More on Mary Todd Lincoln’s post-assassination life


An article in Civil War Times Illustrated (November 1968) entitled Mary Todd Lincoln-a Profile by Patricia Bell informs that after Lincoln’s death, Mary Lincoln felt that the whole world was against her. The American press was especially harsh. Thinking that she might receive some respite, she left the United States with her son Tad for Europe for a time.  However, she continued to believe that she was destitute even while engaging in the “shopping sprees” with the income that she did have. She also remained steadfast in trying to convince Congress to grant her a pension. She personally wrote hundreds of letters on her own behalf- “begging, storming, and threatening.” Her behaviors worked against her.

Sadly, Tad Lincoln died in 1871. At that point, Mary had lost a husband, three sons, and many other relatives. She wrote in despair:

“And now, in this world, there is nothing left me, but the deepest anguish & desolation.”

Another factor had been a source of misery for Mrs. Lincoln-namely William Herndon. He had been lecturing since 1866 about his law partner and friend Abraham Lincoln. Author Bell states that he was not being dishonest in his claims about Lincoln, but he also had no facts. Summarizing Herndon’s work, Bell states: “He attempted to show that Lincoln was not Christian, which to the public mind made him a heathen, that he was illegitimate, and that he had never loved Mary.”

Mary wrote about Herndon:

“What more can I say in answer to this man, who when my heart was broken with anguish, issued falsehoods, against me & mine, which were enough to make the Heavens blush.”


Mary had claimed that Lincoln’s “romance” with Ann Rutledge had never happened. The idea and notion of Lincoln’s love affair with Rutledge had caught the public’s fancy and imagination- leaving Mary helpless to defend against it.  She herself, remained in mourning clothes for the cruel loss of her husband. But in her eyes, the world didn’t care about her at all. She was to feel further betrayed by her son Robert Todd who would see her committed to an insane asylum. She attempted suicide by overdose but was unsuccessful. After her release less than a year later, she lived abroad. Eventually, she returned to America to take up residence of her sister. Her health was broken.  She later said to a visitor:

“…what have I done, that I am so persecuted by the press? I am a poor, lonely woman; my husband is dead, and my two sons are dead; my health is shattered, and I am almost blind from constant weeping. I try and keep myself secluded from the world, but I cannot escape them; they will follow me, and say hard and cruel things about me. I long to leave the world and be at rest.”


Bell concludes her article by making a statement about Mary Lincoln of which I totally agree:

“She had the great misfortune to need, and in some measure to merit, the nation’s sympathy and understanding during one of the least understanding periods of American history.”


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