Mary Ann Todd Lincoln was born on 13 December, 1818 and died on 16 July, 1882, at the age of 63 and was interred within the Lincoln Tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield along with her husband.
Mary Todd Lincoln was the wife of the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, and was First Lady of the United States from 1861 to 1865. After her marriage she was always known as Mary Lincoln, never Mary Todd Lincoln.
Mary Todd Lincoln’s father married Elizabeth “Betsy” Humphreys Todd in 1826. Mary Todd Lincoln had a difficult relationship with her stepmother. Beginning in 1832, Mary Todd Lincoln’s home was what is now known as the Mary Todd Lincoln House, a 14-room upper-class residence in Lexington. From her father’s marriages to her mother and stepmother, Mary Todd Lincoln had 15 siblings.
At the age of 20, in 1839, Mary Todd Lincoln left the family home and moved to Springfield, Illinois, where her sister Elizabeth was already living. Although the flirtatious and intelligent Mary Todd Lincoln was courted by the rising young lawyer and politician Stephen A. Douglas, Mary Todd Lincoln was unexpectedly attracted by Stephen A. Douglas’s lower-status rival and fellow lawyer, Abraham Lincoln.
Elizabeth facilitated their courtship and introduced Mary Todd Lincoln to Abraham on 16 December. It is reported that, on learning her surname was spelled with 2 “d”s, he retorted “Why? One was enough for God”. After a troubled engagement that was marked by at least one breakup, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln were married on 4November, 1842. Almost exactly 9 months later, on 1 August, 1843, their 1st son, Robert Todd Lincoln, was born.
Abraham Lincoln pursued his increasingly successful career as a Springfield lawyer, and Mary Todd Lincoln supervised their growing household. Their home together from 1844 until 1861 survives in Springfield, and is now the Lincoln Home National Historic Site.
Their children, all born in Springfield, were:
Robert Todd Lincoln : (1843 – 1926)
Edward (Eddie) Baker Lincoln : (1846 – 1850)
William (Willie) Wallace Lincoln : (1850 – 1862)
Thomas (Tad) Lincoln : (1853 – 1871).
Of these 4 sons, only Robert and Tad survived into adulthood, and only Robert outlived his mother.
Mary Todd Lincoln was deeply in love with her husband, and sometimes resented his absence from their home as he practiced law and campaigned for political office. During the 1850s, however, Mrs. Lincoln staunchly supported her husband as he faced the growing crisis caused by American slavery. This concluded in Lincoln’s election, in November 1860, as President of the United States.
Abraham Lincoln’s election caused 11 Southern states to secede from the Union. Anti-Union sentiment was very strong in Mrs. Lincoln’s home state of Kentucky, 1 of the 4 slave states that did not secede. Many upper-class Kentuckians, members of the social stratum into which Mrs. Lincoln had been born, supported the Southern cause.
Mary Todd Lincoln was well educated and interested in public affairs, and shared her husband’s fierce ambition. However, her Southern heritage created obstacles for her that became apparent almost immediately after she took on her new duties as First Lady in March 1861. Some facets of Mrs. Lincoln’s character did not help her in facing these challenges. Mary Todd Lincoln was temperamentally high-strung and touchy, and sometimes acted irrationally.(Mary Todd Lincoln may have suffered from bipolar disorder.)Mary Todd Lincoln was almost instantly unpopular upon her arrival in the capital.
Mr. Lincoln’s predecessor, James Buchanan, who had remained unmarried throughout his life, had been unable to fully use the White House for public gatherings under the social rules of the time. As a result, by 1861 the residence was badly worn and shabby. Mary Todd Lincoln initiated repairs to the White House, but the appropriations of public money required came at the same time as public spending was increasing substantially to fight the American Civil War and her actions resulted in severe criticism. Newspapers controlled by the Democratic Party subjected her and the Lincoln administration to scathing criticism, which was fueled by Mrs. Lincoln’s lavish shopping expeditions to New York City and other retail centers.
As the Civil War continued, persistent rumors began to circulate against Mary Todd Lincoln’s personal loyalty and integrity. One rumor claimed that Mrs. Lincoln was a Confederate sympathizer, and even a Confederate spy (many of her relatives served in the Confederate forces, and 2 of her stepbrothers and a brother-in-law died fighting for the South). In reality, Mary Todd Lincoln was a fervent and tireless supporter of the Union cause. Mary Todd Lincoln’s visits with Union soldiers in the numerous hospitals in and around Washington went largely unnoticed by her enemies and contemporaries.
Mr. Lincoln staunchly supported his wife against the vicious attacks disseminated by their enemies. One uncorroborated legend states that President Lincoln, upon hearing the rumors, personally vouched for her loyalty to the United States in a surprise appearance before the Committee on the Conduct of the War. Another story is that Mrs. Lincoln was the 1st First Lady to visit a combat zone when she was present with her husband at the Siege of Fort Stevens on 11 July, 1864.
During the Civil War, loyal Americans of Southern heritage, such as Mary Todd Lincoln, faced the dilemma of how to reconcile their cradle education in white supremacy with the new role of African-Americans as a key element of Union strength. Mrs. Lincoln responded to this challenge by accepting the ex-slave dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckly, as her closest White House friend and confidante. Elizabeth Keckly’s reminiscences would become an essential element for understanding and interpreting the psychological challenges faced by Mrs Lincoln in the White House.
Mrs. Lincoln’s personal trials continued and worsened in February 1862 with the death of their 11-year-old son Willie. When the boy died of typhoid fever within the walls of the White House, the psychologically battered First Lady almost gave way entirely to her grief. Mrs Lincoln paid mediums and spiritualists to try to contact the dead boy, only to lose another small fortune the Lincolns could not afford.
Some Lincoln aides and Cabinet members privately considered Mrs. Lincoln to be a liability to the administration. Mrs Lincoln was ruthlessly criticised, especially behind her back, as a free-spending, overemotional First Lady who tried to climb out of the constraints that were viewed as essential elements of the roles of women in public life. For example, John Hay, an aide to President Lincoln, privately referred to her as “the hellcat.”
In April 1865, as the Civil War came to an end, Mrs. Lincoln hoped to renew her happiness as the First Lady of a nation at peace. However, on 14 April, 1865, as Mary Todd Lincoln sat with her husband to watch the comic play Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre, President Lincoln was mortally wounded by an assassin. Mrs. Lincoln accompanied her husband across the street to the Petersen House, where the President died on the following day, 15 April 1865. Mary Todd Lincoln would never fully recover from the traumatic experience.
As a widow, Mrs. Lincoln returned to Illinois. In 1868, Mrs. Lincoln’s former confidante, Elizabeth Keckly, published Behind the Scenes, or, 30 years a slave, and 4 years in the White House. Although this book has, over time, proved to be an extremely valuable resource in the understanding and appreciation of Mary Todd Lincoln, the former First Lady regarded it as a breach of what she had considered to be a close friendship. Mrs. Lincoln was further isolated.
In an act approved 14 July, 1870, the United States Congress granted Mrs. Lincoln a life pension for being the widow of President Lincoln, in the amount of $3,000 a year.
For Mary Todd Lincoln, the death of her son Thomas (Tad), in July 1871, led to an overpowering sense of grief and the gradual onset of depression. Mrs. Lincoln’s sole surviving son, Robert T. Lincoln, a rising young Chicago lawyer, was alarmed by his mother’s free spending of money in ways that did not give her any lasting happiness. Due to what he considered to be her increasingly eccentric behavior, Robert exercised his rights as Mrs. Lincoln’s closest male relative and had the widow deprived of custody of her own person and affairs. Mary Todd Lincoln was misprescribed laudanum for sleep problems which caused her to suffer anxiety and hallucinations. Upon increase of these hallucinations, more laudanum and chloral hydrate was administered, which increased the problem and led to her eventual commitment to an asylum. In 1875, Mary Todd Lincoln was committed by an Illinois court to Bellevue Place, an insane asylum in Batavia, Illinois. There Mrs. Lincoln was not closely confined; she was free to walk about the building and its immediate grounds, and was released 3 months later. However, Mary Todd Lincoln never forgave her eldest son for what she regarded as his betrayal.
Mrs. Lincoln spent the next 4 years abroad taking up residence in Pau, France. Mrs Lincoln spent much of this time travelling in Europe. However, the former First Lady’s final years were marked by declining health. Mrs Lincoln suffered from severe cataracts that affected her eyesight. This may have contributed to her increasing susceptibility to falls. In 1879, she suffered spinal cord injuries in a fall from a step ladder.
During the early 1880s, Mary Todd Lincoln lived, housebound, in the Springfield, Illinois residence of her sister Elizabeth Edwards.
Of the Lincoln children, only Robert lived to marry and produce children.
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