert (who now controlled his mother's finances) had hoped to avoid were looming, and his character and motives were in question. The director of Bellevue, who at Mary's trial had assured the jury she would benefit from treatment at his facility, now in the face of potentially damaging publicity declared her well enough to go to Springfield to live with her sister as she desired. She was released into the custody of her sister, Mrs. Elizabeth Edwards, in Springfield and in 1876 was once again declared competent to manage her own affairs. The committal proceedings led to a profound estrangement between Robert and his mother, and they never fully reconciled.

Mrs. Lincoln spent the next four years traveling throughout Europe and taking up residence in Pau, France. However, the former First Lady's final years were marked by declining health. She suffered from severe cataracts that affected her eyesight. This condition may have contributed to her increasing susceptibility to falls. In 1879, she suffered spinal-cord injuries in a fall from a step ladder.

Death



During the early 1880s, Mary Lincoln was confined to the Springfield, Illinois residence of her sister Elizabeth Edwards. She died there on July 16, 1882, age 63, and was interred within the Lincoln Tomb
Lincoln Tomb
Lincoln's Tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois, is the final resting place of the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and three of their four sons. The monument is owned and administered by the State of Illinois as Lincoln Tomb State...

 in Oak Ridge Cemetery
Oak Ridge Cemetery
Oak Ridge Cemetery is a cemetery located in Springfield, Illinois in the United States.Lincoln's Tomb, which serves as the final resting place of Abraham Lincoln, his wife and all but one of his children, is located at Oak Ridge...

 in Springfield alongside her husband.

Family



Her sister Elizabeth Todd was the daughter-in-law of Illinois Governor Ninian Edwards
Ninian Edwards
Ninian Edwards was a founding political figure of the state of Illinois. He served as the first and only governor of the Illinois Territory from 1809 to 1818, as one of the first two United States Senators from Illinois from 1818 to 1824, and as the third Governor of Illinois from 1826 to 1830...

. Elizabeth's daughter Julia Edwards married Edward L. Baker, editor of the "Illinois State Journal" and son of Congressman David Jewett Baker. Her half-sister Emilie Todd married CS General Benjamin Hardin Helm
Benjamin Hardin Helm
Benjamin Hardin Helm was a Kentucky politician, attorney, Confederate brigadier general, and a brother-in-law of Abraham Lincoln. He was also the son of Kentucky Governor John L. Helm.-Early life:...

, son of Kentucky Governor John L. Helm
John L. Helm
John LaRue Helm was the 18th and 24th governor of the U.S. state of Kentucky, although his service in that office totaled less than fourteen months. He also represented Hardin County in both houses of the Kentucky General Assembly and was chosen to be the Speaker of the Kentucky House of...

. Governor Helm's wife was a 1st cousin 3 times removed of Colonel John Hardin
John Hardin
John J. Hardin was a soldier, farmer, rancher, noted marksman and hunter. He was wounded fighting in Lord Dunmore's War; served as a Continental Army officer in the American Revolutionary War and as a Kentucky Co., Virginia militia commander in the Northwest Indian War...

 who was related to three Kentucky congressmen.

One of Mary Todd's cousins was Kentucky Congressman/US General John Blair Smith Todd
John Blair Smith Todd
John Blair Smith Todd was a Delegate from Dakota Territory to the United States House of Representatives and a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War.-Biography:...

. Another cousin, William L. Todd, created the original Bear Flag for the California Republic
California Republic
The California Republic, also called the Bear Flag Republic, is the name used for a period of revolt against Mexico initially proclaimed by a handful of American settlers in Mexican California on June 14, 1846, in Sonoma. This was shortly before news of the Mexican–American War had reached the area...

 in 1846.

External links