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Abraham and Mary Lincoln

Kenneth J. Winkle

Publication Year: 2011

For decades Abraham and Mary Lincoln’s marriage has been characterized as discordant and tumultuous. In Abraham and Mary Lincoln, author Kenneth J. Winkle goes beyond the common image of the couple, illustrating that although the waters of the Lincoln household were far from calm, the Lincolns were above all a house united. Calling upon their own words and the reminiscences of family members and acquaintances, Winkle traces the Lincolns from their starkly contrasting childhoods, through their courtship and rise to power, to their years in the White House during the Civil War, ultimately revealing a dynamic love story set against the backdrop of the greatest peril the nation has ever seen. 

When the awkward but ambitious Lincoln landed Mary Todd, people were surprised by their seeming incompatibility. Lincoln, lacking in formal education and social graces, came from the world of hardscrabble farmers on the American frontier. Mary, by contrast, received years of schooling and came from an established, wealthy, slave-owning family. Yet despite the social gulf between them, these two formidable personalities forged a bond that proved unshakable during the years to come. Mary provided Lincoln with the perfect partner in ambition—one with connections, political instincts, and polish. For Mary, Lincoln was her “diamond in the rough,” a man whose ungainly appearance and background belied a political acumen to match her own. 

While each played their role in the marriage perfectly— Lincoln doggedly pursuing success and Mary hosting lavish political soirées—their partnership was not without contention. Mary—once described as “the wildcat of her age”—frequently expressed frustration with the limitations placed on her by Victorian social strictures, exhibiting behavior that sometimes led to public friction between the couple. Abraham’s work would at times keep him away from home for weeks, leaving Mary alone in Springfield. 

The true test of the Lincolns’ dedication to each other began in the White House, as personal tragedy struck their family and civil war erupted on American soil. The couple faced controversy and heartbreak as the death of their young son left Mary grief-stricken and dependent upon séances and spiritualists; as charges of disloyalty hounded the couple regarding Mary’s young sister, a Confederate widow; and as public demands grew strenuous that their son Robert join the war. The loss of all privacy and the constant threat of kidnapping and assassination took its toll on the entire family. Yet until a fateful night in the Ford Theatre in 1865, Abraham and Mary Lincoln stood firmly together—he as commander-in-chief during America’s gravest military crisis, and she as First Lady of a divided country that needed the White House to emerge as a respected symbol of national unity and power. 

Despite the challenges they faced, the Lincolns’ life together fully embodied the maxim engraved on their wedding bands: love is eternal. Abraham and Mary Lincoln is a testament to the power of a stormy union that held steady through the roughest of seas.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Book Title

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pp. vii


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pp. ix

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Introduction: A House Divided

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pp. 1-2

For a century and a half, the prevailing image of the marriage of Abraham and Mary Lincoln, among both historians and the American public in general, has included disagreement and discord between the two as its central motif. Biographers and historians have chronicled dozens of contemporary observations and even more, ...

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1. Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd

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pp. 3-38

Both the Lincoln and Todd families had roots in colonial Virginia and settled in Kentucky during the Revolutionary Era. But there any similarities end. The American Lincoln line began with three Lincoln brothers who emigrated from Hingham, England, and settled in its namesake, Hingham, Massachusetts, in 1637. ...

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2. Mr. and Mrs. Abraham Lincoln

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pp. 39-76

They met at one of the most anticipated social events in the town’s history, a cotillion at the new American House held in December 1839 to celebrate the convening of the first legislative session in the new state capital. As one of the Assembly’s Whig leaders, Abraham Lincoln was named a “manager” of the event, which ...

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3. The President and the First Lady

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pp. 77-114

In February 1861, the Lincoln family made a twelve-day railway journey to Washington that represented a turning point not only in their lives but in the fate of the nation as well. The traveling party numbered all five Lincolns, including Robert, who was now a student at Harvard College, as well as Lincoln’s newly appointed secretaries, ...

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4. Mrs. Widow Lincoln

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pp. 115-124

Arguably, the two most famous widows in the world during the nineteenth century were Mary Lincoln and Queen Victoria. Dubbed the “eternal widow of Windsor,” Queen Victoria lost her Prince Consort in 1861, grieved in private for the next twenty years, and in all spent forty years ruling Great Britain in widow’s ...

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Conclusion: An American Union

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pp. 125-128

Mary Lincoln was tremendously helpful, even instrumental, in her husband’s rise to the American presidency. Fueling his ambition, maintaining a stable home life for his family, entertaining lavishly both at Eighth and Jackson and in the White House, doing what she could to polish her husband’s manners, and lending her ...

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pp. 129-130

During the years that I have devoted to researching and writing about the Lincoln family, many people and institutions have kindly offered encouragement, advice, and support. At the University of Nebraska– Lincoln, Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development Prem S. Paul, Dean David Manderscheid of the College of Arts and ...

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Essay on Sources

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pp. 131-136

The most important resources for examining and interpreting Abraham and Mary Lincoln’s marriage are, of course, their own words, to the extent that they have survived and are available to scholars. The essential source for any study of Abraham Lincoln is Roy P. Basler’s nine-volume Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (1953), whose ...


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pp. 137-140


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pp. 141-147

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Author Bio

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pp. 147

The most important resources for examining and interpreting Abraham and Mary Lincoln’s marriage are, of course, their own words, to the extent that they have survived and are available to scholars. The essential source for any study of Abraham Lincoln is Roy P. Basler’s nine-volume Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (1953), whose

Series Page

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Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809379996
E-ISBN-10: 0809379996
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809330492
Print-ISBN-10: 0809330490

Page Count: 160
Illustrations: 9 B/w halftones
Publication Year: 2011