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Mary Lincoln's Insanity Case

A Documentary History

Jason Emerson

Publication Year: 2012

In 1875 Mary Lincoln, the widow of a revered president, was committed to an insane asylum by her son, Robert. The trial that preceded her internment was a subject of keen national interest. In this volume, noted Lincoln scholar Jason Emerson provides a documentary history of Mary Lincoln's mental illness and insanity case, evenhandedly presenting every relevant primary source on the subject to enable a clearer view of the facts. Beginning with documents from the immediate aftermath of her husband's assassination and ending with reminiscences by friends and family in the mid-twentieth century, Mary Lincoln's Insanity Case: A Documentary History compiles more than one hundred letters, dozens of newspaper articles, editorials, and legal documents, and the daily patient progress reports from Bellevue Place Sanitarium during Mary Lincoln's incarceration. Including many materials that have never been previously published, Emerson also collects multiple reminiscences, interviews, and diaries of people who knew Mary Lincoln or were involved in the case, including the first-hand recollection of one of the jurors in the 1875 insanity trial. _x000B__x000B_Suggesting neither accusation nor exoneration of the embattled First Lady, Mary Lincoln's Insanity Case: A Documentary History gives scholars and history enthusiasts incomparable access to the documents and information crucial to understanding this vexing chapter in American history.

Published by: University of Illinois Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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p. 4-4


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p. 5-5


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pp. 6-7

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pp. vii-viii

Numerous people assisted me in locating and compiling the documents in this book, and I owe them all a debt of thanks. Kara Vetter, registrar, Indiana State Library, Indianapolis, Indiana; Cindy Van Horn, curator, Lincoln Financial...

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pp. ix-xvi

Shortly before Mary Lincoln was declared insane by a Chicago jury in May 1875, one resident summed up the public knowledge and feeling in the city about the former first lady in a letter to a friend...

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Editorial Note

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pp. xvii-xx

The format of this book is chronological. It begins in April 1865, in the immediate aftermath of Abraham Lincoln’s murder, and concludes in 1959, with the last primary piece of evidence published concerning Mary Lincoln’s mental health. The assassination was chosen as...

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1. April 1865–May 1875

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pp. 1-12

Today has been the saddest day of my life, if indeed one can be sadder than another of the sad days that has shrouded the nation in gloom. . . . I was in Richmond on the night of the assassination. The next day in the afternoon I went down to City Point and met the sad news. I was so stunned by the blow that I could not realize that he was dead until I saw him lying in the [White House] Guest’s chamber cold and still...

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2. Trial of 1875: Newspaper Reports

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pp. 13-41

To the multitude of the American people who so loved Abraham Lincoln, it will come as a painful surprise that his widow, Mrs. Lincoln, has been sent to the insane asylum. But such is the fact, or is, at least, so ordered by the County Court. The growing fact that she was...

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3. Trial of 1875: Correspondence

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pp. 42-50

If I had received your telegraph of the 18th before night I should have gone up on the night train, but my going today would be of no service to you. You received cousin John’s answer to your communication so of course did not expect us this morning, but I assure you dear...

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4. Trial of 1875: Newspaper Editorials

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pp. 51-59

The proceedings in the County Court yesterday in the case of Mrs. Lincoln will have a painful interest. Nothing but an imperative sense of duty and of filial devotion could have compelled the institution of the inquiry. It has been generally known in the circle of the lady’s acquaintances...

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5. Suicide Attempt

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pp. 60-71

There was no strategy used in taking Mrs. Lincoln to the insane asylum; neither was there any force required to bring her into court on Wednesday. To Hon. Leonard Swett is ascribed the credit of effecting a quiet and unceremonious proceeding from beginning to end. When...

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6. May–July 1875

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pp. 72-95

20—Mrs. Mary Lincoln admitted today—from Chicago—age 56—widow of Ex-President Lincoln—declared insane by Cook County Court May 19, 1875. Case is one of mental impairment...

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7. August 1875

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pp. 96-137

Mrs. Abraham Lincoln is given up as hopelessly insane. She sits down silent and alone in her solitary room to keep imaginary company with senators and ambassadors in the light of that gracious smile long since...

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8. September–December 1875

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pp. 138-166

Enclosed please find check for $72.66 for which please return a voucher. I reached home on yesterday and have not yet had time to digest the extraordinary performances of the Bradwells...

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9. January 1–May 21, 1876

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pp. 167-177

I am sorry to say that your mother has for the last month been very much embittered against you, and has on several occasions said that she has hired two men to take your life. On this morning...

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10. Trial of 1876

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pp. 178-185

By appointment Mr. Edwards came to see me today, and I am satisfied, that you had better consent to the discharge of your mother at the end of the year. This is my advice on the theory that her...

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11. June–September 1876

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pp. 186-201

Your most welcome letter, was received last evening and I am quickly demonstrating the pleasure it afforded me by replying at once. God is just, retribution, must follow those who act wickedly in this life, sooner or later compensation surely awaits those, who suffer unjustly...

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12. October 1876–June 1882

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pp. 202-207

I find myself, sufficiently recovered from my sea voyage, to write you, concerning my safe arrival, on a foreign shore. Tomorrow I sail on a new Steamer, the Columbia, for Bordeaux. Such kindness, deference...

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13. Posthumous

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pp. 208-220

In the hurry and distraction of business of the Senate I cannot except on Sunday write you a long letter. This I am writing from my desk in the Senate...

Appendix: Abraham Lincoln’s Comments on His Wife’s Sanity

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pp. 221-224


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pp. 225-228


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pp. 229-232


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pp. 233-237

E-ISBN-13: 9780252094170
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252037078

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Lincoln, Mary Todd, -- 1818-1882 -- Mental health.
  • Lincoln, Mary Todd, 1818-1882 -- Trials, litigation, etc.
  • Newspapers -- United States -- History -- 19th century -- Sources.
  • Presidents' spouses -- United States -- Biography.
  • Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865 -- Family.
  • Mental illness -- United States -- Case studies.
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