Another Assassination, Another Widow, Another Embattled Book

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“But, Tad, listen to me. An ape is a species of the monkey. It looks like a monkey, but it is not a monkey.”

“It shouldn’t look like a monkey, then. Here, Yib—he always called me Yib—”isn’t this a monkey, and don’t a-p-e spell monkey? Ma don’t know anything about it”; and he thrust his book into my face in an earnest, excited manner.

I could no longer restrain myself, and burst out laughing. Tad looked very much offended, and I hastened to say: “I beg your pardon, Master Tad; I hope that you will excuse my want of politeness.”

He bowed his head in a patronizing way, and returned to the original question: “Isn’t this a monkey? Don’t a-p-e spell monkey?”

“No, Tad; your mother is right. A-p-e spells ape.”

“You don’t know as much as Ma. Both of you don’t know anything”; and Master Tad’s eyes flashed with indignation.

Robert entered the room, and the question was referred to him. After many explanations, he succeeded in convincing Tad that a-p-e does not spell monkey, and the balance of the lesson was got over with less difficulty.

Whenever I think of this incident I am tempted to laugh; and then it occurs to me that had Tad been a negro boy, not the son of a President, and so difficult to instruct, he would have been called thick-skulled, and would have been held up as an example of the inferiority of race.

* * *

Mrs. Lincoln was not left a pauper after her husband’s death, but she was in reduced circumstances. Ruth Painter Randall, in Mary Lincoln: Biography of a Marriage, says that the President left an estate of $83,000, which under the management of his friend and former campaign manager, Judge David Davis of Illinois, increased to $110,000 by 1868. Since Mr. Lincoln died intestate, the estate was equally divided among his wife and two surviving sons, Robert and Tad, giving each about $37,000. This brought each an annual income of between $1,500 and $1,800; in all probability, that is the “$1,700” referred to in Mrs. Lincoln’s letter to Mrs. Keckley quoted below. In addition, a public subscription for the widow netted her something over $10,000 in cash. Congress voted to pay her the late President’s salary for one year; with deductions, that came to about $22,000. There was no statutory provision in those days for a pension for a President’s widow; Congress would not get around to voting one for Mary Lincoln until 1870, and then political wrangling would keep it small: $3,000 a year. And, of course, there were all those department-store debts to be paid off.

So in 1867 she conceived the idea of selling some of the clothing she had packed away in boxes when she left the White House. She travelled to New York under the alias “Mrs. Clarke” and sought out a commission broker named W. H. Brady at 609 Broadway. Brady and an associate named Keyes were a pair of shrewd operators. They soon discovered the real identity of “Mrs. Clarke,” with the sad results Mrs. Keckley describes.

In March, 1867, Mrs. Lincoln wrote to me from Chicago that, as her income was insufficient to meet her expenses, she would be obliged to give up her house in the city and return to boarding. She said that she had struggled long enough to keep up appearances, and … “I have not the means,” she wrote, “to meet the expenses of even a first-class boarding-house, and must sell out and secure cheap rooms at some place in the country. It will not be startling news to you, my dear Lizzie, to learn that I must sell a portion of my wardrobe to add to my resources, so as to enable me to live decently, for you remember what I told you in Washington, as well as what you understood before you left me here in Chicago. I cannot live on $1,700 a year, and as I have many costly things which I shall never wear, I might as well turn them into money, and thus add to my income, and make my circumstances easier. It is humiliating to be placed in such a position, but, as I am in the position, I must extricate myself as best I can. Now, Lizzie, I want to ask a favor of you. It is imperative that I should do something for my relief, and I want you to meet me in New York, between the 30th of August and the 5th of September next, to assist me in disposing of a portion of my wardrobe.” …

She was the wife of Abraham Lincoln, the man who had done so much for my race, and I could refuse to do nothing for her, calculated to advance her interests. I consented to render Mrs. Lincoln all the assistance in my power, and many letters passed between us in regard to the best way to proceed. It was finally arranged that I should meet her in New York about the middle of September. …

I closed my business about the tenth of September, and made every arrangement to leave Washington on the mission proposed. On the fifteenth of September I received a letter from Mrs. Lincoln, postmarked Chicago, saying that she should leave the city so as to reach New York on the night of the 17th, and [stay] … at the St. Denis Hotel in the name of Mrs. Clarke, as her visit was to be incog. … I reached the city in the evening [of September 18]. … I pulled a bell at the ladies’ entrance to the hotel, and a boy coming to the door, I asked:

“Is a lady by the name of Mrs. Clarke stopping here? She came last night, I believe.” … [Mrs. Lincoln] heard me talking, and came into the hall to see herself.

“My dear Lizzie, I am so glad to see you,” she exclaimed, coming forward and giving me her hand. “I have just received your note”—I had written her that I should join her on the eighteenth—”and have been trying to get a room for you. Your note has been here all day, but it was never delivered until to-night. Come in here, until I find out about your room”; and she led me into the office.