Lincoln's relationships with women were unsure and uneven - especially in his youth. He had not been schooled in social graces so he was not sometimes artless in his conversation with women. His move in 1831 to New Salem, a small Illinois settlement, was his first experience living outside an isolated rural existence. He quickly became friends with many families. Women found him a useful guy to have boarding with them and a respectful one when they came to the stores where he clerked. "Lincoln's respect for New Salem women was demonstrated by his reaction when Charlie Reavis cursed around women shoppers. Lincoln demanded that Reavis desist, saying he would not tolerate such language in his store when ladies were present," wrote historian H. Donald Winkler. "When Reavis continued the vulgarity, Lincoln admonished him: 'I have spoken to you a number o f times about swearing in the presence of ladies, and you have not heeded. Now I am going to rub the lesson into you so that you will not forget again.' Thereupon he seized Reavis by the arm and led him out of the store to the side of the street where there was a patch of smartweed. Throwing Reavis on his back and putting his foot on his chest, Lincoln grabbed a handful of the stinging weeds and rubbed Reavis's face, mouth, and eyes with them until he yelled for mercy."1 Historian Michael Burlingame noted that "Lincoln's integrity made him especially appealing to women customers, who trusted him to give an accurate assessment of the wares."2
Moving from house to house, helping women with their chores and children, Lincoln was appreciated for his simple good humor and sometimes embarrassed by his lack of social etiquette. He was more comfortable with married women, around him he could demonstrate his naive charm and good nature. Historian David Herbert Donald wrote: "Shy with young women, he found it easy to talk with [New Salem matrons], because most were older than he and, being married, could not be considered objects of sexual interest. Mentor Graham's daughter recalled that he frequently asked her mother 'for advice on different questions - such as Love - prudence of movements etc - girls - etc etc.'"3 In New Salem, noted H. Donald Winkler, "Lincoln also enjoyed the company of Mentor Graham's wife, Sarah, who was in her early twenties. He often sought her advice about boy-girl relationships, love and other personal matters. While he liked being around married folks, Lincoln found young single women to be as antagonistic toward him as they were in his Indiana neighborhood. They made fun of him, but on occasion he used his sharp wit to retaliate."4
Lincoln was kind - but in his twenties and early thirties a cruel streak could manifest itself in his dealings with both men and women. William H. Herndon wrote: "Lincoln had poor judgments of the fitness and appropriateness of things. He would wade into a ballroom and speak aloud to some friend: "How clean these women look!'"5 Lincoln scholar George Anastaplo wrote of "Lincoln's lack of ease in dealing with women, which was masked by his self-deprecating tone. It could also lead to the uncharitable letter about Mary Owens that he wrote to the wife of a friend of his. Still, Lincoln could be kind to women. Not only did he dread doing any woman an injustice, but also he was an early advocate of permitting women to vote."6 Lincoln scholar Frank J. Williams wrote: "The full extent of the complicated relationships that Lincoln experienced with the women in his life can never be fully understood. Too little documentary evidence survives, and Lincoln, a notoriously 'shut-mouthed' man about all personal matters, seldom confided his feelings to even his closest friends."7
In pursuit of a laugh or political advantage, young Mr. Lincoln could be insensitive. Contemporary Riley Potter recalled: "Abe was mighty handy at frolics and parties. Most of the young people would sorter hang back, but Abe had a word for everybody, and especially for the smart girls. They couldn't any of them get the best of him. He was generally asked to help wait on the table and make folks feel sociable. One night Abe was helping the visitors and there was a girl there who thought herself pretty smart. When Abe got to her he asked her if he should help her. She said she'd take something. Abe, he filled up her plate pretty well, and when he passed it to her she says, quite pert and sharp, 'Well, Mr. Lincoln, I didn't want a cart-load.' Abe never let on that he heard her, but went on helping the others. By and by Liddy got through and when Abe came around her way again she said she believed she'd take a little more. 'All right, Miss Liddy,' says Abe loud enough for the whole room to hear, 'back up your cart and I'll fill it again.' Of course there was a big laugh. Liddy felt awful bad about it. She went off by herself and cried the whole evening."8
New Salem contemporary James Short said young Mr. Lincoln "didn't go to see the girls much. He didn't appear bashful, but it seemed as if he cared but little for them."9 Lincoln scholar H. Donald Winkler wrote that in the mid-1830s, "Lincoln erected an emotional barrier between himself and others, especially women. More than ever he avoided intimacy and became abstracted and cool. Having loved deeply and passionately, and having been traumatized by his tragic loss, he was unable to allow himself to love another woman the same way he had loved Ann [Rutledge]. He erected a defensive wall of passivity around himself - a wall that would antagonize other women who sought to be close to him."10
Young Lincoln was a curious mixture of gentility with coarseness. He had his own sense of social decency, wrote biographer Jesse W. Weik: "He detested and never would repeat neighborhood scandal. The savory morsels which some people find so toothsome and delicious under their tongues were wholly unpalatable to him. If he happened to narrate a story in which the wit or weakness of woman was a factor, it was invariably located in the wilds of Kentucky or southern Indiana or some other region equally remote. Besides, the story itself was so ingeniously told and the point or moral so obvious and suggestive, no one present could identify the heroine by name because no name was used or needed. Thus, it will be observed the reputation of every woman he knew was safe in his hands."11 Weik noted that domestic violence was one thing that could provoke Mr. Lincoln and compel to take preventive action against the culprit. Weik wrote:
No better illustration of how Mr. Lincoln appeared socially, or rather how he demeaned himself in ladies' company, is obtainable than the two incidents which follow, and which, while emphasizing some of his singular and characteristic traits, are also noteworthy in that they come from truthful and unquestioned sources. One of them was communicated to me both verbally and in writing by the late Henry C. Whitney. The testimony of this witness, with whom I spent many hours in Chicago after he had removed from Urbana, and who verified so much that Herndon had told me, is of the highest value, because, for almost ten years prior to Lincoln's election to the Presidency in 1860, he was much of the time in the latter's company as the two made their way from county to county on the circuit. "I well recollect," said Whitney, "that Mr. Lincoln was invited to join me and my wife at tea one evening at the residence of Mr. Boyden, the mayor of Urbana. He was in good spirits and seemed to be at perfect ease during the meal and afterwards, while I was in the room; but later I was called out for a short time to meet a client who was awaiting me at the front gate.
When I returned, the party, meanwhile, having adjourned to the parlor, Mr. Lincoln's bearing and manner had entirely changed; for some unexplained reason he was laboring under the most painful embarrassment and appeared to be as demoralized and ill at ease as a bashful country boy. Drawn up in his chair and gazing alternately at the floor and ceiling, he would put his arms behind him and then bring them to the front again as if endeavoring in some way to hide them; meanwhile struggling, though in vain, to keep his long legs out of sight. His discomfiture was so plain and unmistakable I could not help pitying the poor fellow, and yet I could not understand it unless it was because he was alone in a room with three women, for no one was present but Mrs. Boyden, my wife, and her mother." Evidently Sarah Rickard, who had declined to marry Lincoln, was not without a woman's intuitive discernment when she protested to Herndon that the former's "peculiar manner and general deportment were not calculated to fascinate a young lady entering the society world."12
Lincoln's first serious relationship in New Salem had been with Ann Rutledge. Lincoln scholar H. Donald Winkler wrote: "Lincoln's surveying territory included Sandridge, where his friend 'Uncle Jimmy' Short and the Rutledges lived a half-mile apart," wrote Lincoln chronicler H. Donald Winkler. "Lincoln visited the Shorts at least four times a week, usually overnight, and then rode over to the Rutledges to be with Ann, whom he affectionately referred to as 'Annie.'"13 Ann Rutledge "was slender, pretty, and graceful, with a pink rosebud complexion, a good figure, large blue eyes, and cherry-red lips," according to Winkler. "Her long curly hair was described by some as light sandy and others as reddish blond. Her mouth was 'well-made, beautiful,' with good teeth. She stood about five-foot-four and weighed around 125 pounds. Everyone knew her to be vivacious, yet gentle and tenderhearted. She was amiable and loving. She was not sophisticated in the traditional sense, as one could not expect her to be, given her circumstances, but she stood out as 'cultured' in contrast to those around her."14
The only problem was that Ann was engaged to James MacNamar, who left Illinois suddenly in 1834 to take care personal business back east. After MacNamar departed, wrote H. Donald Winkler in The Women in Lincoln's Life, "Ann was, in effect, socially ostracized. Her heart was broken, and more than that, she was humiliated. Her mind was tortured by suspense and disappointment. She doubted he had ever loved her." Anne's relationship with Lincoln helped revive both her and Lincoln. Anne stimulated Mr. Lincoln's ambition and his self-esteem. Winkler wrote: "Time and time again, Ann had urged him to pursue a higher calling, to achieve distinction, and to fulfill his noble destiny." In the summer of 1835 at age 22, Ann succumbed to typhoid. After his final meeting with the dying Ann, Mr. Lincoln was clearly distraught. "I can never forget how broken-hearted he looked." said a friend.15
For several months, Lincoln remained distraught. Subsequently, Mr. Lincoln was introduced to the sister of a local friend. Lincoln biographer William E. Barton wrote: "Mary S. Owens came to New Salem only a few months after the death of Ann Rutledge. She came intending to look Lincoln over with a view to marrying him, and Lincoln knew that she was coming with that thought in her mind, and himself consented to her coming."16 The wife of Samuel Hill, a New Salem shopkeeper, recalled: "Mary came from Kentucky to visit her sister, Betsy Ables [Abell], who was Bennett Ables' wife. They lived near Salem. Lincoln was at Bennett Ables' a good deal, and Betsy, who was a great talker, and sometimes said more than she ought, perhaps had told Lincoln she was going to bring her sister up from Kentucky to marry him. When Mary arrived Lincoln told some one he was intimate with that he supposed Mrs. Ables' sister had come up to catch him, but he'd show her a thing or two. This friend of Lincoln's was also a great friend of the Ables family, and it wasn't long until Mary heard just what Lincoln had said. Then she said she would teach him a lesson, and she did, too. I don't think they ever became really engaged, for Mary was a woman of too much character to go as far as that, and I don't think she ever got very much in earnest. She told me once that she didn't. But Mr. Lincoln thought a great deal of her, I expect. He used to write to her long after he went to Springfield."17
"Mary Owens was cousin to a considerable fraction of the population of New Salem," noted William Barton. "The female relatives of Mary Owens talked to her of little else than Lincoln and of what he had said and done since he became a resident of the town. She had a good mind and a good memory; she preserved all of Lincoln's letters, and she treasured in her heart the memories of his courtship and the gossip of her friends."18 Lincoln contemporary Harvey Lee Ross recalled: "Miss Mary is reported to have said that there were many things about Mr. Lincoln that she liked, and many other things she did not like, and the things she did not like overbalanced the things she did like. 'I could not help admiring Mr. Lincoln,' she said, 'for his honesty, truthfulness and sincerity and goodness of heart; but I think he was a little too presumptuous when he told his friend that if I ever came back to New Salem he was going to marry me. That is a bargain that it takes two to make; and then his training and bringing up had been so different from my own and his awkward and uncouth behavior was most disagreeable."19 Elizabeth Abell claimed Mr. Lincoln was "the best natured man I ever got acquainted with".20 As President, Mr. Lincoln did not forget the family. He referred Oliver G. Abell for a job in a "Land-Office on the Pacific. Mr. Abell is the child of very intimate friends of mine, and I would like, if possible, to oblige him."21
Mary Owens was both smart and stylish. Her sister, Nancy G. Vineyard, wrote that Mary "was a young lady of beauty and intelligence and much vivacity, and had many admirers especially gentlemen. She had many offers of marriage from the best young men of her acquaintance, who strange to say, always parted with her in friendship, and continued friendly towards her afterwards. This was the case with Mr Lincoln, who wrote to her some time after they agreed to disagree. Of course these letters were mostly letters of friendship."22 After the engagement dissolved, Mr. Lincoln commented to Elizabeth: "Tell your sister, that I think she was a great fool, because she did not stay here and marry me."23
Just as he was self-conscious about his lack of a conventional education, Lincoln was also self-conscious about his lack of social etiquette. Biographer Jesse W. Weik wrote: "While Lincoln was far from the conventional ladies' man, yet no one more deeply appreciated the charms of female society."24 In Springfield, Lincoln's interaction with women developed more conventionally. Still, "Lincoln was unsure of himself in his encounters with young, fashionable women of the class he aspired to," wrote William H. Herndon.25 In the late 1830s, Lincoln turned to the wives of political colleagues for advice. Historian Matthew Pinsker wrote that Mr. Lincoln "seemed more at ease with his friend's wife, Eliza Caldwell Browning, turning to her occasionally in his bachelor days for advice about women."26 Historian David Herbert Donald wrote: "Shy and embarrassed in the presence of most women, Lincoln warmed to Mrs. Browning's 'frank cordiality' and often passed his lonely evenings in the Brownings' room."27
In late 1839, Lincoln and some other Springfield bachelors wrote her a letter asking for her help in organizing a ball.
By then, Lincoln had joined the social circle of Ninian Edwards and his wife Elizabeth. Elizabeth Todd met Ninian Wirt Edwards when he came to Lexington to study law at Transylvania. They married on February 14, 1832 in Lexington where they stayed until Ninian completed in law studies. Shortly thereafter, his father died and he moved back to Illinois, settling in Springfield by 1835. Historian Stephen Berry wrote: "Ninian Edwards would serve the state legislature off and on in one capacity or another for more than twenty years. But he was a 'thousand things' short of Lincoln....he would occasionally resent Lincoln's success, but he would always, if grudgingly, recognize his superiority. Within the first year, he had talked so much of Lincoln that his wife and her sister Frances, who was visiting, demanded that he bring the man by."28
Lincoln became a fixture at the Edwards' social gatherings. Berry wrote that the Edwards' "parties were attended by most of the town's society people' and virtually all of the legislators. Typically, the supper was an overwhelming spectacle. It was 'spread on a long table, the principle decoration of which was a centerpiece or pyramid made of jellies and creams and sponge cakes and macaroons, and the viands were abundant and of delicious quality.'"29 Mary came to Springfield in June 1840. The Edwards son Benjamin recalled: "My mother and my father boh liked Mr. Lincoln. Up to the time of the courtship they had made Lincoln welcome and had encouraged his visits....But my mother and my father at that time didn't want Mary to marry Mr. Lincoln. There was no objection to the match on the ground of Mr. Lincoln's character or social standing. But Mr. Lincoln then hadn't $500 to his name. He was just getting started in the practice of his profession. My mother and my father felt that he could not support Mary as they thought he she ought to be maintained, and for that reason only they opposed the engagement." He added: "When my mother saw that things were becoming serious between Lincoln and Mary, she treated him rather coldly...During 1841 and 1842 my mother did what she could to break up the match."30
As the presidential campaign between President Martin Van Buren and William Henry Harrison progressed, so did the relationship between Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd. Historian William C. Harris wrote: "After returning home from campaigning, Lincoln realized that he had made a mistake by encouraging Mary to believe a romantic attachment existed. However, he hesitated to tell her this."31 On the "fatal first" of January 1841, Lincoln broke off their relationship/engagement.
In 1841 as Lincoln was struggling with his relationship with Mary Todds, the charming Maltilda Edwards became the center of Springfield male attention and diverted Lincoln's. Lincoln scholar H. Donald Winkler wrote: "It was said that she broke more hearts, male and female, than any other girl in Springfield's history. 'Well,' she reportedly said, 'if the young men liked me, it is of no fault of mine!'"32
After their estrangement in 1841, it was the wife of Sangamon Journal editor Simeon Francis who helped bring them together at the Francis home in 1842. Until her death, Eliza Rumsey Francis retained her reticence about her involvement in the reconciliation of Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln. Biographer Jesse W. Weik repeatedly tried to break her reserve: "She acknowledged the receipt of my letters, but in each case declined to deny the story or further enlighten me regarding the subject, on the ground that, as Lincoln and his wife were both dead, she felt a delicacy in disclosing to the world all the details of their courtship."33
The Lincolns were married suddenly on November 4, 1842. Lincoln scholar Douglas L. Wilson wrote: "Lincoln got himself into an entanglement with Mary Todd that he never really could get himself out of. The solution was to marry her."34 Michael Burlingame wrote that it "seem[s] likely that Mary Todd seduced Lincoln in order to trap him into matrimony." Burlingame maintained: "Mary Lincoln abused her husband physically as well as verbally. When a framer peddling apples door-to-door approached Lincoln, "Mrs. Lincoln came out and demanded of her husband why he was purchasing apples and set up him with such violence that he feared Lincoln was in actual physical danger from his wife.'" Burlingame wrote: "To a neighbor Mrs. Lincoln complained 'that if her husband had Staid at home as he ought to, that She could love him better.' If their separations were painful to her, it is hard to understand why she regularly absented herself from Washington during Lincoln's term in Congress (1847-1849) and during his presidency, when she left him for months at a time."35
Lincoln's home situation was problematic. He spent a good deal of time in politics or on the Eighth Judicial District Circuit each spring and fall in the 1840s and 1850s. Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: "Unlike David Davis, Richard Yates, and other attorneys and politicians who wrote home regularly, Lincoln seldom corresponded with his wife. (Herndon said his partner 'hated' to write letters.). Nor did she write often to him. In 1850, Davis reported that Lincoln had received no word from Mary since he left Springfield seven weeks earlier." When he was home, the ambitious Mary was critical of his behavior. Burlingame wrote: "Mary never reconciled herself to Lincoln's lack of polish, even after years of marriage. A Springfield resident, who called Mrs. Lincoln 'haughty,' said 'it hurt her that Lincoln was so plain and dressed so plain.' Her half-sister Emilie reported that 'she complained because L. would open [the] front door instead of having [a] servant do so and because L. would eat butter with his knew she raised 'merry war.'"36 One of Lincoln's closest legal colleagues agreed with Mary. In 1846, Davis wrote his wife: "You cant make a gentleman in his outward appearance out of Lincoln to save your life."37
It has sometimes been argued that if Lincoln had a more congenial marriage or a less ambitious wife, he might not have reached the presidency. Historian Mark Neely wrote that Mary "had an extraordinary interest in politics for a woman of the era, and she was for Abraham Lincoln quite a catch."38 After Lincoln received word of his nomination for president in May 1860, he said: "[W]ell gentlemen there is a little woman at our house who is probably more interested in this dispatch than I am; if you will excuse me I will take the dispatch up and let her see it."39 Biographer Ronald C. White Jr. wrote: "From May through November 1860, Mary was with Abraham nearly every day, expressing her opinions and counting herself as his chief adviser. It was one of their longest periods together."40 It was the culmination of Mary's long-held dream that her husband would become president. Lincoln Scholar Harold Holzer wrote: "Mary...plunged spiritedly into the patronage morass with which she was equally unfamiliar. 'She meddled not only with the distribution of minor offices,' [Henry] Villard complained, 'but even with the assignment of place in the Cabinet. Moreover, she allowed herself to be approached and continuously surrounded by a common set of men and women, who, through her susceptibility to even the more barefaced flattery, easily gained a controlling influence over her."41 Mary persistently tried to involve herself in presidential appointments - to the distress of her husband and of many influential Washingtonians. One Ohio journalist wrote that among the President's "most unfortunate appointments" were those "made to please his wife who is anxious to be thought the power behind the throne and who is vulgar and pestiferous beyond description." According to historian Michael Burlingame, "Mary Lincoln thought of herself as a kind of assistant president and as such had tried to influence the initial cabinet selections."42
Once married, Lincoln was ever conscious of the unreasonable jealousy of his wife. Even innocuous relationships were sometimes hidden from Mrs. Lincoln, who as first lady conducted her own salon with influential men. Historian Stephen Berry wrote that in the White House, "Mary claimed that she kept men like Halsted, Sickles, and Wikoff around because they were powerful and could help her husband. The journalist Henry Villard suspected another reason: that Mary had an appetite for flummery so voracious that only the 'most bare-faced flattery' could sate it - and these men were the country's flum-masters."43 Still, Mary was capable of bursts of intense jealousy which President Lincoln sought to avoid. In 1864, teenage sculptress Vinnie Ream, for example, modeled President Lincoln without Mrs. Lincoln's knowledge. She later wrote: "I have never known of anyone in such deep grief as Mr. Lincoln showed during all the months I worked with him...I frequently felt that even his deep strength was being sapped by his great sorrow."44
Still, Mary could charm. British journalist William Howard Russell wrote in late March 1861: "On returning to the hotel, I found a magnificent bouquet of flowers, with a card attached to them, with Mrs. Lincoln's compliments, and another card announcing that she had a " reception " at 3 o'clock. It was rather late before I could get to the White House, and there were only two or three ladies in the drawing-room when I arrived. I was informed afterwards that the attendance was very scanty. The Washington ladies have not yet made up their minds that Mrs. Lincoln is the fashion. They miss their Southern friends, and constantly draw comparisons between them and the vulgar Yankee women and men who are now in power."45 Washington women, most frequently southerners or southern sympathizers, were not so easily charmed by this Kentucky social climber. "Being under scrutiny as a fashion symbol, the first lady's popularity was as precarious as a roller-coaster ride - sometimes up and often down, with change in the blink of an eye. Her fastidious attention to matters of dress at first impressed and recommended her to the press," wrote historian Catherine Clinton. "The rumored costs of her attire became the subject of Washington gossip and prompted bitter critiques by journalists, especially as Union soldiers fell by the thousands, maimed and wounded, dying in camp and on the battlefield."46 Mary's clothes became a problem. The New York Herald reported of the first presidential reception in the East Room of the White House:
The President wore a bland and pleased expression, greeted the guests with courteous warmth, and chatted familiarly with many whom he recognized as old friends. He was attired in a plain suit of black. Mrs. Lincoln received the company with graceful courtesy. She was dressed in a magnificent white satin robe, with a black flounce half a yard wide, looped with black and white bows, a low corsage trimmed with black lace, and a bo[u]quet of cape myrtle on her bosom. Her head-dress was a wreath of black and white flowers, with a bunch cape myrtle on the right side. The only ornaments were a necklace, earrings, broach and bracelets, of pearl. The dress was simple and elegant. The half mourning style was assumed in respect to Queen Victoria, whose eldest son had so lately been a guest at the President mansion, and whose representative was one of the most distinguished among the guests on this occasion."47
Mary's relationship with Commissioner of Buildings William Wood was conspicuously controversial. Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: "David Davis, who found the appointments of Wood 'incomprehensible,' was told by the president that 'it would be ruinous to appoint him - ruinous to him." Burlingame wrote: "Lincoln finally agreed to appoint Wood only after the First Lady shut herself in her room" - a tactic that Burlingame reported she repeatedly used to get her way."48 With Wood, she planned the redecoration of the White House with trips to New York and Philadelphia for purchases. Lincoln scholar Daniel Mark Epstein wrote: "While her husband was consumed by urgent political and military business, Mrs. Lincoln was becoming enmeshed in the world of Washington influence peddling and intrigue, flattery and treachery. It is a world that no one can truly comprehend, because the rules of the game played there have never been agreed upon. She thought that William Wood had become indispensable to her, although he was both dishonest an dull-witted. She would turn against him in early September." Upset about spending and reports of corruption and bribes, Lincoln fired Wood in early September.
When Wood's corruption became too notorious, he was dismissed . Mrs. Lincoln then turned to gardener John Watt to help doctor redecoration bills for the Executive Mansion. Lincoln scholar Daniel Mark Epstein wrote: "John Watt continued to labor over the bill until it became a masterwork of double-entry bookkeeping. If he could not get Mrs. Lincoln's $900 sooner by charging the secretary of the interior for food, wine and flowers, he would get it later by billing the treasury for pots, plants, manure, and even the labor of coachmen, chefs, draymen, and horses that had rendered small services."49 Watt too became linked to scandals and was terminated. Daniel Mark Epstein wrote that Stackpole "after the dismissal of John Watt - carried on as Mrs. Lincoln's coconspirator in defrauding the Treasury. Stackpole was pressuring Hay to release funds for stable supplies so that he and Mrs. Lincoln might line their pockets with it."50
Mrs. Lincoln initiated a shakeup of the White House staff. According to historian Michael Burlingame, "The English steward, Richard Goodchild, was fired to make way for Jane Watt, wife of the corrupt gardener, John Watt. The butler Peter Vermeren was let go early on, after he dared to report corruption in the White House. The head doorkeeper, Thomas Burns, was also dismissed soon after the Lincolns moved in."51 Lincoln scholar Robert J. Havlik wrote: "Mary Lincoln had a reputation of being harsh to her servants, footmen, and carriage drives. This lead to several possible suspicious incidents which may have been caused by disgruntled employees."52 In correspondence with New York Republican Abram Wakeman in early 1865, Mrs. Lincoln castigated former doorman Edward McManus as a serpent. "Since I have certainly ascertained that E has been up North - I am more shocked than ever, that any one can be so low, as to place confidence in a discarded menial's assertions, the game of espionage, has been going on, to a greater extent than we have imagined - if the 'Heavens fall,' he shall never be restored - Nicol[ay]. himself says, that E's mind is positively deranged, I have suspected it for some time."53
Mrs. Lincoln's trips to New York had another downside. He became seriously addicted to shopping. Lincoln writer Jerrold M. Packard wrote: "Mary particularly homed in on the great mercantile emporium of Alexander T. Stewart, a shopping palace many considered the finest department store in the world and a destination where the first lady anticipated every success in having her needs met. One of her biggest purchases at Stewart's was a $2,500 carpet meant to replace the East Room's threadbare predecessor."54 Mrs. Lincoln's shopping had serious financial, legal and emotional consequences for the First Lady, who had to deal with threatened lawsuits by merchants like A.T. Stewart. Cousin Elizabeth Todd Grimsley recalled a trip in the late summer of 1861: "Our next trip to New York was after the called [congressional] session, and an appropriation had been made for re-furnishing a few of the bed rooms, and this time we did not escape the reporters so well, for we could not step in or out of a carriage without one of that fraternity being at our elbow, and various were the devices made to escape recognition.
As is well know, Mrs. Lincoln was fond of dress, had fine taste, and her husband enjoyed seeing her in full dress, but she did not indulge in the one hundredth part of the extravagance with which she and I were credited, on that occasion.
When she bought the dinner set for the Executive Mansion, she ordered a set made for herself, with her initial, and this latter, I know, was not paid for by the district commissioner, as was most unkindly charged when it was stored away. Unfortunately, too many presents, were sent marked 'personal gifts', and were accepted, but Mr. Lincoln was not in this respect 'worldly wise' and Mrs. Lincoln could not anticipate the storm of censure which fell upon her.
We were entertained most pleasantly by personal friends, had a beautiful dinner given us at A.T. Stewart's and afterwards went up to Boston to spend a couple of days with Robert. Through Senator Sumner, who was a warm friend and admirer of both President and Mrs. Lincoln, our coming was anticipated, and everything arranged for a charming reception at the Revere House, dinings and drives, and we met many of the most distinguished men of Boston and Harvard; saw all that could be seen in so short a time, and returned to Washington, delighted with our jaunt, yet rather reproaching ourselves for having left Mr. Lincoln alone.55
Mrs. Lincoln's shopping trips drew journalistic criticism and female contempt. "While her sister-women scraped lint, sewed bandages, and put on nurses' caps, and gave their all to country and to death, the wife of the president spent her time in rolling to and fro between Washington and New York, intent on extravagant purchases for herself and the White House. Mrs. Lincoln seemed to have nothing to do but to shop," wrote Mary Clemmer.56 Mrs. Lincoln's visits were not all shopping, according to historian Edward K. Spann. "The City Park Barrack was converted to hospital use, and in July  , Mary Todd Lincoln, the First Lady, visited the place to observe how casualties were being treated."57
Mrs. Lincoln's trips to New York were sometimes linked to her sons. She first visited Robert Todd Lincoln in Boston in mid-May 1861. In the July of 1861, she and Tad met Robert at the Metropolitan Hotel. Robert and his mother returned to the hotel for several days in mid-August - before Robert began the fall session at Harvard. Mary and son Tad again left Washington on October 20, 1862 for New York City. She went on from there to visit her older son Robert in Cambridge, returning to the White House about a month after she left. Robert was himself in New York City when he received word of his mother serious injury in a carriage accident. The President wired him: "Come to Washington."58 She went to July in August 1863 after she recovered from a carriage accident - and then proceeded north to New England to escape the summer hear in the nation's capital. In June 1864, Robert again joined his mother in New York City, accompanying her back to Washington before returning to Harvard for his graduation ceremony.
One of Mrs. Lincoln's rare female confidantes was her black dressmaker, widow Elizabeth Keckley. On September 29, 1861, Mary wrote: "I know you will be sorry to hear, that our colored Matuamaker, Elizabeth, lost her only son & child in the battle of Lex[ington] Mo - She is heart broken. She is a very remarkable woman herself."59 Mrs. Keckley involved herself energetically in improving the welfare of freed black slaves in the Washington area and enlisted Mrs. Lincoln's help in her efforts. Another confidante was Rebecca R. Pomroy, an army nurse who helped nurse her through depressions and illnesses. Pomroy sought to comfort Mrs Lincoln: "She says he is tired of being a slave to the world, and would live on bread and water if she could feel as happy as I do. We have frequently conversation on these things, and my heart years to see her seeking comfort in something besides these unstable pleasures."60
The last three years of her husband's presidency after the death of beloved son Willie in February 1862 were difficult for Mrs. Lincoln. Willie's death led to the social retirement of Mrs. Lincoln, which led in turn to a temporary resurgence of her husband's popularity. "Since the death of his boy led Mrs Abe into retirement, there has been nothing to diminish the public trust and attachment," wrote Charles A. Dana."61 Historian Matthew Pinsker wrote: "Frustrated by her private grief and poor health, nineteenth-century gender conventions, and her husband's near-constant state of exhaustion, the First Lady found it difficult to connect to him and to support him in his enormous endeavors."62 She easily alienated presidential aides John G. Nicolay and John Hay, who nicknamed her the hell-cat for her aggravating demands. When presidential aide William Stoddard was preparing to leave the White House for Arkansas in September 1864, John Hay told John G. Nicolay: "John! What'll we do with the Madame after Stod goes? Heaven! You and I can't manage her."63 Stoddard was the only one who could.
Women were frequent visitors to the presidential office - generally to seek favors for relatives in the Union Army. But there were also women who came to discuss policy issues like emancipation like novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe or abolitionist Anna Dickinson or religious concerns like Quaker Eliza Paul Kirkbridge. Cordelia Perrine Harvey, the widow of a Wisconsin governor, repeatedly sought better treatment for convalescing Union soldiers. President Lincoln was generally polite but direct - with the conspicuous exception of a midnight meeting in September 1861 with Jessie Benton Fr émont, who came to the White House brusquely to represent the interests of her husband, General John Fr émont. Mr. Lincoln was equally brusque.
After he abused a caller, President Lincoln sometimes redressed his comments with an apology. In the summer of 1862, a Colonel Scott sought permission to recover his wife's body after a steamboat collision. After listening to Colonel Scott's undeniably moving story, Mr. Lincoln's response was curt and unfeeling: "Am I to have no rest? Is there no hour or spot when or where I may escape this constant call? Why do you follow me here with such business as this? Why do you not go to the War-office, where they have charge of all this matter of papers and transportation?" When told that Colonel Scott had failed in that mission, Mr. Lincoln went on about length about the problems of the war and concluded: "At any rate, you must not vex me with your family troubles. Why, every family in the land is crushed with sorrow; but they must not each come to me for help. I have all the burden I can carry." The following day, President Lincoln appeared at the hotel room of Colonel Scott: "My dear Colonel, I was a brute last night. I have no excuse for my conduct. Indeed, I was weary to the last extent, but I had no right to treat a man with rudeness who had offered his life for his country, much more a man who came to me in great affliction. I have had a regretful night, and come now to beg your forgiveness." He told Scott that the arrangements he sought had been made to recover his wife's body.64
Black abolitionist Sojourner Truth came to Washington deliberately to see President Lincoln in 1864, but she found that seeing him could be difficult. Biographer Nell Irvin Painter wrote: "In Washington, Truth discovered that the 'Libyan Sibyl' was not sufficiently prominent to enter the White House. Someone with influence had to open the way even for her to wait outside Lincoln's office. That someone was Elizabeth Keckley. Not only did she dress the first lady and chat with the Lincoln family and staff on a regular basis, she also led a local freedpeople's relief society. President and motivating spirit of the 1862 Ladies' Contraband Relief Association, Keckley encountered everyone in Washington working in freedpeople's relief. Unlike Truth, Keckley and other middle-class black Washingtonians did not work closely with the various freedpeople's aid associations chartered by white abolitionists. Middle-class black people and middle-class white people could not work together, even toward the same end. They did, however, make each other's acquaintance enough for Truth's friend Lucy Colman to secure Keckley's aid in taking Truth to meet the President."65
Truth biographer Jacqueline Bernard wrote: "One bright Saturday morning in October, the doors of the White House at last opened to the traveler from Battle Creek. Sojourner arrived to find a dozen people already waiting. At nine, the President walked in, tall but very stooped. She watched as he took care of his callers. She was thoroughly enjoying her wait. Once a friend had complained to her of Lincoln's slowness in making decisions. She had replied, 'Oh, wait, child. Have patience. It takes a great while to turn about this great ship of state.' Watching the grooved careworn face now, noticing the gentle courtesy with which he turned to each caller, whether white or colored, she was glad she had defended him on that earlier occasion." When she finally was ushered in to see Mr. Lincoln, he said to her: "I never heard of you before you were talked of for President." He replied: "Well, I heard of you, years and years before I ever thought of being President. Your name was well known in the Middle West.'"66 Truth's white friend Lucy Colman maintained that she, Sojourner Truth, and another black friend had in fact been treated badly by the President - kept waiting for three and a half hours. That was hardly unusual. When Colman introduced Truth to Mr. Lincoln, Colman said the President called her "Aunty'...as he would his washerwoman."67 But Mr. Lincoln often referred to elderly women as "Aunty."
Chicago civil activist Mary Livermore came to the White House to seek help for the U.S. Sanitary Commission. She first visited the White House in December 1862 and was shocked by the president's appearance and his pessimism. In 1865, she sought help for a fund-raising fair in Chicago. Livermore recalled: "From the first public announcement of this fair, President Lincoln took a lively interest in it. He bore testimony again and again to its moral influence, and inquired concerning its progress of every visitant from the Northwest that found his way to the White House. We wrote with much hesitation - for we never forgot how he was shouldering the woes and cares of the country - asking for some contribution from himself to our fair. The people of the Northwest were idolatrously attached to him; and we knew that any gift from him would be prized above all price. So we urged our petition as earnestly as we knew how, and enlisted Hon. Isaac N. Arnold, of Chicago, a personal friend of Mr. Lincoln, to send our prayers in person.
"Yes," said the President, "I must send something to that fair; but what?" A happy thought came to Mr. Arnold. 'Why not send the ladies the original manuscript Proclamation of Emancipation? They can made a good thing of it?"
So the manuscript was shipped to Chicago where it sold for $3000 in November 1863. President Lincoln was again approached in March 1865 by Mary Livermore. When she and Mrs. Hoge entered his office, President Lincoln "told us laughingly, as we entered the room, that 'he supposed he knew what we had come for. This time, ladies, I understand you have come for me." They were indeed seeking to have the President attend the Chicago Sanitary Fair - as he had the Philadelphia Sanitary Fair in June 1864. He complained that the Philadelphia fair had not been a pleasant experience. Even before he arrived, "Everywhere there were people shouting and cheering; and they would reach into the carriage and shake hands, and hold on, until I was afraid they would be killed, or I pulled from the carriage. When we reached the fair it was worse yet."68
The women argued: "The Northwest won't listen to your declining; and the ladies of Chicago are circulating a letter of invitation to you, which will have ten thousand signatures of women alone. The whole Northwest proposes to come to Chicago to see you and the desire is so general and urgent that you must not feel like declining." Mr. Lincoln professed to be appalled: "Ten thousand women! What do you suppose my wife will say at ten thousand women coming after me?" When he was assured that Mrs. Lincoln had already given her seal of approval to the invitation and signalled her intent to accompany him, the President replied: "Well, I suppose that settles the matter then." What sealed the deal what the women's promised to "Charter a boat to take you out on Lake Michigan for a trip to Mackinaw, where the affectionate desire of the crowd to shake hands with you cannot be realized." The President responded: "I will come! The trip on Lake Michigan will fetch me."69
Other women like Princess Salm Salm - born Agnes Elizabeth Winoa Leclerq Joy from Vermont - were more provocative. "Calling herself Agnes Leclercq before her marriage, the high-spirited girl briefly pursued a career as a circus acrobat, but then moved to Washington to meet leading politicians."70 In her memoirs, Princess Salm Salm recalled, "President Lincoln's appearance was peculiar. There was in his face, besides kindness and melancholy, a sly humor flickering around the corners of his big mouth and his rather small and somewhat tired-looking eyes."71 She recalled: "The announcement of this visit caused...great excitement; and preparations were made to entertain them as well as possible. They were to stay at General Hooker's head-quarters; but the real maitre de plaisirs was General Sickles, who had been in Europe, and who knew all about it. He wanted to introduce even some novelties of a monarchical smack, and proposed to appoint for the time of the visit some ladies of honour to attend on Mrs. Lincoln. This plan was, however, not to the liking of the American Ladies, each of whom thought herself quite as sovereign as the wife of the President."72
Mrs. Lincoln did not have close relations with many other women in official Washington. Within the Cabinet, she was closest to the wife of Navy Secretary Gideon Welles (who comforted her in her grief on the night of President Lincoln's assassination). Mary was positively jealous of Kate Chase Sprague, the beautiful and ambitious daughter of Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase. Mary did not like Secretary of State William H. Seward and was ungracious to Seward's wife and daughter. When Frances Seward and her family came to call on Mrs. Lincoln in September 1861, Mrs. Lincoln deliberately rebuffed them by instructing them to be old that she was "very much engaged." Daughter Fanny wrote: "The truth of Mrs. L.'s engagement was probably that she did not want to see Mother - else why not give general directions to the door keeper to let no one in? It was certainly very rude to have us all seated first."73
Frances Seward spent as little time as possible at the Seward home across from the White House, preferring to remain home in Auburn, New York. The role of women in this period was not easy - and for educated women it was not comfortable "Frances was increasingly debilitated by a wide range of nervous disorders: nausea, temporary blindness, insomnia, migraines, mysterious pains in her muscles and joints, crying spells, and sustained bouts of depression." Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote: "Doctors could not pinpoint the physical origin of the various ailments that conspired to leave Frances a semi-invalid. A brilliant woman, Frances once speculated whether the 'various nervous afflictions & morbid habits of thought' that plagued so many women she knew had their origin in the frustrations of an educated woman's life in the mid-nineteenth century. Among her papers is a draft of an unpublished essay on the plight of women: 'To share in any kind of household work is to demean herself, and she would be thought mad, to run, leap, or engage in active sports."74
Mrs. Lincoln also did not like Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase. One friend of Mary recalled that "She claimed that he was a selfish politician instead of a true patriot, and warned Mr. Lincoln not to trust him too far."75 She was more wary of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. When Mrs. Lincoln wrote a request for a patronage job for a relative in December 1864, Stanton confronted her in the White House: "Madam, we are in the midst of a great war for national existence. Our success depends upon the people. My first duty is to the people of the United States; my next duty is to protect your husband's honor, and your own. If I should make such appointments, I should strike at the very root of all confidence of the people in the government, in your husband, and you and men."76
Mrs. Lincoln's relations with her own family were also difficult. Several of her sisters were ardent secessionists. Her sister Elizabeth Edwards and cousin Elizabeth Grimsley were sometimes summoned to the White House to provide companionship for her, but Mrs. Lincoln feuded with Elizabeth Edwards' daughter Julia Edward Baker, married to one of the owners of the Illinois Journal. Elizabeth Edwards recalled that the First Lady "opened a private letter of mine after I left Washington & because in that letter my Daughter gave me her opinion of Mrs L[.] She became Enraged at me. I tried to Explain - She would Send back my letters with insulting remarks." The President, on the other hand, teared up when she left in 1862. He said to her: "do Stay with me - you have Such a power & control[.] Such an influence over Mary - Come do Stay and Console me.'"77 Baker's wife was "mentally unstable," according to Michael Burlingame, who wrote: "When she visited Washington in 1864, Julia baker scandalized polite society with her bizarre, risqu é behavior."78
In contrast, Mary Todd Lincoln was fond her cousin Elizabeth Grimsley: "She is a noble, good woman & has been purified, through much trial."79 Also fond was President Lincoln. When Elizabeth returned to Springfield in the fall of 1862, President Lincoln "put his arm around me with a fervent 'God bless you, my cousin'" and "wrung my hand and watched me as I descended the stairs, where found all the servants and messengers congregated to bid me 'farewell'."80 Both Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln were also fond of Emilie Todd Helm, Mary's younger half sister whose husband, Confederate General Benjamin Hardin Helm was killed in Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863 . On December 13, 1863 John Hay recorded that Mrs. Helm "just arrived from Secessia." Such visits by Emilie naturally were controversial among Radical Republicans in Washington.
There was no such affection for another Todd half sister, Martha Todd White. The Richmond Enquirer published a new item in early March 1864 saying that Martha Todd White had "gone through the lines to Lexington, Kentucky, and being a sister (Todd) of Mrs. Lincoln, was permitted to on to Washington." Returning south, she supposedly brought with her a uniform with buttons made of pure gold, worth at least $30,000." Historian Stephen Berry wrote: "The story of Martha Todd White and the gold buttons took off like herd of horses - though not because it was true. Southern papers reprinted the story because it reinforced the idea that th Confederacy could not be defeated because Southern women wouldn't allow it. Northern papers reprinted the story for an entirely different, but equally simple, reason: it was an election year - Lincoln was vulnerable, and the story was embarrassing." In Washington, Martha had "made herself conspicuous by talking 'secesh' and waving her pass about in a Washington hotel. She enlisted the aid fo two Kentucky representatives (Robert Mallory and Brutus Clay), who took her requests in to the president personally. Undoubtedly suffering an acute case of Todd-fatigue, Lincoln finally snapped. When Clay stepped into his office to bend his ear on the same tired subject, he told the congressman that 'if Mrs. W. Did not leave forthwith, she might expect to find herself within twenty-four hours in the Old Capitol Prison." Newspapers such as the New York World delighted in embarrassing President Lincoln with exaggerated stories of Martha's exploits: "...the contents of his wife's sister's trunks are giving aid and comfort to the enemy - not least is the shock which these facts will give to the loyal hearts whose hopes and prayers and labors sustain the cause which is thus betrayed in the very White House."81
Such incidents - combined with the behavior of Mary's Confederate brothers - weighed on her. So did worries about her husband's health and safety. Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: "Mary certainly needed a great deal of protection, or at least looking after, for she had mental problems, including manic depression. Orville H. Browning, who thought her 'demented,' recalled that she 'was a girl of much vivacity in conversation, but was subject to...spells of mental depression....As we used familiarly to state it she was always 'either in the garret or cellar.'"82 Naval officer John S. Barnes, who met her in 1865 wrote that Mary Lincoln "was at no time well; the mental strain upon her was great, betrayed by extreme nervousness approaching hysteria, causing misapprehensions, extreme sensitiveness as to slights, or want of politeness or consideration. I had the greatest sympathy for her, and for Mr. Lincoln, who I am sure felt deep anxiety for her. His manner toward her was always that of the most affectionate solicitude, so marked, so gentle and unaffected that no one could see them together without being impressed by it. I remember that in several telegrams from Mr. Stanton, he always inquired for Mrs. Lincoln and requested his remembrances to her." Barnes was sympathetic to her tribulations, writing: "Few women there are who, ill and nervous, could have passed through such an ordeal and retained their reason."83
As President, Mr. Lincoln had to deal with the bouts of jealousy to which his wife was susceptible. One such incident occurred on March 26, 1865 when Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln were visiting the Union front outside Richmond. According to Grant aide Adam Badeau, "It was proposed that an excursion should be made to the front of the Army of the Potomac, about ten or twelve miles off, and Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Grant were of the company. A military railroad took the illustrious guests a portion of the way, and then the men were mounted, but Mrs. Grant and Mrs. Lincoln went on in an ambulance, as it was called - a sort of half-open carriage with two seats besides that for the driver. I was detailed to escort them, and of course sat on the front seat facing the ladies, with my back to the horses.
In the course of conversation, I chanced to mention that all the wives of officers at the army front had been ordered to the rear - a sure sign that active operations were in contemplation. I said not a lady had been allowed to remain, except Mrs. Griffin, the wife of General Charles Griffin, who had obtained a special permit from the President. At this Mrs. Lincoln was up in arms, 'What do you mean by that, sir?' she exclaimed. 'Do you mean to say that she saw the President alone? Do you know that I never allow the President alone? She was absolutely jealous of poor, ugly Abraham Lincoln.
I tried to pacify her and to palliate my remark, but she was fairly boiling over with rage. 'That's a very equivocal smile, sir,' she exclaimed: 'let me out of this carriage at once. I will ask the President if he saw that woman alone.' Mrs. Griffin, afterward the Countess Esterhazy, was one of the best known and most elegant women in Washington, a Carroll, and a personal acquaintance of Mrs. Grant, who strove to mollify the excited spouse, but all in vain. Mrs. Lincoln again bade me stop the driver, and when I hesitated to obey, she thrust her arms past me to the front of the carriage and held the driver fast. But Mrs. Grant finally prevailed upon her to wait till the whole party alighted, and then General Meade came up to pay his respects to the wife of the President. I had intended to offer Mrs. Lincoln my arm, and endeavor to prevent a scene, but Meade, of course, as my superior, had the right to escort her, and I had no chance to warn him. I saw them go off together, and remained in fear and trembling for what might occur in the presence of the foreign minister and other important strangers. But General Meade was very adroit, and when they returned Mrs. Lincoln looked at me significantly and said: 'General Meade is a gentleman, sir. He says it was not the President who gave Mrs. Griffin the permit, but the Secretary of War.' Meade was the son of a diplomatist, and had evidently inherited some of his father's skill.84
Mrs. Grant thought Badeau "embellished" this incident and gave her own account in her memoirs: "When attending one of the many grand reviews tendered the President on this memorable visit, I was most happy in the pleasure of taking Mrs. Lincoln in the General's ambulance to witness this pageant, always so enthusiastically enjoyed by me. At my request, General Grant directed two of his staff officers to escort us, one of them being the author of the stories published recently.
As we were approaching the field, a lady on horseback passed us at full gallop, calling to me as she passed: 'I cannot control my horse. HE seems determined to join his mate, which the General (menacing her husband) rides,' and dashing past, she was soon far in advance of our party. Mrs. Lincoln was somewhat disturbed by this and made many inquiries as to who the lady was. She thought ladies were not allowed in camp, to which I replied, smiling, 'General Grant is much opposed to their being present, but when I wanted to come I wrote him a nice, coaxing letter, and permission was always granted.'
Presently, we would see the equestrienne again dashing on, and Mrs. Lincoln seemed annoyed for fear she would join the President, but I assured her she would not, as the President was with General Grant. When we arrived on the field, we again saw this lady, now quite near the President and General Grant.
Seeing that Mrs. Lincoln was really annoyed by this, I asked an officer who was near us to ride over to Mrs. General Ord and, with my compliments, ask her to join our party, which she did immediately, feeling much gratified at the attention. I told her that Mrs. Lincoln and I both thought it would be more agreeable for her to be near our carriage, at the same time presenting her to Mrs. Lincoln, who received her most graciously.
On our return from this same review, General Ord, the commanding officer of the division, came up to us and said: 'Ladies, the President and the General have been gracious enough to appoint me your escort back to headquarters.' Always courteous and kind, he proceeded to present Mrs. Lincoln and myself a grant many of the officers as they passed our carriage.
A lady, the wife of one of his staff officers, riding up, he said, Mrs. Lincoln, let me present Mrs. ___.' Just then the horse wheeled and galloped back to the side of its mate, which the lady's husband was riding. The lady, feeling it a duty as well as a pleasure to be presented to Mrs. Lincoln and to explain her abrupt departure, gave her horse a smart stroke with her whip and brought him again alongside; then General Ord again started to present her. Again the horse wheeled and went flying back. General Ord, much annoyed and somewhat amused, said: 'Mrs. Lincoln, that is a finely-trained horse. He will not let the lady leave her husband's side. I would recommend you to get one like it. If you would like I will try (growing quite radiant with the idea0 to get him for you; he is just what you want.
All this time, Mrs. Lincoln was growing more and more indignant and, not being able longer to control her wrath, exclaimed: 'What do you mean, Sir?' I quietly placed my hand on hers and said in an undertone, 'Dear Mrs. Lincoln, he does not mean anything. He was only made an unfortunate speech. Do not be annoyed. He knows nothing of this morning's occurrence.' Seeing Mrs. Lincoln was much fatigued, I requested the General not to present any more of the gallant fellows who dashed past, all eager to catch a glimpse of the wife of their beloved and honored President.85
Mrs. Lincoln's relationship with Mrs. Grant would never recover. When Mrs. Lincoln invited the Grants to come to Ford's Theater on April 15, 1863, Mrs. Grant declined - determined to accompany her husband to visit their children in New Jersey. For four years, Mrs. Lincoln had lived in a fish bowl - largely without adequate protection for her or her husband. Washington chronicler Margaret Leech wrote: "Not the least curious aspect of Mary Lincoln's character was her tolerance of a lack of protection. In the semi-public mansion, there was a want of security and privacy which would have been unthinkable in other residences of the crime-ridden capital. There was no watchman on duty in the parlors, and costly furnishings were stolen and defaced by the sight-seers who roamed at will on the first floor. The front door was open all day and late into the evening. The attendant was often absent from his post, especially after office hours and on Sundays. On many occasions, people walked into the house at night and wandered about the rooms, and sometimes even went upstairs, without finding anyone to direct them."86
Only days before his assassination, President Lincoln had walked peacefully through the streets of the former Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. He spent his last conscious hours watching a comedy with many Union soldiers in the audience. The star and producer of the play, Laura Keene, reportedly came to the presidential box to help cradle Lincoln's head. She left the theater, according to lawyer Seaton Munroe disheveled and blood-stained. Though the story has been disputed, it is precisely the kind of incident that would have distressed Mrs. Lincoln.87
It would take Mrs. Lincoln more than a month to compose herself , pack and leave the White House."The shock of her husband's death had brought about a nervous disorder [for Mary Todd Lincoln]. Her physician, Doctor Stone, refused to allow her to be moved [from the White House] until she was somewhat restored," recalled security guard William Crook.88 "At about five o'clock [on May 22, 1865], Mrs. Lincoln, Robert, Tad, and Lizzie [Keckley] walked down the public stairway, entered a horse-drawn carriage driven by the husband of Rosetta Wells, one of the women in the White House who had mended linens and torn clothing, wrote Keckley biographer Becky Rutberg.. "Dr. Anson Henry, Mrs. Lincoln's friend and personal physician, and two White House guards joined them in a green railroad car that had been chartered for their use."89 Other than seamstress Keckley, notably absent were any female friends of the former First Lady.