More about the historical characters mentioned in the movie “Lincoln” by Steven Spielberg (Part 6) “Mary Todd Lincoln”

I have written a lot about Abraham Lincoln in the past as you can tell from the “related posts” noted below. Most of my posts were concerning the movie “The Conspirator” which is one of my favorite movies.  I enjoyed reading about all the historical people involved with Lincoln. Boston Corbett is the man who shot Booth. Louis Weichmann was originally a suspect but he later became one of the chief witnesses for the prosecution.  John Wilkes Booth was the first man to kill an American President. Louis Powell attempted to kill Secretary of State Seward.  Mary Surratt was in the center of the conspiracy we are told, but is that true? (I believe the evidence shows that it was true that she was guilty of that.)

Mary Todd Lincoln

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Mary Todd Lincoln
First Lady of the United States
In office
March 4, 1861 – April 15, 1865
Preceded by Harriet Lane
Succeeded by Eliza McCardle Johnson
Personal details
Born Mary Ann Todd
(1818-12-13)December 13, 1818
Lexington, Kentucky, United States of America
Died July 16, 1882(1882-07-16) (aged 63)
Springfield, Illinois, United States of America
Spouse(s) Abraham Lincoln
Relations Robert Smith Todd (Father)
Eliza Parker Todd (Mother)
Children Robert Todd Lincoln
Edward Lincoln
Willie Lincoln
Tad Lincoln
Religion Presbyterian

Mary Ann (née Todd) Lincoln (December 13, 1818 – July 16, 1882) was the wife of the sixteenth President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, and was First Lady of the United States from 1861 to 1865.

A member of a large, wealthy Kentucky family, Mary was well educated. After living in the Todd House and a finishing school during her teens, she moved to Springfield, Illinois, where she lived for a time with her married sister Elizabeth Edwards. Mary was courted by Stephen Douglas before she married Abraham Lincoln. Later they debated in their campaigns for the presidency. She and Lincoln had four sons together, only one of whom outlived her. Their home of about fifteen years still stands in Springfield.

Mary Lincoln suffered from migraine headaches, may have had bipolar disorder and had other severe illness through much of her adult life. She supported her husband throughout his presidency and was next to him when he was fatally shot.



[edit] Life before the White House

Born in Lexington, Kentucky as the fourth of seven children[1], Mary was the daughter of Robert Smith Todd, a banker, and Elizabeth (Parker) Todd. Her family were slaveholders and Mary was raised in comfort and refinement.[2] When Mary was six, her mother died. Two years later, her father married Elizabeth “Betsy” Humphreys; they had nine children together.[1][3] Mary had a difficult relationship with her stepmother.

From 1832, Mary and her family lived in what is now known as the Mary Todd Lincoln House, an elegant 14-room residence in Lexington.[4] From her father’s two marriages, Mary had a total of 15 siblings, nine of them half siblings.

Mary’s paternal great-grandfather, David Levi Todd, was born in County Longford, Ireland, and emigrated through Pennsylvania to Kentucky. Her great-great maternal grandfather Samuel McDowell was born in Scotland, and emigrated to and died in Pennsylvania. Other Todd ancestors came from England.[5]

Mary was sent at an early age to attend a finishing school owned by Madame Mantelle, where the curriculum concentrated on French and literature. 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. Like her family, she was a Whig.[6]

Mary began living with her sister Elizabeth Porter (née Todd) Edwards in Springfield, Illinois in October 1839. Elizabeth, married to Ninian W. Edwards, son of a former governor, served as Mary’s guardian at the time.[7] Mary was popular among the gentry of Springfield, and though she was courted by the rising young lawyer and Democratic Party politician Stephen A. Douglas and others, she chose Abraham Lincoln, a fellow Whig, from their courtship.[6] They married on November 4, 1842, at the Edwards’ home in Springfield. She was 23 and he was 33.

Lincoln and Douglas eventually became 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 when elected by the Illinois legislature, Lincoln became famous for his position on slavery, which generated national support for him.

Girlhood home alt text

Historic home of Todd family, Lexington, KY

While Lincoln pursued his increasingly successful career as a Springfield lawyer, Mary supervised their growing household. Their house, where they resided from 1844 until 1861, still stands in Springfield, and has been designated the Lincoln Home National Historic Site.

Their sons, all born in Springfield, were:

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 for months at a time to raise their children and run the household. Mary supported her husband socially and politically, not least when Lincoln was elected president in 1860.

[edit] 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.[8] In Kentucky, siblings not infrequently fought each other in the Civil War[9] and Mary’s family was no exception. Several of her half-brothers served in the Confederate Army and were killed in action, and one brother served the Confederacy as a surgeon.[10]

Mary staunchly supported her husband in his quest to save the Union and maintained a strict loyalty to his policies. It was a challenge for Mary, a “westerner”, to serve as her husband’s First Lady in Washington, D.C., 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.[11][12] It was difficult for her to negotiate White House social responsibilities and rivalries,[13] spoils-seeking solicitors,[14] and baiting newspapers[12] in a climate of high national intrigue in Civil War Washington.

Mary Lincoln suffered from severe headaches, described as migraines, throughout her adult life[15] as well as protracted depression.[16] During her White House years, she also suffered a head injury in a carriage accident, after which her headaches seemed to become more frequent.[17] A history of mood swings, fierce temper, public outbursts throughout Lincoln’s presidency, as well as excessive spending, has led some historians and psychologists to speculate that Mary suffered from bipolar disorder.[18][19]

During her years in the White House, she often visited hospitals around Washington to give flowers and fruit to wounded soldiers. She took the time to write letters for them to send to their loved ones.[20][1] From time to time, she accompanied Lincoln on military visits to the field. Responsible for hosting many social functions, she has often been blamed by historians for spending too much on the White House. She reportedly felt that it was important to the maintenance of prestige of the Presidency and the Union during the Civil War.[1]

[edit] Widow and later life

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln. From left to right: Henry Rathbone, Clara Harris, Mary Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth

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. On April 14, 1865, as she sat with her husband to watch the comic play Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre, President Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Mrs. Lincoln accompanied her wounded husband across the street to the Petersen House, where Lincoln’s Cabinet was summoned. Their son Robert sat with Lincoln throughout the night, until he died the following day at 7:22 am. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton ordered Mary from the room as she was so unhinged with grief.[17]

Afterward, she received messages of condolence from all over the world, many of which she attempted to answer personally. To Queen Victoria 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 had suffered the loss of her husband, Prince Albert, four years earlier.[21]

As a widow, Mrs. Lincoln returned to Illinois and lived in Chicago with her sons. In 1868, Mrs. Lincoln’s former modiste and confidante, Elizabeth Keckley, published Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House. She had been born into slavery, purchased her freedom and that of her son, and become a successful businesswoman in Washington, DC. Although this book provides valuable insight into the character and life of Mary Todd Lincoln, at the time the former First Lady (and much of the public and press) regarded it as a breach of friendship and confidentiality. Keckley was widely criticized for her book, especially as her editor had published letters from Mary Lincoln to her.[22][23]

In an act approved by a low margin on July 14, 1870, the United States Congress granted Mrs. Lincoln a life pension in the amount of $3,000 a year.[24] Mary had lobbied hard for such a pension, writing numerous letters to Congress and urging patrons such as Simon Cameron to petition on her behalf. She insisted that she deserved a pension just as much as the widows of soldiers, as she portrayed her husband as a fallen commander.[25] At the time it was unprecedented for widows of presidents, and Mary Lincoln had alienated many congressmen, making it difficult for her to gain approval.[1]

The death of her son Thomas (Tad) in July 1871, following the death of two of her other sons and her husband, led to Mary Lincoln’s suffering an overpowering grief and depression.[17] Her 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 was not sick.

In Chicago she told her son that someone had tried to poison her on the train and that a “wandering Jew” had taken her pocketbook but would return it later.[17]During her stay in Chicago with her son, Mary spent large amounts of money on items she never used, such as draperies and elaborate dresses; she wore only black after her husband’s assassination. She would 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 she nearly jumped out of a window to escape a non-existent fire, her son determined that she should be institutionalized.[17]

On May 20, 1875, he committed her to a private asylum in Batavia, Illinois.[26] Three months after being committed to Bellevue Place, Mary Lincoln devised her escape. She smuggled letters to her lawyer, James B. Bradwell, and his wife Myra Bradwell, who was not only her friend but a feminist lawyer and fellow spiritualist. She also wrote to the editor of the Chicago Times. Soon, the public embarrassments that Robert had hoped to avoid were looming, and his character and motives were in question, as he controlled his mother’s finances. The director of Bellevue at Mary’s trial had assured the jury she would benefit from treatment at his facility. In the face of potentially damaging publicity, he declared her well enough to go to Springfield to live with her sister Elizabeth Edwards as she desired.[27]

Mary Lincoln was released into the custody of her sister in Springfield. In 1876 she was declared competent to manage her own affairs. After the court proceedings, Mary Lincoln was so enraged that she attempted suicide. She went to the hotel pharmacist and ordered enough laudanum to kill herself, but he realized her intent and gave her a placebo.[17] The earlier committal proceedings had resulted in Mary being profoundly estranged from her son Robert, and they did not reconcile until shortly before her death.[1]

Mrs. Lincoln spent the next four years traveling throughout Europe and took up residence in Pau, France. Her final years were marked by declining health. She suffered from severe cataracts that reduced 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 stepladder.[1]

[edit] Death

Mary Todd Lincoln’s crypt

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, aged sixty-three. She was interred in the Lincoln Tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield alongside her husband.[28]

[edit] Representations in other media

Biographies have been written about Mary Lincoln as well as her husband. Barbara Hambly‘s The Emancipator’s Wife (2005) is considered a well-researched historical novel that provides context for her use of over-the-counter drugs containing alcohol and opium, which were frequently given to women of her era.

Mary Lincoln has been portrayed in film, including by Mary Tyler Moore in the 1988 television mini-series Lincoln, Sally Field in Steven Spielberg‘s 2012 film Lincoln, starring Daniel Day Lewis;[29] Penelope Ann Miller in Saving Lincoln (2012), and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012), set during the Civil War.


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