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lincoln, rutledge, and the evidence of herndon’s informants 43 Abraham Lincoln, Ann rutledge, and the evidence of Herndon’s informants Douglas L. Wilson The Ann rutledge story has always sounded like nineteenth-century popular fiction. The most beautiful girl in the village becomes engaged to a rich storekeeper , who admits he has been living under an assumed name and who says he will marry her when he returns from a visit to his aged parents. When he stops writing and shows no sign of returning after two years, the deserted girl accepts the advances of the poor-but-honest postmaster, who has loved her secretly all along. She agrees to marry him, and they plan a bright future, including college for her and a legal career for him, only to have death intervene at the height of their happiness and cancel all their vows. When William H. Herndon came across the Ann rutledge story unexpectedly after Abraham Lincoln’s death, it gradually took possession of his nineteenth-century soul. He came to believe he had found in the tragedy of Lincoln’s first romance at least a partial answer to the mystery of his great law partner’s chronic melancholy—namely, that the loss of Ann rutledge had given a permanent wound to his spirit and altered his outlook on life. This theory he laid on in extravagant terms in a lecture in november 1866 and later incorporated in a more measured and moderate form some twenty-three years later in his biography, Herndon’s Lincoln.1 43 E 1. Herndon’s lecture, “ABrAHAM LinCoLn. MiSS Ann ruTLeDGe. neW SALeM. PioneerinG AnD THE PoeM.,” delivered on nov. 16, 1866, and distributed as a broadside, Civil War History, vol. XXXvi no. 4 © 1990 by The kent State university Press In order to view this proof accurately, the Overprint Preview Option must be checked in Acrobat Professional or Adobe Reader. Please contact your Customer Service Representative if you have questions about finding the option. Job Name: -- /358884t 44 douglas l. wilson has been reprinted in Lincoln and Ann rutledge and the Pioneers of New Salem (Herrin, ill.:Trovillion Private Press, 1945). His biography, co-authored with Jesse W. Weik, appeared in 1889. 2. edgar Lee Masters, Spoon river Anthology (new York: Macmillan, 1964), 219. 3. Paul M. Angle, “Lincoln’s First Love?” Lincoln Centennial Association Bulletin 9 (Dec. 1, 1927):1. 4. See, for example, roy P. Basler, The Lincoln Legend: A Study in Changing Conceptions (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1935): 147–63, and Louis A. Warren, “The Ann rutledge Myth,” The Lincoln Kinsman 35 (May 1941): 1–8. it was perhaps inevitable that such a story should wear out its welcome, threatening, as it does, to reduce Lincoln’s deep inner life—if not the key to his greatness—to a romanticcliché. novels and popular biographiescould not resist the theme that was stated most memorably in edgar Lee Masters’s epitaph for Ann rutledge in Spoon river Anthology: out of me unworthy and unknown The vibrations of deathless music; “With malice toward none, with charity for all.” out of me the forgiveness of millions toward millions And the beneficent face of a nation Shining with justice and truth.2 For the rising generation of twentieth-century Lincoln scholars, the last straw seems to have beenCarl Sandburg’s The Prairieyears, published in 1926, inwhich the hero’s amorous feelings toward the fairAnn are rendered in mawkish scenes and trembling soliloquies.The followingyeartheyoung Paul M.Angle attacked the Ann rutledge story as “one of the great myths of American history.”3 All of the evidence in support of it, he argued,was afterthe fact,with nocontemporary evidence of any kind having been produced. He charged Herndon with having chosen his evidence selectively, ignoring and suppressing testimony that cast doubton the story, and accepting as authentic testimonyhe should have regarded as suspect. Moreover, Herndon had heedlessly given credence to the doubtful tale of Lincoln’s near insanity after the death of Ann rutledge. This repudiation of theAnn rutledge storyas acritical event in Lincoln’s life, reinforced byAngle’s sensational exposure a fewyears later of an Ann rutledge hoax, found favorwith the communityof Lincoln scholars,4 but there remained one difficulty: the documents upon which Herndon had based his account were not generally available for examination. This was a consideration of some importance in that the position taken by Angle and others was in large part a In order to view this proof accurately, the...


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