21. "What Would His Father Say?"
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335 21 “What Would His Father Say?” When forty-nine-year-old Robert returned to America from Great Britain in May 1893, he did not return to any type of work immediately but allowed himself a lengthy vacation. He did this not only for a rest after his diplomatic work but he also was reluctant to return to the city and the job that reminded him so painfully of his son. (He and his family also could not return to their home until 1894 because it was being leased out.) So Robert spent some time in New York City visiting his daughter Mamie and her family and also spending time with his good friend Edgar Welles. He went fishing with friends at Pelee Island, Lake Erie, in mid-May, made a brief trip home to Chicago in early June during which he visited the World’s Fair, attended a lavish ball in honor of Princess Eulalie of Spain, and participated in the unveiling of the Fort Dearborn Massacre Memorial at the Chicago Historical Society.1 Robert returned east to attend the Harvard graduation ceremony on June 28, at which he was given an honorary Doctorate of Laws (LLD). At the alumni dinner that night, Robert gave a brief speech in which he attacked the Illinois governor, Democrat John Peter Altgeld, for his pardon of two of the anarchists convicted during the 1886 Haymarket riot. “This act of a demagogic Governor with a little temporary power, this slander upon justice, I must denounce, and if I did not I would consider myself an apostate to my own State of Illinois,” Lincoln said.2 From Boston, Robert traveled up to the tiny seacoast village of Little Boar’s Head, New Hampshire, for a summer vacation with his family. The Lincolns had been vacationing in the area—which Robert discovered during his days as a student at Phillips Exeter Academy—since the 1870s. It was a place of peace and comfort for Robert, and he especially enjoyed it in 1893 because his entire family, including Mamie and her family, was there with him. “I am so chapter twenty-one 336 far from care and worry this summer that it seems one of the happiest of my life,” Robert wrote to a friend that July.3 The Lincolns stayed at Little Boar’s Head until mid-September before going home to Chicago. In October, he again went fishing at Pelee Island. In November, Robert left home to spend a week visiting friends in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, while Mary and Jessie went to Mount Pleasant, Iowa. It was not until January 1894 that Robert finally settled down to return to work in Chicago, but he found himself unhappy. “I am trying to get to work again but the shop has ceased to interest me I am sorry to say,” he told his friend John Nicolay, who was at that time preparing an edition of Abraham Lincoln’s collected works for publication at Robert’s behest. But the ex-minister was unsettled, and in February 1894, he traveled to California for a month’s holiday. Robert Lincoln was not a man prone to depression, but the absence of Jack clearly was something with which he struggled. By the end of the year, Robert was telling his friend Nicolay, “I wonder if you are getting to feel so miserably old as I do. My daughter and the baby live a thousand miles away and the whole future seems merely so many days to be passed.”4 Robert knew he had to get back to work in early 1894, however, because he also needed to replenish his bank account. In his four years as minister to Great Britain, Lincoln in fact spent more than twice as much money as he made. This was not due to Lincoln being irresponsible or a spendthrift but necessary to fulfill the duties of his position. On a salary of $17,500 per year, the minister was required to hire and pay rent on a house, supply his own furniture, and be a leading participant and host in British society. These latter duties Robert did as modestly and infrequently as possible, yet it still was so expensive he had to regularly draw funds from his income from the Isham, Lincoln, and Beale law firm. Shortly after his return to the United States in 1893, Lincoln told a friend that he spent $35,000 per year as minister, and the $17...


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Subject Headings

  • Lawyers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Lincoln, Robert Todd, 1843-1926.
  • Children of presidents -- United States -- Biography.
  • Ambassadors -- United States -- Biography.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1865-1933.
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