Abraham Lincoln’s Sons

Abraham Lincoln’s Sons

New York Historical Society
Reference Number: 1909.6

Featured Book

, Lincoln’s Sons
(Little, Brown & Co., 1955)
Illinois Editor Jeriah Bonham recalled visiting Abraham Lincoln in Springfield in the summer of 1860. Mr. Lincoln was at the State Capitol where he normally met with visitors, but this day he was alone with Tad and Willie, who were playing on the floor of the Governor’s office. “‘Tad’ was spinning a top, and Mr. Lincoln, as we came in, had just finished adjusting the string for him so it would give the top greater force when it was whirled off on the floor. He said he was having a little season of relaxation with the boys, which he could not always enjoy now, as so many callers and so much correspondence occupied his time.”1
Children — his own and others — were a critical part of Mr. Lincoln’s mental relaxation. “Mr. Lincoln was always fond of children,” noted one Illinois friend. “During his earlier years of practice in Springfield his wife would have him put their latest baby in its wagon and wheel it on the street until he had to go to his office. A neighbor called to him one morning: ‘That is pretty business for a lawyer.’ Mr. Lincoln’s quiet reply was: ‘I promised to give him the air; he was so tired and heated.'”2 Robert was the oldest of four Lincoln boys. The second son, Eddie, died in 1850 before he reached three years, perhaps of diphtheria. Two more boys — Willie and Tad — were born in 1850 and 1853.
One young friend of the Lincoln family in Springfield, Joseph R. Kent, recalled “that Bob, the elder and Tad the younger, were Mama boys. They neither one had the slightest personal appearance or deliberate easy manner of Mr. Lincoln. They both resembled their mother in looks and actions. Will was the true picture of Mr. Lincoln, in every way, even to carrying his head slightly inclined toward his left shoulder.” 3 The boys could be a handful, according to a young woman who lived across the street: “One evening Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln were to attend a reception at the home of Mr. Dubois, the State Auditor, a couple of blocks down on Eighth street. My mother was helping Mrs. Lincoln dress for the party. Willie and Tad came home from a candy-pull. They were smeared with molasses candy from head to foot. When they heard of the party they wanted to go, too. Robert, who at that time was planning to enter Harvard, was to stay at home with the little boys. Mrs. Lincoln said firmly that they could not go, whereupon the two boys set up a cry. Their mother was steadfast, and the boys were determined. They were kicking and screaming when Mr. Lincoln entered.”

“This will never do,” he said. “Mary, if you will let the boys go, I will take care of them.”
“Why, Father, you know that is no place for boys to be. When people give a party like that it is no place children.” By this time the boys began to listen.
“But,” said Mr. Lincoln, “I will taken them around the back way, and they can stay in the kitchen.” He then talked to the boys about being good and making no promises that were not to be kept, and it was arranged that the boys should go if Robert and my mother should get them dressed. They were cleaned up, and in the haste Tad found his short trousers on hind-side before. At this he set up another storm, because he ‘couldn’t walk good,’ which his father quieted by a wave of his hand and saying, ‘Remember, now, remember.’ When the little boys were ready, they went ahead with their father, not to the kitchen but to the full reception. With Robert Mrs. Lincoln followed in, in a beautiful canary-colored satin dress, low neck and short sleeves, and large hoop-skirts, after the manner of the time.”4

Mr. Lincoln’s toleration of the boys’ antics was not always greeted with approbation by friends and guests. Ohio journalist Don Piatt recalled having dinner at the Lincoln house in the fall of 1860. As they sat in the parlor, “… all the while, two little boys, his sons, clambered over those legs, patted his cheeks, pulled his nose, and poked their fingers in his eyes, without causing reprimand or even notice.”5 Without a doubt, Mr. Lincoln was the more patient parent with the children. A Springfield neighbor, Anna Eastman, recalled looking out her kitchen window one summer day when she witnessed a scene in the Lincoln’s kitchen. Mrs. Lincoln was berating her son Tad for not giving her back a dime in change after going to the store. Tad denied that he had used the money on himself and claimed that he had lost it. His mother accused him of being a “bad boy” and a “thief” and got a switch which she turned on Tad’s legs. At that point, Mr. Lincoln came in the kitchen and asked Mrs. Lincoln, “What does this mean?” After she gave her interpretation of events, he asked “are you sure?” He ordered Tad to turn out his pockets — from which a dime dropped. At that point, according to Anna many years later, “occurred what I shall never forget, for Mr. Lincoln turned to his wife and literally looked down on her, because he was so tall, and said in a voice gentle and tender with understanding: ‘Mary! Mary!’ That was all he said, and his wife made no reply.”6
Although in later years, Robert Todd Lincoln struggled to preserve his father’s legacy, the oldest son was perhaps least like his father. Robert was shyer, more reserved and more concerned with public appearances. Robert was cross-eyed and his eye bothered him his entire life. He did not like public attention; at best he merely endured it. He nevertheless developed a very keen sense of propriety. He spent much more time with mother’s side of the family than his brothers and his temperament was said to be more Todd than Lincoln. An age difference of 7 and 10 years separated from his younger siblings so he was chronologically distanced from them as well.
Both before and after President Lincoln’s murder, Robert lived in the shadow of his father. And he struggled to get out from it. He developed his own mind early — deciding on Harvard College, making the move himself, failing the college entrance exams, entering Exeter to improve his test scores, maturing rapidly away from his family, and improving his academic skills sufficiently to pass Harvard’s tests in 1860. Mr. Lincoln wrote a friend in July 1860: “Our eldest boy, Bob, has been away from us nearly a year at school, and will enter Harvard University this month. He promises very well, considering we never controlled him much.”7 Family biographer Ruth Painter Randall wrote: “Years afterward Robert often said with a smile that he was mainly responsible for his father’s first nomination for President, that if he had not flunked his examinations at Harvard and if his father had not in consequence been so much worried about him that he wanted to come East to see him, it might not have happened. For both Robert and Mr. Lincoln that flunking proved remarkably beneficial.”8
Robert didn’t believe he shared the intimacy with his father that his younger brothers did, once saying: “My Father’s life was of a kind which gave me but little opportunity to learn the details of his early career. During my childhood & early youth he was almost constantly away from home, attending courts or making political speeches. In 1859 when I was sixteen and when he was beginning to devote himself more to practice in his own neighborhood, and when I would have had both the inclination and the means of gratifying my desire to become better acquainted with the history of his struggles, I went to New Hampshire to school and afterward to Harvard College, and he became President. Henceforth any great intimacy between us became impossible. I scarcely even had ten minutes quiet talk with him during his Presidency, on account of his constant devotion to business.”sup>9
Whereas Robert’s younger brothers thoroughly enjoyed the excitement of their father’s new position, Robert was torn between privacy and notoriety. On the pre-inaugural trip to Washington, reported aide John G. Nicolay, he was “full of the exuberance and carelessness peculiar to that age, to whom this trip seemed more of a triumphal journey than to his serious father; for in the recent Presidential Campaign by way of a pendant to Lincoln’s sobriquet of ‘Illinois Rail-Splitter’ the irrepressible newspaper humor of the country had facetiously dubbed Robert ‘The Prince of Rails;’ and at almost every stopping place a little clan of ‘The Boys’ of his own age was ready to seize upon him and do him the honors after their own capricious whims.”10 Union officer William E. Doster wrote that Robert was “much in the secretaries’ company during vacations He affected the English style, but was esteemed a very clever fellow, and joined us at the Metropolitan club, our headquarters.”11
Though both he and his father shared a love of the theater, they never went to a play together. Robert, unlike Tad, never tried to endear himself to his father and seemed to disappear at moments when his father needed him. Sometimes he even appeared to deliberately annoy him — as when he did not reply to his father’s telegram to “Come to Washington” after his Mother’s accident in July 1863. “Why do I hear no more of you” telegraphed the President.12
Robert’s private and public status was complicated by his desire to enter the army and his mother’s adamant opposition to such service. Given Mary’s fragile mental state, President Lincoln tended to side with her until after Robert graduated from college Mary Lincoln said to her husband: “Of course, Mr. Lincoln, I know that Robert’s plea to go into the Army is manly and noble and I want him to go, but oh! I am so frightened he may never come back to us!”13 When some White House guests criticized Robert’s absence from the army, Mrs. Lincoln said to New York Senator Ira Harris: “Robert is making his preparation now to enter the Army, Senator Harris; he is not a shirker as you seem to imply for he has been anxious to go for a long time. If fault there be, it’s mine, I have insisted that he should stay in college a little longer as I think an educated man can serve his country with more intelligent purpose than an ignoramus.”14
In January 1865, Robert left his law studies at Harvard to join the Army. His father had written General Ulysses S. Grant.
Robert’s younger brothers had a different sort of upbringing. Tad and Willie attended Miss Corcoran’s school in Springfield. Ruth Painter Randall wrote that Tad’s “father would not let him be pushed in his schooling. It became Tad’s policy to evade school, and one wonders whether the other children had laughed at his first attempts to learn his letters (which would have been comical with his impediment of speech) and whether this teasing was a factor in his distaste for books. Robert had his crossed eye to contend with; Tad had his lisp. It probably added to the appeal of his personality for older people as it heightened the effect of his droll sayings, but children are often cruel in their ridicule and mocking. It was remembered that he once said to his cousin John Grimsley, ‘I love you, Johnny,’ because you are nice to me and don’t tease me.’ When Tad went through the process of losing his baby teeth, that comical stage of a little boy’s toothless smile, his second teeth came in crooked, which did not help matters any.”15
“During the first year of the administration the house was made lively by the games and pranks of Mr. Lincoln’s two younger children, William and Thomas,” wrote Lincoln aide John Hay. “The two little boys, aged eight and ten, with their western independence and enterprise, kept the house in an uproar. They drove their tutor wild with their good natured disobedience; they organized a minstrel show in the attic; they made acquaintance with the office seekers and became the hot champions of the distressed. William was, with all his boyish frolic a child of great promise, capable of close application and study. He had a fancy for drawing up railway time tables, and would conduct an imaginary train from Chicago to New York with perfect precision. He wrote childish verses, which sometimes attained the unmerited honors of print.”16
Willie was both precocious and engaging — his personality and his mind were both advanced. One relative described Willie as “a noble, beautiful boy of nine years, of great mental activity, unusual intelligence, wonderful memory, methodical, frank and loving, a counterpart of his father, save that he was handsome.”17 Springfield photographer J. G. Stewart recalled that Willie “was the brainiest boy I ever saw. His memory was so great that after he had heard a sermon he could repeat it almost word for word.”18 Childhood friend Fred T. Dubois, recalled that Willie “was very studious and took delight in discussing the problems of the day with the other boys.” 19 Willie liked to read and his interior life mirrored that of the President. He shared his father’s thoughtfulness and his father’s sense of humor. He also shared his father’s ability to put people at ease and his father’s interest in history and his father’s early attempts at poetry.
Willie and his father seemed to share a similar inner life — separate from the rest of the Lincoln family. Willie shared his father’s deliberative thought processes. As Mr. Lincoln observed his son thinking at the breakfast table one morning, he told a visiting congressman: “I know every step of the process by which that boy arrived at his satisfactory solution of the question before him, as it is by just such slow methods I attain results.”20 Willie’s mother called him “the idolized child, of the household.”21 Back in Springfield, Willie was a precocious politician who “used to stand on the terrace of their house and urge passerby to ‘Vote for Old Abe.’ He was a pretty good speech-maker himself, and his boy companions, at the end of their parades, would call ‘for a speech from Willie’ to which he would proudly respond.”22
Like his brothers, Willie could be persistent. One friend recalled Willie coming into his father’s office in the summer of 1860. “Father I want twenty five cents,” said Willie. “My son,” said Mr. Lincoln, “What do you want of twenty five centers?” Willie responded,”I want it to buy candy with.” To which Mr. Lincoln said, “My son, I Shall not give you twenty five centers, but will give you five centers.” He put the five-cent piece on his desk, but Willie turned away and left the office. Mr. Lincoln told his companion that Willie “… will be back after that in a few moments…as soon as he finds I will give him no more he will come and get it.” Sure enough, Willie snuck back in quietly, retrieved his money and departed “without saying a word.”23
Lincoln family biographer Ruth Painter Randall wrote: “The two younger boys were so devoted to each other it was almost as hard for Willie to witness Tad’s tears as it was for Mr. Lincoln. He looked on sorrowfully at their father’s failure to bring Tad out of his woe, then lapsed into an absorbed silence which lasted for ten or fifteen minutes. He was evidently trying hard to think of some way he could cheer Tad up. Mr. Lincoln was watching Willie and making sure that no one disturbed his mental concentration. Finally Willie clasped both hands together, shut his teeth over his lower lip, and looked up into his father’s face with a smile. Mr. Lincoln had been waiting for this. ‘There!’ he exclaimed. ‘You have it now, my boy, have you not?’ Then turning to a guest who was at the breakfast table he explained, ‘I know every step of the process by which that boy arrived at his satisfactory solution of the question before him, as it by just such slow methods I attain results.”24
They even tended to get sick together — both came down with measles shortly after President Lincoln was inaugurated in March 1861. In February 1862, both again got sick — this time apparently with typhoid fever. During Willie’s illness, according to William O. Stoddard, “there is an increasingly gloomy shadow in the house. Work in all the rooms goes on as usual, but now and then the President rises nervously from his chair by the desk and window, walks hastily out of his office and over into the family side of the building. He will not stop to speak to any one by the way, and he is never gone long. He is a bondsman, and he cannot spare many of the moments scared to the work of saving the life of the Republic, not even to linger over the pallid face of his sick boy. He must look at him and come away.”25
Willie’s death hit the President hard — especially coming after the death of former aide Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth in April 1861 and the death of close friend Edward Baker in October of that year. Late on the afternoon of February 20, John G. Nicolay reported the “was lying half asleep on the sofa of my office, when [President Lincoln’s] entrance aroused me. ‘Well, Nicolay,’ said he choking with emotion, ‘my boy is gone — he is actually gone!’ and bursting into tears, turned and went into his own office.”26
Horatio Nelson Taft was the father of Bud Taft, Willie’s closest friend who had spent much of his time at Willie’s bedstead. The elder Taft wrote in his diary: “We hear tonight with much sorrow that our little friend Willie Lincoln died at 5p.m. He had been sick for near three weeks with Typhoid fever. ‘Bud’ has been to see him or to enquire about him almost every day. He and his Mother were there yesterday about noon. Willie was then thought to be better. He was an amiable good hearted boy, was here with our boys almost every day or our boys were there. We all got much attached to him & ‘Tad his Brother. He had more judgment and foresight than any boy of his age that I have ever known, poor Willie we all lament.”27
Willie, noted Stoddard, “was a child of great promise, and far more quiet and studious than his mercurial younger brother.”28 Tad, on the other hand, tried the patience of all but his father. Tad was obstreperous but sensitive. One Illinois contemporary recalled seeing Mr. Lincoln leave church early one Sunday: “‘Tad’ was slung across his left arm like a pair of saddlebags, and Mr. Lincoln was striding along with long, deliberate steps toward his home. On one of the street corners he encountered a group of his fellow-townsmen. Mr. Lincoln anticipated the question which was about to be put by the group, and, taking his figure of speech from practices with which they were only too familiar, said: ‘Gentlemen, I entered this colt, but he kicked around so I had to withdraw him.”29
Tad also had the ability to charm and involve others in his far-fetched projects. His compassion was nearly as great as his father’s. Playing with Tad was an important physical and emotional release for the President. The President’s desire to prolong Tad’s childhood may have reflected the traumas of his own childhood. He had a talent for making friends with adults. He was as kind-hearted as he was high-spirited. He sometimes accompanied his father to the Telegraph Office in the War Department. On one occasion, he went into telegraph operators’ room where their instruments sat on white marble tables.

“In pure mischief Tad thrust his fingers into an ink-well and wiped them across several of the white tops, making a horrible mess. [Telegraph operator Madison] Buell seized the boy by the collar and marched him at arm’s length into the cipher-room, where his father was seated looking over the latest dispatches which he had taken from the little drawer of the cipher-desk. Each one of the trio was surprised and a little embarrassed, Buell perhaps more so than the other two. Tad held up his inky fingers, while Buell, with a look of disgust on his face, pointed through the open door to the row of marble tops smeared with ink. Lincoln took in the situation at once, and without asking for further explanation, lifted his boy in his arms and left the office, saying in a pleasant tone, ‘Come, Tad; Buell is abusing you.”30

On another occasion, Tad and Willie disrupted the entire White House. A system of bells in the President’s office allowed him to summon aides and staffers from throughout the building. From their perch in the White House attic, Willie and Tad set to “tugging hard and bringing out at once all the jangle there is in the building.” The ringing bells brought all the White House staff converging on Mr. Lincoln’s office to find out why he needed them.31
Mr. Lincoln encouraged and pampered his children in the way that his own father never had. “I remember one day I went up to Springfield in company with [Lyman] Trumbull,’ said Henry Guest McPike of Alton. ‘We had political business at Mr. Lincoln’s office. Trumbull was a very dignified man. We were sitting in the office talking to Mr. Lincoln, when the door opened and a boy dashed in, running as hard as he could. He was Tad. His father stood up and opened wide his arms. Tad came running. When he was about 6 feet away he jumped and caught his father around the neck. Lincoln wrapped his arms around the boy and spanked him good, both of them laughing and carrying on as if there was nobody looking at them.” McPike continued: “What Judge Trumbull thought of the interruption he did not say. He sat there observing the frolic without a sign to indicate that to him this was a novel interlude in the midst of a grave discussion on affairs of national concern.”32
If there was deviltry to be gotten into, Tad was sure to find it — and Mr. Lincoln was sure to issue only the mildest rebuke. Painter Thomas Hicks painted Mr. Lincoln’s portrait in the spring of 1860: “My color tubes were on a table at the side of the room. One day Mr. Lincoln’s little son, Tad, with a companion, came noiselessly into the office. His father was sitting at his desk with his back to them, and so absorbed that he did not hear them come in. I was busy with the portrait. The little fellows got among my paints. They took the brightest blue, yellow and red. Then they squeezed from a tube, into their little palms, a lot of the red, and smeared it on the wall; then they took the blue and smeared that in another place, and afterward they smeared the yellow. I saw their excitement and mischief from the beginning, but held my peace and enjoyed watching the enthusiastic young colorists, as they made their first effort in brilliant wall decoration, while, getting the paint all over their hands, their faces and their clothes, the little fellows were as still as mice. At this juncture of affairs, Tad’s father turned in his chair and saw their condition and what they had done. He said, in the mildest tone and with the greatest affection, ‘Boys! boys! You mustn’t meddle with Mr. Hicks’s paints; now run home and have your faces and hands washed;’ and the little fellows too his advice and left the office without a word.”33
After Willie’s death, President Lincoln’s “bereaved heart seemed …to pour out its fulness on his youngest child.” John Hay wrote that Tad “was a merry, warm-blooded, kindly little boy, perfect lawless and full of odd fancies and inventions, the chartered libertine of the Executive Mansion. He ran continually in and out of his father’s cabinet, interrupting his gravest labors and conversations with his bright rapid and imperfect speech — for he had an impediment which made his articulation almost unintelligible, until he was nearly grown. He would perch upon his father’s knee and sometimes even on his shoulder while the most weighty conferences were going one. Sometimes, escaping from the domestic authorities, he would take refuge in that sanctuary for the whole evening, dropping to sleep at last on the floor, when the President would pick him up and carry him tenderly to bed.”34
“Quick in mind, and impulse, like his mother, with her naturally sunny temperament, he was the life, as also the worry of the household,” wrote Elizabeth Todd Grimsley. 35 Like his father Tad was energized by people. Life was a drama in which Tad sought to cast as many people as possible as his sidekicks. His heart was as big as his father’s and he befriended all White House visitors except the stuffy and the self-important, who thought he was altogether undisciplined. More attractive to Tad were the supplicants for his father’s favors, whom aide William O. Stoddard recalled “were quick to seize upon what seemed so vulnerable a point as Mr. Lincoln’s affection for his boy, and attempt to bring themselves to the favorable notice of the all powerful President by the assiduity with which they cultivated his little pet. Of course they succeeded with Tad, for a boy’s heart is easily fished for, and there were a few of the earlier approaches on this line which were tolerably successful; but only a very few found their way to his knee or table before Mr. Lincoln saw the point, and ‘Tad’s clients’ became more a matter for joke than anything else. Otherwise, as a general rule, it was not apt to be to any man’s advantage to have his case pressed by a member of the President’s family.”36
Pennsylvania Congressman William D. Kelley recalled: “The President never seemed grander in my sight than when, stealing upon him in the evening, I would find him with a book open before him, as he is represented in the popular photograph, with little Tad beside him. There were of course a great many curious books sent to him, and it seemed to be one of the special delights of his life to pen those books at such an hour, that his boy could stand beside him, and they could talk as he turned over the pages, the father thus giving to the son a portion of that care and attention of which he was ordinarily deprived by the duties of office pressing upon him.”37
Journalist Noah Brooks frequently visited the White House and wrote that Tad “was the irrepressible spirit of fun and mischief which, through the whole of his father’s term, gave the life in the White House its only comic element. This lad, the complete embodiment of animal spirits, may be called one of the historic boys of America. His name is closely identified with that of his father in the minds of all who were admitted to the inner precincts of the White House; and thousands who never saw the home apartments of that gloomy building knew the tricky spirit that brightened the weary years which Lincoln passed in Washington.”38
Although he annoyed “serious” people, Tad was a special favorite with soldiers and he delighted in visiting them with his father. Noah Brooks related one such visit when the family visited “the Army of the Potomac…and although he was greatly delighted with the bustle, animation, and brilliancy of the reviews during those memorable days, he was anxious for home when night and darkness came and there was nothing to engage his restless mind. Then he would begin to coax his father to go back to Washington. The President, although slightly annoyed by the boy’s persistence, apologized for him, saying that there was a new pony at home waiting to be tried under the saddle by Tad, who had finally compassed a darling project of his own. Finally, to bribe the lad to cease his importunities, Lincoln offered to give him a dollar if he would not pester him with further inquiries about going home. The boy accepted the bargain, but he did not keep his agreement very well; and on the last day of our stay he shyly reminded his father that he needed that dollar very much. Lincoln thoughtfully took out of his pocket-book a dollar bill, and looking in the boy’s eyes, said: “Now, Taddie, my son, do you think you have earned this?’ The lad hung his head, and answered not a word. ‘Well, my son,’ said the indulgent father, ‘although I don’t think you have kept your part of the bargain, I will keep mine, and you cannot reproach me with breaking faith, anyway.”39
Mrs. Lincoln’s cousin, Elizabeth Grimsley, recalled: “One morning, Mr. Lincoln coming in to a late breakfast…found his ‘little man’ dissolved in tears, a sight he could never serenely bear, and at once set about to discover the trouble. ‘Why! Faver, such ungrateful soldiers! When I gave them tracts, and asked them to read them, they laughed loud at me, and said they had plenty of paper to start fires with, and would rather have a “posey”.’ His father took him in his arms, pressed him tightly to him, kissed him, and tried to console him, but it was days before the men saw their little friend’s laughing face again, as he could not readily forgive ridicule.”40
Tad could not abide breaking faith with his soldiers, When one soldier yelled to the President to “send along the greenbacks, he asked the soldier meant. When “told that the army had not been paid for some time, on account of the scarcity of greenbacks, he said, with some indignation, ‘Why doesn’t Governor [Salmon P.] Chase print ’em some, then?'”41
Despite his lack of academic preparation, noted Noah Brooks, “Tad comprehended many practical realities that are far beyond the grasp of most boys. Even when he could scarcely read, he knew much about the cost of things, the details of trade, the principles of mechanics, and the habits of animals, all of which showed the activity of his mind and the odd turn of his thoughts. His father took great interest in everything that concerned Tad, and when the long day’s work was done, and the little chap had related to the President all that had moved him or had take up his attention during the daylight hours, and had finally fallen asleep under a drowsy cross-examination, the weary father would turn once more to his desk, and work on into the night, for his cares never ended. Then, shouldering the sleeping child, the man for whom millions of good men and women nightly prayed took his way through the silent corridors and passage to his boy’s bedchamber.”
Tad was attending a performance of “Aladdin! or His Wonderful Lamp” when his father was assassinated. When Mrs. Lincoln was asked if she wanted him brought to the Petersen House where her husband lay dying. She replied: “O my poor ‘Taddy’ what will become of him? O do not send for him, his violent grief would disturb the House.” 42 Tad was informed that his father had been shot, but did not learn that he had died until his mother returned home the next day. The Rev. Phineas Gurley recalled that Tad was distraught and exclaimed: “O what shall I do? What shall I do? My Brother is dead. My Father is dead. O what shall I do? What will become of me? O what shall I do? O mother you will not die will you. O don’t you die Ma. You wont die will you Mother? If you die I shall be all alone. O don’t die Ma.” Even Dr. Gurley broke down at that point.43
In the years after his father’s death, Tad matured socially and academically. His father’s attitude had been: “Let him run; there’s time enough yet for him to learn his letters and get pokey. Bob was just such a little rascal l and now he is a very decent boy.” 44 John Hay wrote: “Although still a mere child at the death of his father, this terrible shock greatly sobered and steadied him. His brother Robert at once took charge of his education, and he made rapid progress up to the time of his sailing for Europe with his mother. He has ever since remained with her, displaying a thoughtful devotion and tenderness beyond his years, and strangely at variance with the mischievous thoughtlessness of his childhood. He came back a short while ago, greatly improved by his residence abroad, but always the same cordial, frank, warm-hearted boy.”45 The boy died at age 19 in 1871.
With Tad’s death, Robert necessarily assumed sole responsibility for preserving his father’s revered memory. Historian David C. Mearns wrote that Robert “was throttled with more inhibitions, more inferiorities, than any other well-placed gentleman since the notorious Prince of Denmark. Still, he made a competent Secretary of War, and a charming ambassador to [Queen] Victoria. He succeeded in business. He was a bit of a snob, perhaps, but he was not ignoble…He was not bent upon thwarting history but upon discharging the responsibilities of the heir of the Lincoln tradition. He considered it his duty to see that his father’s place in his was irreproachable, unapproachable even unworldly. To that end, he surrendered himself to the mores of his time. He was, in other words, preponderantly his mother’s son.”46


  1. Jeriah Bonham, Fifty Year’s Recollections with Observations and Reflections on Historical Events Giving Sketches of Eminent Citizens – Their Lives and Public Services, p. 183.
  2. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, pp. 122 (Elizabeth Allen Bradner).
  3. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln,pp. 136-137 (Joseph P. Kent, Illinois State Journal, January 9, 1909).
  4. Rufus Wilson Rockwell, editor, Lincoln Among His Friends, p. 85 (Philip Wheelock Ayres,Review of Reviews, February 1918).
  5. Allen Thorndike Rice, editor, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln, p. 480 (Don Piatt).
  6. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, p. 135 (Anna Eastman Johnson interview with A. Longfellow Fiske, Commonweal, March 2, 1932).
  7. Roy P. Basler, editor, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume IV, p. 82. (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Anson Henry, July 4, 1860).
  8. Ruth Painter Randall, Lincoln’s Sons, p. 52.
  9. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, p. 499 (Letter from Robert Todd Lincoln to Dr. Josiah G. Holland, June 6, 1865).
  10. Michael Burlingame, editor, An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln, John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays, p. 108 (“Some Incidents in Lincoln’s Journey from Springfield to Washington”).
  11. William E. Doster, Lincoln and Episodes of the Civil War, p. 31.
  12. Roy P. Basler, editor, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Robert Todd Lincoln, July 14, 1863), Volume VI, p. 327.
  13. Ruth Painter Randall, Lincoln’s Sons, p. 146.
  14. Jean H. Baker, Mary Todd Lincoln, p. 225.
  15. Ruth Painter Randall, Lincoln’s Sons, p. 43-44.
  16. Michael Burlingame, editor, At Lincoln’s Side: John Hay’s Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings, p. 135 (John Hay, “Reminiscences of the Civil War”).
  17. Elizabeth Todd Grimsley, “Six Months in the White House.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, October.-January, 1926-27), p. 48.
  18. Walter B. Stevens, A Reporter’s Lincoln, p. 216 (J. G. Stewart).
  19. Rufus Wilson Rockwell, editor, Lincoln Among His Friends, p. 97 (Fred T. Dubois, New York Tribune, February 12, 1927).
  20. Michael Burlingame, The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln, p. 66.
  21. Justin G. Turner, and Linda Levitt Turner, editors, Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters, p. 189.
  22. Rufus Wilson Rockwell, editor, Lincoln Among His Friends, p. 85 (Philip Wheelock Ayres, Review of Reviews, February 1918).
  23. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editors, Herndon’s Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln, p. 550 (Letter from John S. Bliss to William H. Herndon, January 29, 1867).
  24. Ruth Painter Randall, Lincoln’s Sons, pp. 53.
  25. Michael Burlingame, Editor, Inside the White House in War Times: Memoirs and Report of Lincoln’s Secretary: William O. Stoddard, p. 66.
  26. Michael Burlingame, editor, With Lincoln in the White House: Letters, Memoranda, and Other Writings of John G. Nicolay, 1860-1865, p.162 (Journal entry, February 20, 1862).
  27. John Sellers, editor, The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865, (February 20, 1862), Volume I, January 1-April 11, 1862. http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?mtaft:2:./temp/~ammem_GU2F::
  28. Michael Burlingame, Editor, Inside the White House in War Times: Memoirs and Report of Lincoln’s Secretary: William O. Stoddard, p. 150 (Sketch 2).
  29. Alexander K. McClure, Lincoln’s Own Yarns and Stories, p. 109.
  30. David Homer Bates, Lincoln in the Telegraph Office, pp. 212-213.
  31. Michael Burlingame, editor, Inside the White House in War Times: Memoirs and Reports of Lincoln’s Secretary, p. 27.
  32. Walter B. Stevens, Michael Burlingame, editor, A Reporter’s Lincoln, p. 193.
  33. Allen Thorndike Rice, editor, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln, (Thomas Hicks), p. 590.
  34. Michael Burlingame, editor, At Lincoln’s Side: John Hay’s Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings, (Hay’s Reminiscences of the Civil War), p. 135.
  35. Elizabeth Todd Grimsley, “Six Months in the White House” , Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 19, October-January, 1926-1927, p. 49.
  36. Michael Burlingame, editor, Inside the White House in War Times: Memoirs and Reports of Lincoln’s Secretary, p. 187 (Sketch 10).
  37. Francis B. Carpenter, Six Months at the White House, p. 93.
  38. Herbert Mitgang, editor, Washington, D.C., in Lincoln’s Time: A Memoir of the Civil War Era by the Newspaperman Who Knew Lincoln Best, pp. 246-247.
  39. Herbert Mitgang, editor, Washington, D.C., in Lincoln’s Time: A Memoir of the Civil War Era by the Newspaperman Who Knew Lincoln Best, pp. 250-251 (Noah Brooks).
  40. Elizabeth Todd Grimsley, “Six Months in the White House” , Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, October-January, 1926-1927), p. 53.
  41. Herbert Mitgang, editor, Washington, D.C., in Lincoln’s Time: A Memoir of the Civil War Era by the Newspaperman Who Knew Lincoln Best, Noah Brooks, p. 251.
  42. John Sellers, editor, The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865, (February 20, 1862), Volume I, January 1-April 11, 1862. http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?mtaft:5:./temp/~ammem_GU2F::
  43. John Sellers, editor, The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865, (February 20, 1862), Volume I, January 1-April 11, 1862. http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?mtaft:2:./temp/~ammem_GU2F::
  44. Don E. and Virginia Fehrenbacher, editors, The Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln, p. 57.
  45. Michael Burlingame, editor, At Lincoln’s Side: John Hay’s Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings, p. 111 (Obituary of Tad Lincoln).
  46. Michael Burlingame, “Nicolay and Hay: Court Historians,” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Winter 1998, p. 9 (Letter from David C. Mearns to Otto Eisenschiml, October 2, 1951).