October 25, 2011

the kids

My friend Kara, who is also a history buff, is a big fan of Lincoln. Last summer she and I traveled to Gettysburg together. The summer before she went on a Lincoln road trip around Illinois and Kentucky. She has this to say about the Lincoln children:

The story of Abe Lincoln’s children is probably the central tragedy of his life. Only one of his children, Robert, survived past childhood.

During the happy times, the Lincolns were notoriously permissive parents (ed. - This is so true. Tad couldn't read or write at the age of 9. 9! And when people commented on it Abe was like, it's no big deal). The boys would mess around in Lincoln’s law office while he and his partner were working, and would be asked to recite poetry at dinner functions for Abraham and Mary Todd’s Springfield cronies, which was considered gauche at the time. Mary Todd would dress up in costumes to perform in Robert’s plays, and once Lincoln had accumulated some cash, he purchased a stereoscope for the boys, the Xbox 360 of its time.

Eddie died at age three of consumption in Springfield. The Lincolns were devastated by his death, and historians believe this was the start of the unraveling of Mary Todd. Mary Todd is arguably one of the most criticized of first ladies, but this is an area where I believe historians should just give the lady a break. Three of her children died young! How could any woman stay sane?

Two of Lincoln’s boys, Willy and Tad, were White House kids, and are the source of many anecdotes that fall under my favorite category of presidential tales: Kids Clowning Around the White House Stories. Supposedly the White House roof was converted into a play area for the boys (The whole thing? Did they put up a railing?), and their pet goat would pull a cart through the hallways.

By the time the Lincolns headed to Washington, Robert was away at college. Robert was significantly older than the two little White House boys. He held some resentment toward his father for Abe’s career, which had resulted in money, power and the most famous address in the country for the younger kids, but had mainly resulted in Robert not having seen his father much during Robert’s formative years. Willie died in 1862 at age 11, and the whole nation grieved. Lincoln removed
himself from public correspondence for days, and Mary Todd basically went off the deep end. Tad was eight years old, and Robert was nineteen.

After Lincoln was killed, Mary Todd and the boys moved to Chicago. Everyone’s future had been destroyed in different ways by the assassination. Robert had been on the path toward a very promising law career, but instead had to head back to the Midwest to care for his mother and little brother. Mary Todd struggled with her mental health, and she and Robert clashed. Tad supposedly did okay in Chicago, making “many warm friends” according to Mary Todd, until his untimely death at
age 18 from congestive heart failure. Robert eventually had Mary Todd committed, and burned many of her letters.

1 comment:

  1. And this doesn't even mention Abraham "Jack" Lincoln II, Robert's son, who also died at a young age. It's all so heartbreaking.

    The family line died out completely in 1985.

    If you've traveled to Lincoln's tomb in Springfield, perhaps the saddest part is seeing the names of his three children marking the wall across from his tomb. (Jack was originally buried here, too, but later moved to his father's grave in Arlington).