Unpublished Mary Lincoln LettersSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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Eighteen years have passed since the publication of Justin G. Turner and Linda Levitt Turner's Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters. The limitations of their endeavor were well documented in the Editor's Note: "The chief interest of Mary Lincoln's letters lies in their self-portrait of a woman."  To that end, they succeeded admirably. Scholars continue to rely upon the Turners' compilation of Mary Lincoln's letters as the definitive work. This reliance, however, must be supplemented with the recent publication of thirty-one items appearing in the appendix of Mark. E. Neely, Jr., and R. Gerald McMurty's The Insanity File: The Case of Mary Todd Lincoln. In addition to Neely and McMurtry, we have located eleven other letters written by Mary Lincoln.
The following letters do not reveal startling new information, but they do reinforce known views. One fact illustrated by these letters, indeed by all of her known correspondence, is that she never once signed her name "Mary Todd Lincoln." Curiously, historians insist on referring to her by an appellation that she herself avoided. That she readily dropped her maiden name is not surprising. That historians have not followed suit is surprising.
The transcriptions follow the standards set by the Turners. Punctuation and spelling remain unchanged. While all of the letters were located in the United States, a careful search of European archives and private collections remains a fertile source for new documents. After all, Mary spent more than six years traveling in Europe. She certainly corresponded with her European friends, many of whom have yet to be identified.
This article is a continuation of the Illinois State Historical Library and the Abraham Lincoln Association's efforts to publish new Lincoln materials. Anyone who would care to provide the authors with a photocopy of original unpublished Lincoln family manuscripts may write to the Lincoln Collection, Illinois State Historical Library, Old State Capitol, Springfield, IL 62701. Page [End Page 35]
To Amos Tuck
Springfield June 4th 1860
Hon Mr. Tuck.
Whilst writing to our son Robert, to day, I thought I would enclose you a few lines, expressing our regrets, that during the visit of the Committee to S. we had such a succession of company, excitement & as to be unable to see as much of you, as we had desired. Knowing that your business, frequently calls you to Chicago, we would consider ourselves particularly favored, if you would extend your trip to our place, & make us a visit. This would be especially gratifying to Mr. L—It would afford us much pleasure, to have you bring Mrs. Tuck, and make her acquaintance.
The Republican State Committee, meeting here, two or three days since, we had about twenty of the most prominent Republicans of the State to take supper with us, it would have been most gratifying to have had you with us. Mr. Yates, with whom you are acquainted I believe, has been with this evening, his friends appear very sanguine of his election. When I commenced writing, I had intended only expressing our desire, that you would sometime this year, pay us a visit, trusting you will excuse the great liberty, I feel that I have taken,
I am very respectfully yours
Mr. Lincoln begs to present his kindest regards—
ALS, Illinois State Historical Library, Springfield.
For a discussion of the letter see James T. Hickey "Lincolniana," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 65 (Summer 1972):206–9. A detailed discussion of the Lincoln/Tuck relationship is found in Franklin Brooks, "The Lincoln Years in the Papers of Amos and Edward Tuck," Dartmouth College Library Bulletin 91 (April 1981):62–75.
To Mrs. Moore
[December 16, 1862]
My Dear Mrs. Moore.
I had scarcely supposed, so long a time would have elapsed after having the pleasure of meeting you at the depot in Phil. ere I should Page [End Page 37] have addressed you a note of acknowledgement. You can readily imagine, how much occupied my time must be, yet notwithstanding my silence, you are certainly very frequently & most kindly remembered. The little rare treasures  presented by you, will ever be cherished; even when near you, I consider it a great compliment to be remembered by you, how much more, when you were enjoying yourself in "far distant lands, that with thoughts of our distracted country, the memory of me [illegible cross-out], occasionally crossed your mind. Believe me, under any circumstances, after having passed a day in your society, I could never forget you or yours. May we not hope to have the pleasure of welcoming you to Washington, this winter? It would be a Sincere happiness to me, to be enabled to return some of your kindnesses. In a letter, written to you, whilst you were in Europe, & which I fear, you may not have received, I took the liberty of expressing, the deep interest I felt, whilst reading your charming work, it should ever had a choice place, in my library. With kind regards to your Husband & Daughter, I remain very sincerely & gratefully,
Dec. 16th 62.
ALS, Lincoln Memorial Shrine, Redlands, California.
To Edward McPherson
Washington, December 14, 1863.
Hon. E. McPherson
Ck H of Reps
I wish to recommend Mr. John Alexander to your consideration. Mr. A. is an applicant for the upholstering under you and from the work done at the Executive Mansion by him I can certify to his competency. I ask for his application a favorable consideration.
LS, Illinois State Historical Library, Springfield. Page [End Page 38]
To Jesse K. Dubois
Sept 5 '68
Hon. Jesse H. [sic] Dubois
My dear Sir:
Sudden illness prevented my sailing Aug 1st under care of Hon. Reverdy Johnson. Expecting soon to sail, I am desirous of obtaining some information from you, before doing so regarding the monumental designs.  If a design has been accepted, please advise me of the plan and all particulars. Of course no one is as much interested as myself, in regard to it. Please address your letter to this place.—
With Kind regards to Mrs. Dubois and all friends I remain, always
ALS, Illinois State Historical Library, Springfield.
To Sally Orne
Frankfurt A Main
Dec 12th 1869
My dear Mrs. Orne:
I cannot write you, how very welcome that large and most agreeable well filled sheet of paper was to me, two days since. The matter Page [End Page 39] relative to Thaddeus Stevens  was no news to me, believe me, the evil fiends possessed him & make good use of his evil & most malignant nature, to cause him to malign an innocent & broken hearted woman for purposes of their own, to please Johnson  & his satellites, rather satenites. The words, that wicked man Stevens hissed forth from his foul lips, caused me a severe spell of illness, and my hourly prayer, that long desolate winter was, that I might soon be removed from a world so filled with woe & bitterness. God willed it otherwise. And truly, "He works in a most mysterious way." Another man, of the same unenviable & cold blooded nature, has too been called away within the last few months, Fessenden of Maine. He always opposed every proposition of our good Mr. Sumner's in the Senate.  My husband made this man, Secretary of War, for a year of more. It was said, I know not with how much truth, that he largely enriched himself & benefitted his own family particularly. Last winter, when Sumner was speaking & urging my pension, on all occasions, F. interrrupted him, laughed most scornfully about it, and the papers said with a satirical air remarked, "Gentlemen, let us conclude this "farce" & return to our business." Do you wonder, with all this ingratitude to my beloved husband's benefits, starring me in the face, I should mistrust success and indeed the world, generally?
Grimes, another Sen. who opposed it has resigned & is now in Europe for his health & is an immensely rich man. We can count say fifty good men, who will be true & faithful, but then there is a "dark army" of those who oppose & others, who indifferently say no. Not remembering, that that little word, may perhaps hurry that wife of the beloved man whose life was taken in his country's cause, to an untimely grave. That husband, in his great love and tenderness, did not allow the "wind of Heaven," to visit me too roughly. The discomforts by which I am now surrounded will soon hasten me to another and it is to be trusted, a better world.
I am sending you a long letter, my very dear friend. Do write very often. I am passing a most painful time of anxiety. Please present my very kind regards to your father & so much love to your daughters. Taddie is near of course & sends much love. I remain most affectionately etc.
Mrs. M. L.
ALS, Illinois State Historical Library, Springfield. Page [End Page 40]
To James H. Orne
February 2nd 1870
My dear Sir:
When I explain my reason for intruding this note upon your kind notice, with my impression of your great nobleness of heart, I feel assured you will excuse the liberty I am taking. Mrs. Orne has frequently written to me during the winter and has invariably assured me of the interest you are taking regarding Congressional action in my behalf. As you are doubtless aware, she is now in Italy and I have not heard from her since her arrival there. The details of my situation regarding pecuniary matters would be too painful for me to write you. From dear Mrs. Orne, who in her kindness and sympathy has proved an angel of light to me, I dare say you have heard exactly in what manner I am compelled to live both at home and abroad. Between my great sorrow and humiliating surroundings, separated from a devoted husband who always provided so comfortably and even luxuriously for me, you can imagine that the great change is crushing me to the earth. The anxiety too, regarding what Congress will do for me—where it is so much required—has completely undermined my health so much so that the physician who has been attending upon me has urged me to go South. Alas, alas, it would be a sad story to reveal to him that the wife of the man whose life was so sacrificed to his country's service had not the means to leave the place where she now is. Dear Mr. Orne, will you in your great goodness ascertain as you have the means of doing whether the services of my great and good husband will be recognized by his country. The silence so far regarding some relief for me in Congress is very painful to me. Will you forgive the liberty Page [End Page 41] I have taken and inform me when you receive this, candidly, what expectations I may have. Words cannot express my fearfully trying position. At present, I remain most respectfully yours,
ALS, private collector.
To Sally Orne
May 27th, 70
My very dear Friend:
I have just this moment received a letter from Taddie, announcing that you had arrived in F.  and that he had had the great happiness of seeing you. What a strange perversity of fate, certainly, falls to my portion in this life! On Friday morning last I left F. in great sorrow perhaps as my boy, has told you—and we must have passed each other between F. & Nurenberg. At the latter place I did not stop. Two days before I left for this place I wrote you, my dear Mrs. Orne & directed to care of Mess. Carlinot, Frire & Salligue  at Paris—perhaps, by this time you have received that letter—also one I wrote you from here, last Sunday. I feel as if I could fly back to F. to see you, wherever you are. How unfortunate truly I am. This day one week since I left F. I had supposed you were going to visit Vienna, Dresden Munich & Berlin—arriving in F. about 1st of July & accordingly made my arrangements to that effect. What evil genius prompted me to leave on Friday last? I shall have no rest until I hear from you. I pray you write me the moment you receive this. Hoping by this time you have received the two letters, I have written you within the last week. I will not recapitulate what I then said, you will see for yourself. They were filled with gratitude to you & yours for your unbounded kindness & goodness. God will richly reward you for all your good works. How much I wish we could even had met en route here. I heard such terrible news of the defeat in the Senate the morning I left that I had no heart to stop in Nurenburg. I grieve so to hear that dear Susie is so greatly indisposed. I think this place would do here so much good. The morning after my arrival I found myself so worn out & sick that I had to send for an old physician of the place who was most highly recommended to me. I gave him my name & he begged me if I desired Page [End Page 42] quiet to take some other, I disliked to do so but as he said my nerves were so terribly out of order—good man he does not half dream the cause I have for such deep agitation. Please write me your plans before I left Frankfort. I had not heard from you for so very long. I have lost all heart this morning to be here & you so near where dear Taddie is.
Please direct to Mrs. Lambert
I long to fly to you even if I shorten the prescribed time of 6 weeks & returned with a box of waters. Write I wish such love to yours. Pray you daughters Lovingly yours.
ALS, Illinois State Historical Library, Springfield.
To James H. Orne
May 28th 1870
Hon. James H. Orne
My dear Sir:
The letter & paper of May 3d, which you so kindly sent me, was received here, a day or two since. Since that time alas, to judge from the report of the Senate Committee etc. etc. there is to my mind, so troubled with anxiety & sorrow—but little chance of the noble work of the House, being responded to—by the Senate.  Mr. Edmunds, the Sen. (in the place of that good, noble and true gentlemen, dear Senator Foote)  appears vehemently determined—that cruel injustice shall be rendered to the bereaved family of the man, who was above all others, in the great work of the War. If I could possibly live, otherwise than to be a mortification to myself—I would not make the least request—at the hands of those—who could so ameliorate my sad condition. I am almost helpless. there are days when I cannot Page [End Page 43] walk straight. I am unable to wait upon myself from very frequent illness—as in the only plainest & most obscure way, I can keep myself—assuredly with my small means I cannot keep a servant. I wrote you, dear Mr. Orne, a hurried but sincere statement of facts, a week since from Egèr, en route here. Then I told you, what my eldest son & myself, have always kept to ourselves—that so soon—as my senses could be regained—I had every Wash. & every other indebtedness—sent to me & out of every dollar—I could command—I paid to the uttermost farthing. In some cases, known by me & the Administrator—but in a very few—it was all done by ourselves my son & myself out of my money so that it should be said—that President Lincoln—was not in debt. This is one of the causes, why I am so straightened now—for living as we were compelled to, my husband not being a rich man and we had to pay enormous prices for everything—those war times. When I now hear, from cruel wicked reckless assertions—how rich I am—often wanting for a meal—that I would daily offer a hungry wayfarer—If I could. My broken heart cries aloud and I sigh more than ever to be at rest by my darling husband's side. Under any circumstances, I believe I should have hastened to settle any indebtedness against the estate, but being often told—that the remaining salary of the four years, would be given to the family. All I wished then was to die, if it had been Our Heavenly Fathers will—and the great sorrow & oftentimes cruelty—I have endured since, does not soften the aspect of life—or deprive it of its bitterness. Please write me on receipt of this a candid statement and your just views of the situation of affairs.
I wrote you in my letter from Egèr that on receipt of the refusal of the Sen. Com to confirm the bill—it was deemed best by my physician & two or three friends, that I should come on here—my mind is in such a disturbed state and truth to say—I am so unpleasantly situated—so unable to place myself in quarters—that one bearing my name, should occupy—that I am uncomfortable here. My health is very poor—so much so, since I have been here, now one week—I have had to send for the old physician of the place, two or three times—no menial near to assist me, if I was dying. Will not this condition of affairs, be rectified by a people—who are the nobles of the earth, could my devoted and indulgent husband, ever have anticipated—such a return—for the work of freedom & saving his country—from a rebellious foe! Whilst I am writing, I am in receipt of a letter from my young son, saying that Mrs. Orne & her family have arrived at Frankfurt and he has seen them! I feel Page [End Page 44] like flying back—but will certainly very much shorten my stay here—to return to see them. There never was such goodness and nobleness of heart, I believe in any other woman in the world, as Mrs. Orne possesses. Her loving sympathy, has been a great comfort to me—I will write her at once. If she had written me, she would have been coming earlier than July to Germany—I would have waited for her—as it is—two weeks hence—I return to Frankfurt.
Hoping you will excuse this letter—which in your great goodness—under the present trying circumstances—I am sure you will—and earnestly requesting—your views of affairs & prospects in A. I remain most respectfully your friend
ALS, private collector.
To Sally Orne
Frankfurt A Main
Aug 17th 1870
My dear Mrs. Orne:
Two days since immediately after my arrival here, I sent you a short note. I cannot express to you, my very dear, untiring friend what great comfort, your late letters have afforded me—if I had only been aware of your address believe me you would have been very frequently remembered. This sad & tiresome summer I have much to say to you, but where shall I commence. In the first place—I must speak of my young boy, who remembers you & yours, with such gratitude & affection. He has become so homesick & at the same time, his English education, has been so entirely neglected, that I have consented, with many a heartache, to permit him to go home, to enter upon an early fall term, in some Northern School. Therefore he sails on the Cuba Sept 3d. I must, in a warm climate, which my physician, enjoins upon me this winter, do the best I can until spring, without him when I think I will return, to the U.S. May I beg of you, my very dear friend, when you write to your Page [End Page 45] noble husband & brother, to express my deep, deep, gratitude for their indefatigable efforts in my behalf, and may I also trouble you, to get them to express to all friends, whom they may chance to meet my great gratitude for all they have done for me. The sum, that was voted me, will greatly assist me & not a murmurring word shall be heard from me, as to the amount. I feel assured that if a larger sum had been insisted upon, it would have fallen through—all together—so, your large soul, must be satisfied. We leave here, in four or five days for London, so we will have the happiness, so long delayed of meeting again. Taddie on our arrival in London, will find your city address, from the banker. You must excuse my paper as my usual mourning paper is somewhere in a trunk, which I am too lazy to unpack—with your great goodness, I am sure you will excuse all. Mrs. Bishop Simpson  and daughters are also in London. Mrs. Mack,  Mrs. Judge White's daughter, is in London. I have just received a letter from her. Gen. Sheridan  is in town. Tad is just going to see him, so I may have a call from him in an hour or two. With a heart full of love to your dear girls, & ever so much for your own dear self, I remain—always most affectionaly yours.
ALS, private collector.
To Jacob Bunn
October 1st 1877.
Hon Jacob Bunn
My dear Sir:
Your letter of 10th Sept containing Pension paper for Sept 4th was received this morning. On closer examination as I wrote you, Page [End Page 46] I found the places indicated on the first one you sent me, therefore the Consul, witnesses & myself signed it & enclosed it to you September 5th. I feel assured, that you will find it properly signed.
I am writing this note in the Office, very hurriedly. The Consul thinks it unnecessary to sign the Pension paper just received as the one sent Sept 5th was properly signed, in all places, he thinks. It must have reach you some days since. I regret that you had the trouble of sending the last.  Most respectfully.
Mrs. Abraham Lincoln
Please direct to Pau.
ALS, Illinois State Historical Library, Springfield. Page [End Page 47]
[To Sally Orne]
[No place or date]
Have you received the letter I wrote you the first of the week? So, our good friend, Genl. Schenck has left Paris en route home. He is a most agreeable, warm hearted man & I have always liked him. I do not wonder that he could not exactly comprehend, the depth and extent of my sadness and desolation, none but my Heavenly father, can do that. Gen. S. remembers me as a gay cheerful woman well-dressed & surrounded by many persons. What a contrast, the present dark picture. His interest in my affairs—soon to be canvassed in Con., carries much weight with it—not so great however in my estimation, as the Phil members—all of them together will be formidable. If your own kind husband, would pardon my suggesting that if in the first commencement of the session he would go to Wash. & use his influence, it would be very greatly to my advantage. He would make friends for the measure & soften those who might naturally oppose it—among the latter such men as Brooks, of NY, F. Woods  & others, whom your husband's social position would cause them to yield—And with these men, social recognition is a great deal if they are rich. Sumner, I think, was not in Wash to judge by the papers, even the earliest part of this month, so my dear friend, he has not yet had time to reply to yours—but never judge him by his silence. how you would admire that man if you knew him as I do. For the last eight years, he has been as a brother to me. I have had so many beautiful letters from him, but since he had such trouble about his wife, I fancy he writes to no one, although I have seen him since. He has a heart as soft as a woman toward those he likes & I happen to be one of the cherished few. During the rebellion, when the fearful war was raging, we were drawn all of us very closely together we met quite as frequently with pale faces and cheeks, met with tears etc. since my darling husband passed away. Mr. S. has wept as bitterly, whilst sitting by my side, over the terrible bereavement and what he considered his own great loss as few men could do. He, is just as warmly interested as you are in my cause and in both cases. I am aware, it is a great deal. Page [End Page 48] Thank Heaven, for raising me up such friends in this time of darkness. I will say no more—you will understand me. Your present noble conduct regarding the pending measure will so exalt you in Mr. Sumner's estimation as well as your being a sister of Mr. Charles O'Neil of whom I have heard Mr. S. speak so highly, that if you are ever near him, you will have a realizing sense of Mr. S's nobleness of soul and general agreeability. You will observe that I am quite grateful. Mr. S. will most eagerly seek to cultivate your acquaintance for he is very appreciative.
AL, private collector. Page [End Page 49]
- Justin G. Turner and Linda Levitt Turner, Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972), xxv.
- Mrs. Moore remains unidentified.
- The words "amythest beads" in a different hand were added at this point.
- Edward McPherson was Clerk of the House of Representatives from December 8, 1863 to December 5, 1875.
- On the verso is an endorsement from President Lincoln. See Roy P. Basler, ed., Marion Dolores Pratt and Loyd Dunlap, asst. eds. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 8 vols. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953–55), 7:65.
- Jesse Kilgore Dubois (1811–76) was a close friend, legal associate, and political ally of Abraham Lincoln.
- Reverdy Johnson (1796–1876) was a U.S. Senator from Maryland during the later years of the Civil War (1863–68). President Andrew Johnson appointed him Minister to Great Britain in 1868.
- A reference to the plans for the Lincoln Tomb.
- A health resort known for the medicinal benefits of its natural mineral springs. Logan House was located at Cresson Springs, Pennsylvania, between Altoona and Johnston.
- Mrs. Orne was a close friend of Mary's and wife of a wealthy Philadelphian, James H. Orne.
- Thaddeus Stevens (1792–1868) was the acknowledged leader of the "Radical" Republicans in the United States House of Representatives. He was strongly opposed to granting any pension to Mary Lincoln.
- President Andrew Johnson.
- William Pitt Fessenden (1806–69) served a brief eight months in 1864 as Abraham Lincoln's secretary of the treasury.
- Charles Sumner (1811–74), senator from Massachusetts and chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, was Mrs. Lincoln's firmest ally in efforts to obtain a government pension.
- James Wilson Grimes (1816–72) was a senator from Iowa and an opponent of granting Mrs. Lincoln's pension.
- Refers to France.
- Unidentified firm.
- A reference to the bill that would have granted her government pension.
- Daughter of Sally and James Orne.
- Refers to the congressional debate over granting to her a pension.
- George Franklin Edmunds (1828–1919) was the Republican politician who filled the vacancy in 1866 caused by Solomon Foot's death.
- Solomon Foot (1802–66) was a Whig and later a Republican representative and senator from Vermont.
- Thomas "Tad" Lincoln served as Mary's companion throughout her European travels.
- Congress approved a pension for Mary on July 14, 1870.
- Mrs. Matthew Simpson, wife of the Reverend Matthew Simpson the Methodist Episcopal Bishop of Washington, D.C., was one of Mary's closest friends.
- Rhoda White Mack, daughter of Rhoda and James White, assisted Mary in her final years.
- Rhoda White was the wife of James W. White, justice of the New York City Superior Court.
- Philip Sheridan, famed Union general, was an observer of the German field armies during the Franco-Prussian War (1870).
- Pau was a health resort in the French Pyrenees and "homebase" during Mary's European travels.
- Jacob Bunn (1814–97) was a Springfield banker and Mrs. Lincoln's financial conservator.
- Mary Lincoln's yearly pension of $3,000 was paid in quarterly installments of $750. Each quarter, the Chicago pension office sent a form to Bunn who, in turn, sent it to Mrs. Lincoln. The procedure aggravated Mrs. Lincoln as witnessed by her frequent concerns over her pension checks.
- General Robert Cumming Schenck (1809–90) was an Ohio politician and a strong supporter of Lincoln's administration. He served as minister to Great Britain from 1870 to 1876.
- James Brooks (1810–73) was a journalist for the New York Daily Express as well as a Democratic congressman (1849–53; 1863–65; 1867–73).
- Fernando Wood (1812–81) was a New York shipping merchant and city mayor (1855–58 and 1861–62). He was a Democrat who served in Congress (1863–65 and 1867–81).
- Charles O'Neill (1821–93) was a Philadelphia lawyer and a Republican politician. He served in the House of Representatives almost continuously from 1863–93.