We’re all familiar with the stories of Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary Todd. We smile at some of them. The thought of Mr. Lincoln in flight running out of his house in Springfield as pots and pans fly out after him (as thrown by Mary in a fit of anger) cause us to chuckle. Of course, it must have been no fun for Lincoln. William Herndon (his law partner) claimed that Lincoln’s marriage to Mary was pretty much an eqivalent to “hell on earth.” He said that Lincoln would “hide out” in the law office just to get away from Mary. Be that as it may, it is also true that Lincoln knew how to handle his wife most of the time. Some would say he was “hen-pecked.”
For your consideration, I present the following excerpt from Harold Holzer’s book: ‘Lincoln As I Knew Him.’ It is part of an account originally provided by Elizabeth Keckley (Mrs. Lincoln’s dressmaker)from her 1868 memoiron Mary Lincoln:
“She was extremely jealous of him, and if a lady desired to court her displeasure, she could select no surer way to do it than pay marked attention to the President. These little jealous freaks often were a source of perplexity to Mr. Lincoln. If it was a reception for which they were dressing, he would come into her room to conduct her down-stairs, and while pulling on his gloves ask, with a merry twinkle in his eyes:
“Well, mother, who must I talk with to-night-shall it be Mrs. D.?
“That deceitful woman! No, you shall not listen to her flattery.”
“Well, then, what do you say to Miss C.? She is too young and handsome to practise deceit.”
“Young and handsome, you call her! You should not judge beauty for me. No, she is in league with Mrs. D., and you shall not talk with her.”
“Well, mother, I must talk with some one. Is there any one that you do not object to?” trying to button his glove, with a mock expression of gravity.
“I don’t know as it is necessary that you should speak to anybody in particular. You know well enough Mr. Lincoln, that I do not approve of your flirtations with silly women, just as if you were a beardless boy, fresh from school.”
“But mother, I insist that I must talk with somebody. I can’t stand around like a simpleton, and say nothing. If you will not tell me who I may talk with, please tell me who I may not talk with.”
“There is Mrs. D. and Miss C. in particular. I detest them both. Mrs. B. also will come around you, but you need not listen to her flattery. These are the ones in particular.
“Very well, mother; now that we have settled the question to your satisfaction, we will go down-stairs;” and always with stately dignity he proffered his arm and led the way….
Obviously, as one reads the above account, Mr. Lincoln is portrayed as humoring Mary. He probably was humoring her. But at the same time, I think he was serious in his requests to her. He had learned not to upset her (as much as possible). He knew what she could be like-even in public-when she got mad. So, in the end, was he hen-pecked?
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