- Historic Sites
Another Assassination, Another Widow, Another Embattled Book
August 1967 | Volume 18, Issue 5
“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.
* * *
The President and young Tad were visiting Grant’s headquarters at City Point, Virginia, when Richmond fell, on April 2, 1865. Two days later Lincoln made his dramatic visit to that city. On April 6, Mary Lincoln arrived from Washington and joined her husband on the steamer River Queen.
The Presidential party were all curiosity on entering Richmond. They drove about the streets of the city, and examined every object of interest. … After a delightful visit we returned to City Point.
That night, in the cabin of the River Queen, smiling faces gathered around the dinner-table. One of the guests was a young officer attached to the Sanitary Commission. He was seated near Mrs. Lincoln, and, by way of pleasantry, remarked: “Mrs. Lincoln, you should have seen the President the other day, on his triumphal entry into Richmond. He was the cynosure of all eyes. The ladies kissed their hands to him, and greeted him with the waving of handkerchiefs. He is quite a hero when surrounded by pretty young ladies.”
The young officer suddenly paused with a look of embarrassment. Mrs. Lincoln turned to him with flashing eyes with the remark that his familiarity was offensive to her. Quite a scene followed, and I do not think that the Captain who incurred Mrs. Lincoln’s displeasure will ever forget that memorable evening …
* * *
Often Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln discussed … gentlemen prominent in politics, in my presence. I soon learned that the wife of the President had no love for Mr. Salmon P. Chase, at that time Secretary of the Treasury.…
“Father, I do wish that you would inquire a little into the motives of Chase,” said [Mrs. Lincoln] one day.
The President was lying carelessly upon a sofa, holding a newspaper in his hands. “Mother, you are too suspicious. I give you credit for sagacity, but you are disposed to magnify trifles. Chase is a patriot, and one of my best friends.”
“Yes, one of your best friends because it is his interest to be so. He is anything for Chase. If he thought he could make anything by it, he would betray you to-morrow.” …
Mrs. Lincoln was especially severe on Mr. Wm. H. Seward, Secretary of State. She but rarely lost an opportunity to say an unkind word of him.
One morning I went to the White House earlier than usual. Mr. Lincoln was sitting in a chair, reading a paper, stroking with one hand the head of little Tad. I was basting a dress for Mrs. Lincoln. A servant entered, and handed the President a letter just brought by a messenger. He broke the seal, and when he had read the contents his wife asked:
“Who is the letter from, Father?”
“Seward; I must go over and see him today.”
“Seward! I wish you had nothing to do with that man. He cannot be trusted.”
“You say the same of Chase. If I listened to you, I should soon be without a Cabinet.”
“Better be without it than to confide in some of the men that you do. Seward is worse than Chase. He has no principle.”
“Mother, you are mistaken; your prejudices are so violent that you do not stop to reason. Seward is an able man, and the country as well as myself can trust him.”
“Father, you are too honest for this world! You should have been born a saint. You will generally find it a safe rule to distrust a disappointed, ambitious politician. It makes me mad to see you sit still and let that hypocrite, Seward, twine you around his finger as if you were a skein of thread.”
“It is useless to argue the question, Mother. You cannot change my opinion.” …
When Andrew Johnson was urged for military Governor of Tennessee, Mrs. Lincoln bitterly opposed the appointment.
“He is a demagogue,” she said, almost fiercely, “and if you place him in power, Mr. Lincoln, mark my words, you will rue it some day.”
General McClellan, when made Commander-in-Chief, was the idol of the soldiers, and never was a general more universally popular. “He is a humbug,” remarked Mrs. Lincoln one day in my presence.
“What makes you think so, Mother?” good-naturedly inquired the President.
“Because he talks so much and does so little. If I had the power I would very soon take off his head, and put some energetic man in his place.” …
Mrs. Lincoln could not tolerate General Grant. “He is a butcher,” she would often say, “and is not fit to be at the head of an army.”
“But he has been very successful in the field,” argued the President.
“Yes, he generally manages to claim a victory, but such a victory! He loses two men to the enemy’s one. He has no management, no regard for life. If the war should continue four years longer, and he should remain in power, he would depopulate the North. … Grant, I repeat, is an obstinate fool and a butcher.”
“Well, Mother, supposing that we give you command of the army. No doubt you would do much better than any general that has been tried.” There was a twinkle in the eyes, and a ring of irony in the voice.
I have often heard Mrs. Lincoln say that if Grant should ever be elected President of the United States she would desire to leave the country, and remain absent during his term of office.