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Another Assassination, Another Widow, Another Embattled Book
August 1967 | Volume 18, Issue 5
It was well known that Mrs. Lincoln’s brothers were in the Confederate army, and for this reason it was often charged that her sympathies were with the South. Those who made the hasty charge were never more widely mistaken.
One morning, on my way to the White House, I heard that Captain Alexander Todd, one of her brothers, had been killed. I did not like to inform Mrs. Lincoln of his death, judging that it would be painful news to her. I had been in her room but a few minutes when she said, with apparent unconcern, “Lizzie, I have just heard that one of my brothers has been killed in the war.”
“I also heard the same, Mrs. Lincoln, but hesitated to speak of it, for fear the subject would be a painful one to you.”
“You need not hesitate. Of course, it is but natural that I should feel for one so nearly related to me, but not to the extent that you suppose. He made his choice long ago. He decided against my husband, and through him against me. He has been fighting against us; and since he chose to be our deadly enemy, I see no special reason why I should bitterly mourn his death.” …
Mr. Lincoln was generous by nature, and though his whole heart was in the war, he could not but respect the valor of those opposed to him.… Time and again I have heard him speak in the highest terms of the soldierly qualities of such brave Confederate generals as Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Joseph E. Johnston. Jackson was his ideal soldier. “He is a brave, honest Presbyterian soldier,” were his words: “what a pity that we should have to fight such a gallant fellow! If we only had such a man to lead the armies of the North, the country would not be appalled with so many disasters.”
As this is a rambling chapter, I will here record an incident showing his feeling toward Robert E. Lee. The very morning of the day on which he was assassinated, his son, Captain Robert Lincoln, came into the room with a portrait of General Lee in his hand. The President… scanned the face thoughtfully, and said: “It is a good face; it is the face of a noble, noble, brave man. I am glad that the war is over at last.”
* * *
Mr. Lincoln, as every one knows, was far from handsome. He was not admired for his graceful figure and finely moulded face, but for the nobility of his soul and the greatness of his heart.
His wife was different. He was wholly unselfish in every respect, and I believe that he loved the mother of his children very tenderly. He asked nothing but affection from her, but did not always receive it. When in one of her wayward impulsive moods, she was apt to say and do things that wounded him deeply. If he had not loved her, she would have been powerless to cloud his thoughtful face, or gild it with a ray of sunshine as she pleased. We are indifferent to those we do not love, and certainly the President was not indifferent to his wife. She often wounded him in unguarded moments, but calm reflection never failed to bring regret.
Mrs. Lincoln was extremely anxious that her husband should be re-elected President of the United States. In endeavoring to make a display becoming her exalted position, she had to incur many expenses. Mr. Lincoln’s salary was inadequate to meet them, and she was forced to run in debt, hoping that good fortune would favor her, and enable her to extricate herself from an embarrassing situation. She bought the most expensive goods on credit, and in the summer of 1864 enormous unpaid bills stared her in the face.
“What do you think about the election, Lizabeth?” she said to me one morning.
“I think that Mr. Lincoln will remain in the White House four years longer,” I replied, looking up from my work.
“What makes you think so? Somehow I have learned to fear that he will be defeated. … If he should be defeated, I do not know what would become of us all. To me, to him, there is more at stake in this election than he dreams of.”
”What can you mean, Mrs. Lincoln? I do not comprehend.”
“Simply this. I have contracted large debts, of which he knows nothing, and which he will be unable to pay if he is defeated.”
“What are your debts, Mrs. Lincoln?”
“They consist chiefly of store bills. I owe altogether about twenty-seven thousand dollars; the principal portion at Stewart’s, in New York. You understand, Lizabeth, that Mr. Lincoln has but little idea of the expense of a woman’s wardrobe. He glances at my rich dresses, and is happy in the belief that the few hundred dollars that I obtain from him supply all my wants. I must dress in costly materials. The people scrutinize every article that I wear with critical curiosity. The very fact of having grown up in the West subjects me to more searching observation. To keep up appearances, I must have money—more than Mr. Lincoln can spare for me. He is too honest to make a penny outside of his salary; consequently I had, and still have, no alternative but to run in debt.”
“And Mr. Lincoln does not even suspect how much you owe?”
“God, no!”—this was a favorite expression of hers—“and I would not have him suspect. If he knew that his wife was involved to the extent that she is, the knowledge would drive him mad. He is so sincere and straightforward himself, that he is shocked by the duplicity of others. He does not know a thing about any debts, and I value his happiness, not to speak of my own, too much to allow him to know anything. This is what troubles me so much. If he is re-elected, I can keep him in ignorance of my affairs; but if he is defeated, then the bills will be sent in, and he will know all”; and something like a hysterical sob escaped her.
Mrs. Lincoln sometimes feared that the politicians would get hold of the particulars of her debts, and use them in the presidential campaign against her husband; and when this thought occurred to her, she was almost crazy with anxiety and fear.