the memory of President Abraham Lincoln is recalled in the hearts and minds of
most Americans he is typically thought of as the President who “freed the
slaves”. Some Americans even remember him as the first President to be
assassinated while holding the office of the Presidency. Many children find a
place for President Lincoln in their hearts because they are required to
memorize a portion or all of his notorious Gettysburg address.
however, know very much about Lincoln’s personality, his family life or the
lifelong turbulent journey through many repeated grieving incidents that he
endured until that fateful evening at Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC in 1865
that concluded his mortal course.
a young boy at age 9, Lincoln not only watched his mother die slowly and
miserably over a period of two weeks, but he also was required to help his
authoritative and somewhat emotionless father bury her on the family property.
The fortunate outcome of that process was that his father married a woman who
was very willing to take young Abraham under her watchful care . She provided
the encouragement and support Lincoln needed to prepare Lincoln to move in
different cultural and social circles than he did as a young adolescent in
Kentucky and Indiana.
later Lincoln’s only sister would die during the birth of her first child. Lincoln’s
grief was quickly layering in heavy patterns in his still very inexperienced
life. When Lincoln was informed of his father’s eminent death, he calmly
declined the opportunity to attend the funeral claiming that his attendance
would not serve any genuine purpose.
emerged into manhood with the conviction that “whatever is to be will be”, and Mrs. Lincoln declared that this was
his answer to threats concerning his assassination; that it had been his lifelong
creed. It is often thought that this personal creed was formed
in his early psychology from attending the Baptist Church in Kentucky with his
mother and father.
Baptist Churches of the early to mid
were often very strong in the presentation of Calvinist doctrines, especially
those promoting a predestined mentality. It tended to give God a more sovereign
rule over His creation, countering the Methodist doctrines of man’s free will.
Predestination doctrines promote such a mentality that God has already
determined what is to happen in everyone’s life and course of circumstances.
Thus, Mr. Lincoln’s conviction that “whatever
is to be will be”, was also somewhat of a religious doctrine and the
philosophical framework in his life.
addition to his convictions, there also came an unfortunate backdrop to Lincoln’s
story is his relationship to his wife, Mary Todd, the mother of the four Lincoln
children. On November 4, 1842 Abraham Lincoln wed a woman far more socially
skilled and well-educated than he.
Mary Todd had walked a very similar path
to what Lincoln had experienced, especially when it came to the arena of
personal grief and loss. Through all of the personal loss they both would
experience in their marriage together, Mary Todd Lincoln was never quite able
to emerge from a continuous baptism of anxiety, loss and grief long enough to
regain her mental stamina and cognitive stability.
Todd Lincoln was often referred to by their contemporaries as a liability to
President Lincoln. She exercised virtually no discipline in her own financial
endeavors or in those of the budget allowed to the Lincoln family for living in
and staffing the Presidential mansion. Often Mary Todd would throw parties and
lavish balls at times when the general public of Washington DC deemed it most
inappropriate. Such attitudes and public sentiment seemed to have very little
impact on her. She was also very opinionated and often vocalized her anger
without hesitation. By today’s standards of law enforcement, she would have
probably been charged with domestic violence on any number of occasions.
the two of them managed to hold their marriage somewhat together, despite the
death of their sons and the almost unbearable pressures of public opinion and
criticism rendered by a nation experiencing the most intense civil war recorded
in the history of western civilization. Lincoln stood up to congress, his
recalcitrant Cabinet and public opinion, leaving them to mind their own affairs.
In a day with minimal communicative technology, such problems and circumstances
resolved very slow and often times never experienced a definable conclusion.
Their first son
Robert Todd Lincoln (named after his
mother’s father), was born in 1843. He would end up being the sole surviving
child that reached adulthood and produced heirs in the Lincoln lineage. Their
second son Edward “Eddie” Baker Lincoln was born 1846. He died on February 1,
1850 of tuberculosis while the Lincoln family lived in Springfield, Illinois.
later William Wallace "Willie" Lincoln was born on
December 21, 1850. His death on February 20, 1862 was a devastation to the
Lincolns while they lived in the White House during the throws of the Civil War
and Lincoln’s first term as President.
In the household
Willie had been a great consolation to
Lincoln, who derived little emotional satisfaction from his spouse or his
eldest child. Lincoln
had become very emotionally and relationally attached to Willie during the
latter half of the 11 years of Willie’s life. Willie’s
death was a turning point for His
is strongly evidenced in the memorializaton
of Willie. The Lincolns had Willie embalmed. The art and science of embalming
the dead was a fairly new practice in the mid 19th century and was
not all that common in the United States. It was definitely only reserved for
those who could financially facilitate it.
After the funeral
service Willie Lincoln’s casketed body
was placed in a holding vault at Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown, (Washington
DC). The vault was owned by the Carroll family, who were political friends of
President Lincoln from Illinois, but also living in Washington DC. They had
three of their children who had died placed in that vault, so it an appropriate
gesture for them to offer the space until Mr. Lincoln’s term as President had
ended and the family could transport Willie’s coffin back to Springfield,
Illinois to a permanent resting place.
For months after
the funeral Mr. Lincoln would
periodically go alone to the vault to view his beloved son’s face and meditate.
In those days this was not an uncommon practice for those who could afford the
embalming of their family members. Lincoln also spent many hours in Willie’s
untouched bedroom at the White House for months after the funeral. Mary never
entered the bedroom again after Willie died. Willie’s casket would later make
the journey to Springfield Illinois in the same funeral train car as his
father’s coffin in the spring of 1865.
The fourth son
and last child to be born to Abraham and
Mary Lincoln was Thomas "Tad" Lincoln. He was born on
April 4, 1853. He tried for years to console his mother after the assassination
of his father in April 1865. But he was a frail child who had also been very sick
at the same time his brother Willie died in 1862, probably of the same
suspected typhoid fever. He eventually died of cardiac related problems at age
18 on July 16, 1871, six years after his father’s assassination in Washington
historians and philosophers have called the Lincoln’s marriage an arrangement
of political convenience that displayed somewhat of a sympathetic heritage representing
the South through Mary Todd Lincoln, and the compassionate, yet firm leadership
of Mr. Lincoln himself being the role model of a Northern Republican
Others still have
seen Abraham and Mary’s
relationship as a marriage that was never meant to be, simply because of the
many complex losses that they both endured during their 22 year long adventure
together. Regardless of the perspective taken, both of the Lincolns made a
lifelong journey of unresolved grief and a vague spirituality which not only
affected their own lives, but those immediately surrounding them, and
eventually the entire Nation. In the spotlight of a divided nation they
appeared united, yet though literally dozens of the Lincoln photographs can be
found in the various archives of our land, there is not one photograph of them
 Barton, William
E. The Soul of Abraham Lincoln (New
York, G.H. Doran Company, 1920) p.50
Timothy P. Abraham Lincoln (Fort
Washington Pennsylvania, Eastern National, 2014) p.14
John The History of the American Presidency (North Dighton, MA, World
Publications Group, 1998) P.71
Michael The Inner Life of Abraham Lincoln
(The University of Illinois, 1994 ) p.66
Martinez, Susan B. The
Psychic Life of Abraham Lincoln (Franklin Lakes New Jersey,
Career Press, 2007) p.121