President Abraham Lincoln: Personal Life

About the personal life of President of the United States Abraham Lincoln including his marriage to Mary Todd.

16th President ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Personal Life: Young Lincoln was often uneasy around women, but he was never embarrassed about sex. In the all-male world of frontier politics he had a reputation for salty humor, and he once made a special point of asking a New Salem neighbor for permission to watch his stud bull in action. By the time the young legislator had settled permanently in Springfield, the new State capital, he had already been disappointed in his courtship of a well-to-do girl named Mary Owens and he may have also experienced other romantic involvements, though historical evidence remains unclear. Finally, at the age of 31 he met Mary Todd, the plump, pretty, sophisticated daughter of one of the leading families of Kentucky. Miss Todd, a brilliant conversationalist and a notorious flirt, was staying in Springfield with her sister, who had married the son of the Illinois governor. Deeply interested in politics, Mary entertained a host of suitors from the political world, apparently including Stephen A. Douglas, later senator from Illinois and Lincoln's arch-rival. She and Lincoln soon became engaged, though Lincoln broke off this 1st engagement because of his fears that he would not be able to earn enough money to support a wife. Amid considerable emotional turmoil, Lincoln's health began to suffer and he attended to his legislative duties with less enthusiasm than usual. His depression ended when he and Mary were married after all on November 4, 1842. In less than a year, their 1st son was born and 3 more boys had arrived by 1853. The demands placed upon a typical 19th-century wife and mother often proved too much for Mary Lincoln's high-strung personality--on those occasions she exploded in violent bursts of temper (once chasing Lincoln from the house with a butcher knife) and suffered from migraine headaches. The main source of the difficulty between Lincoln and his wife seems to have been the many hours he spent away from home in pursuit of his political goals. Despite such difficulties, the marriage survived. According to James Gourley, the Lincolns' back-door neighbor in Springfield for many years, "Whenever Mrs. L got the devil in her, Lincoln would pick up one of his children and walk off--would laugh at her--pay no earthly attention to her when in that wild furious condition." Mary's burdens were only intensified when her 2nd son, Edward, died at the age of 4. Her greatest suffering, however, did not come until after Lincoln had entered the White House. Mary, who attempted to dazzle the capital city, was widely criticized for her expensive clothing and lavish entertainments in the midst of the Civil War. She was also accused of being a Confederate spy, since she had a brother, 3 half-brothers, and 3 brothers-in-law serving in Confederate uniform. When her 3rd son, Willie, died in 1862 her sanity was seriously compromised. She began reporting nightly "visitations" from her 2 dead sons. She ran up a debt of $27,000 for new clothes without telling her husband, buying more than 300 pairs of gloves in just 4 months. Most embarrassing of all, she berated the President in public for his alleged "attentions" to other women. Generally, Lincoln sighed and tried to soothe her, calling her "Mother"; for years they had been held together by their doting, indulgent attitude toward their children. After the assassination, Mary was hysterical for months and finally her son Robert asked for a hearing to determine her sanity. In 1875, she was formally committed to an institution for the insane. She was released after 4 months, and died in 1882 at the age of 63. Only one of Lincoln's 4 sons survived adolescence: Robert Todd Lincoln, who served as Secretary of War under President Garfield.

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