One thing that students of Abraham Lincoln are universally agreed on is that there was an antagonism between his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and his law partner, William H. Herndon. How can it be doubted, when Herndon referred to her with such epithets as "she wolf" and "the female wild cat of the age" and she angrily denounced him as "a dirty dog"?[1] Herndon and Mary Todd Lincoln were very different people, and it seems unlikely that they would have been socially very compatible, let alone friends, under any circumstances, but there can be little doubt that they became antagonists because of their close personal relationships to Abraham Lincoln. This has led some biographers to see whatever enmity existed between them as being based on a kind of rivalry for Lincoln's attention. [2] Such characterizations are tantalizing, but Herndon's and Mary Todd Lincoln's feelings toward each other would be of little consequence were it not for one thing: that it was Herndon who compiled much of the information on which our knowledge of Lincoln's pre-presidential life depends. As a result, Herndon's information and opinions have assumed considerable weight in the scale of Lincoln biography, and the unflattering views he held on Lincoln's wife and his marriage raise the question of bias, of whether Herndon may have colored or falsified the picture to reinforce or confirm his own views. Page  [End Page 1]

Lincoln as he delivered his Second Inaugural
Address, March 4, 1865, by Alexander Gardner, Washington, D.C.
Lincoln as he delivered his Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865, by Alexander Gardner, Washington, D.C.

Todd Lincoln circa 1862.
Mary Todd Lincoln circa 1862. Page  [End Page 2]

Before the appearance of David Herbert Donald's biography of Herndon in 1948, one finds little concern among Lincoln students that Herndon may have tampered unfairly with the behavior and reputation of Mary Todd Lincoln. Although a consensus had already formed among scholars that the incident reported in Herndon's biography in which Lincoln left Mary Todd standing at the altar probably never happened, he was not widely seen as a purveyor of misinformation and malice. [3] But as a result of Donald's superbly researched and influential biography, things have changed dramatically. [4] A recent statement chosen almost at random typifies the way this issue is nowadays perceived: "Herndon's biases included a hatred for Mary Lincoln, and he may have intentionally sought out respondents who would testify to a loveless Lincoln marriage."[5] That Herndon hated Mary Todd Lincoln is currently a widely shared belief that has become axiomatic and is rarely questioned. It is something that self-respecting students of Lincoln's life are expected to know. Donald explained:

Herndon and Mary Todd had never got along. When Mary came to Springfield in 1837, Herndon had met her at a ball given by Colonel Robert Allen. He had asked the belle for a dance, and, thinking to compliment her, this youth just back from college tactlessly observed that the lady 'seemed to glide through the waltz with the ease of a serpent.' Miss Todd, never distinguished by a sense of humor, flashed back: 'Mr. Herndon, comparison to a serpent is rather severe irony, especially to a newcomer'—and she left him on the dance floor. Neither ever forgot that episode.[6]Page  [End Page 3]

Donald's conclusion that neither ever forgot the "serpent" incident, which he seems to have been offered in 1948 as informed speculation, has been duly repeated ever since as established fact.[7] But is it? Is there, in fact, good reason for thinking that this incident was the starting point of a lifelong antagonism? A careful reading of this passage in Herndon's biography, along with other evidence, raises doubts. Near the beginning of his biographical collaboration with Jesse W. Weik, Herndon wrote him almost daily, sketching out the central characters and basic plot lines of Lincoln's early life. In one of those letters he described the appearance on the Springfield scene of the Lexington belle, Mary Todd.

Let me give you an exact idea of Miss Todd—Mrs Lincoln afterwards. I said to you and now say to you that when Mrs Lincoln was a young and unmarried woman that she was rather pleasant—polite—civil—rather graceful in her movements—intelligent, witty, and sometimes bitter too: she was a polished girl—well educated—a good linguist—a fine conversationalist—was educated thoroughly at Lexington, Ky: she was poor when she came here about 1839—a little proud—sometimes haughty. I have met Miss Todd many times at socials—balls—dances—& the like—have danced with her.[8]
This would seem the appropriate moment for Herndon to have recalled and related the "serpent" debacle at Colonel Allen's, but he did not. In fact, in all the letters he wrote to Weik and others about his involvement in Lincoln's life—loquacious and repetitive letters that number in the hundreds—he never, to my knowledge, mentioned the serpent story. This strongly suggests that it may not have been until the biography was actually being drafted by Weik in 1887 and 1888 that Herndon recalled this colorful incident. It is introduced into the biography in chapter 9 following a quite positive depiction of Mary Todd at the time of her Springfield debut:
The first time I met her was at a dance at the residence of Col. Robert Allen, a gentleman mentioned in the preceding chapter. I engaged her for a waltz, and as we glided through it I fancied I never before had danced with a young lady who moved with such grace and ease. A few moments later, as we were promenading through the hall, I thought to compliment Page  [End Page 4] her graceful dancing by telling her that while I was conscious of my own awkward movements, she seemed to glide through the waltz with the ease of a serpent. The strange comparison was as unfortunate as it was hideous. I saw it in an instant, but too late to recall it. She halted for a moment, drew back, and her eyes flashed as she retorted: 'Mr. Herndon, comparison to a serpent is rather severe irony, especially to a newcomer.'[9]
Far from being a story that puts Mary Todd Lincoln in a bad light, this is a story that Herndon is telling on himself, for he acknowledges that he had inadvertently committed a gaffe, which he says he immediately regretted, and he pointedly gives Mary Todd the last word. The episode seems to be offered as an illustration of the newcomer's gifts: that she was graceful, an accomplished dancer, quick-witted, and had a way with words. From the context and tone of this passage, it is hard to see that Herndon could have regarded his verbal slip about the serpent as a defining event in his relationship with Mary Todd Lincoln.

If it seems unlikely that Herndon regarded Mary's retort as grounds for resentment, at least we can be sure that he remembered the incident, which is more than we know about Mary. In the absence of evidence that the "serpent" comment actually marked the beginning of a mutual antagonism, the notion that it was must be downgraded from fact to doubtful speculation. This is significant because the "serpent" incident is the only piece of evidence on offer in support of the existence of a longstanding antagonism between the two. Donald himself forthrightly admits as much:

During his partner's lifetime, Herndon managed to avoid hostilities with Mary Lincoln. There are no contemporary accounts of Mrs. Lincoln's cutting Herndon in Springfield or of her refusing to speak to him in the law office; such tales were spread by Mary's self-appointed defenders in the postwar period after she and Herndon had come to an open rupture. So far as can be judged from existing evidence, during Lincoln's Springfield years Herndon and Mary maintained restrained, if distant, relations.[10]Page  [End Page 5]

Donald adds a qualification, "But Mrs. Lincoln never invited her husband's partner to her house for a meal." But this often-repeated circumstance is somewhat misleading, as Donald's source—one of Herndon's topical sketches—clearly shows. In drafting biographical material for the use of his collaborator, Herndon wrote: "Mr. Stuart said this to me, that 'I have been at Lincoln's house a hundred times and never was asked to dine. In Washington Mr. Lincoln never asked about any body—says Judge Davis, says so and never asked Davis to dine with him' though Davis was frequently at his house. I can say the same thing and so can all persons who ever visited that house, except on special occasions."[11] The point here is that if the experience of John T. Stuart, David Davis, and Herndon himself is indicative, the Lincolns did not socialize over dinner. While close friends such as these were often in the Lincoln home, they were never invited to dine, except on special occasions.

What all this tells us is that, whatever the character of Mary and Herndon's mutual antagonism, its longstanding nature, reaching far back to their first acquaintance, is a presumption, not a fact. And we must recognize that, as such, it is largely a backward projection from later developments. This matters in the present discussion because Donald's positing of a longstanding antagonism is the ultimate platform on which the prevailing view concerning Herndon's "hatred" of Mary rests. Ruth Painter Randall, for example, has no doubt whatever that "Herndon wanted to believe the worst about Mrs. Lincoln," and her first item in evidence (and most of the rest) is taken directly from Donald: "From the first meeting there had been a mutual dislike." [12] Some years later, the editors of Mary Todd Lincoln's letters concluded from Donald's account: "At a ball before her marriage he had told her, by way of clever compliment, that she danced with the ease of a serpent. She did not care for the comparison, said so, and from that moment on viewed Herndon with contempt."[13] Not to be outdone, Stephen B. Oates gave the screw yet another turn: "Herndon could never come to socialize in the Lincoln home, because Mary had nothing but contempt for him. According to Herndon's side of the story, he'd met Mary at a ball and was so enthralled with her graceful Page  [End Page 6] ways that he compared her to a serpent. He meant it as a compliment, but Mary disliked him in any case and took his remark as an outrageous and unforgivable insult."[14]

Donald, of course, is not responsible for the fanciful conjectures that have been embroidered onto his speculations. More recently, in his own biography of Lincoln, Donald allowed that Herndon had a "dislike, verging on hatred" for Mary Todd Lincoln, and implied that it was, indeed, of long standing.[15] But he did not gainsay his earlier characterization of the state of affairs that existed before 1866—"restrained, if distant, relations"—a characterization that seems hardly consistent with real hatred, on either side. Herndon's own reflection on the matter is actually quite generous: "To me she was always kind and respectful," he says of this period, "and in return I respect[ed] her: she had much to bear."[16] If there was hatred between those two before 1866, it is incumbent upon us to say what the evidence is that it existed, as well as how and when it was displayed. This has yet to be done, and it needs to be emphasized that before 1866, in spite of widespread assumptions to the contrary, no factual basis for anything like hatred, on one side or the other, has ever been adduced.[17]

What difference does it make when their clear differences in temperament and outlook ripened into animosity? It matters because it bears on the question raised earlier about bias. Donald alleged that the kind of testimony and information Herndon gathered for his biography in 1865 and 1866 was directly related to his antipathy for Mary, whom Donald characterized in this context as "his old enemy." Herndon, he said, "built up a collection of tales concerning Mrs. Lincoln's unfortunate temper" and "harped on cer- Page  [End Page 7] tain episodes in the Lincoln story—tales of the President's domestic infelicity, for example, to the neglect of other, and perhaps more important points."[18] At the time Donald made these charges, the materials on which they were based were largely inaccessible, but as they are now readily available, interested students can judge the matter for themselves. [19] There can be no doubt that Herndon believed Lincoln's marriage was unfortunate and that the anecdotes he collected tended to reinforce this idea. But if the implication is that Herndon unfairly loaded the dice against Mary in his investigations, I would certainly disagree, for it is hard to see that the stories Herndon collected, or his own view of Mary and the Lincoln marriage, differed materially from that of many of Lincoln's other close friends or, so far as we can gauge it, from that of Springfield generally. Paul M. Angle put the matter succinctly: "As to Lincoln's domestic difficulties, no fair-minded student can disregard what Herndon wrote. The supporting testimony of other contemporaries is too overwhelming." [20] What is important to emphasize here is that saying Herndon regarded Mary as his "old enemy" in 1866 amounts to stealing a march on the evidence, for it assumes what is yet to be proved.

It is not until late in 1866, after Herndon had collected the major share of his evidence, that we come to the first actual irruption of hostility. Herndon's collecting activities had been enormously productive, and by mid-November of 1866 the total number of his letters, interviews, and statements about Lincoln collected since beginning work in May the previous year was more than four hundred.[21] One of his most important interviews, taken in September 1866, had been with none other than Mary Todd Lincoln. He had written to her son Robert, requesting an interview, and Mary herself had responded with a very cordial letter, inviting Herndon to meet her in Springfield.

The recollection of my beloved husband's truly affectionate regard for you & the knowledge, of your great love & rever- Page  [End Page 8] ence for the best man, that ever lived, would of itself, cause you, to be cherished with the sincerest regard, by my sons & myself. In my overwhelming bereavement, those who loved my idolized husband—aside from disinterested motives—are very precious to me & mine—... I have been thinking for some time past, that I would like to see you & have a long conversation—I write to [know?] if you will be in Springfield next Wednesday week—Sept—4th—if so—at 10 o'clock, in the morning, you will find me, at the St Nicolas Hotel. [22]
These compliments may have been so much eyewash, and her purpose in inviting Herndon to meet with her may well have been to convince him, which he says she tried to do, that "it was not usual to mention the facts, the history of the wife, in the biography of her husband, further than to say that the two were married at such time and place ..." and that he should leave her out of his biography. [23] But judging by Herndon's writeup of the interview, one of the most valuable he ever received, it must have gone well, for it indicates that Mary expressed herself on a wide range of subjects, including Lincoln's religion. She even imparted some highly confidential information about her family—such as the misbehavior of her niece in Washington and her husband's intention to dismiss her brother-in-law, Ninian W. Edwards, from his government post for stealing—all of which suggests that she spoke freely and trusted Herndon with sensitive information. [24]

Two months later, on November 16, Herndon delivered his fourth public lecture on his former law partner, revealing for the first time, in what was, even for him, baroque and extravagant language, the story of Lincoln's love for Ann Rutledge. Herndon's revelations, and his highly conjectural interpretation of the episode's permanent effect on Lincoln, seemed to many observers, then and later, as heedlessly insensitive and deliberately hurtful. Isaac Phillips's complaint against Herndon was probably typical: "He was not a scrupulous man, and there is ample evidence in everything he wrote that he was a man of a coarse mind—a mind of the character that could not perceive those nice feelings and tastes that Page  [End Page 9] would be outraged by his disclosures.... A decent man would have been careful on these points." [25] Even those who harbored no love for Mary Todd Lincoln probably reasoned that, in such a case, decency trumps history, regardless of the biographer's intentions.

But it is Herndon's intentions that concern us here. He thought he had discovered a previously unknown but critically important chapter in Lincoln's life, his tragic love affair with Ann Rutledge. This was an incident whose true import Herndon believed could only be grasped if one could recapture the context, by which he meant the natural setting, the pioneer culture, and the particular personal circumstances in which it took place. As he told Isaac N. Arnold at the time, the lecture was "an attempt to show the power & influence of mind—scenary—flowers, and mind on mind—Lincoln's mind."[26] This is why most of the lecture—about eighty percent of it—has nothing to do with the love affair per se but is given over to detailed descriptions of the natural setting and the pioneer culture of New Salem.

Herndon, of course, knew that he was treading on dangerous ground and inviting hostility in delivering this lecture, and hostility he certainly got. Because he had had it printed in advance as a broadside, it was rapidly reprinted in newspapers throughout the country, where the reaction was far from favorable. As Herndon certainly realized, he was violating accepted standards of taste and decorum just by disclosing such intimate matters as Lincoln's young love affair and his troubled bereavement. He must surely have been aware that by even suggesting, as he did, that Lincoln never again loved another woman as he had loved Ann Rutledge, he would deeply offend Mary Todd Lincoln and members of her family. What he may not have been fully prepared for was the charge that he had deliberately betrayed the friend and partner he revered.

Those charges came soon enough, and none with more force than those from Dr. James Smith, former pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Springfield. In a letter to Herndon that Smith had widely published in newspapers, he spelled out Herndon's offenses:

... I read [your lecture] with feelings of mingled indignation and Sorrow, because coming as it did from his intimate friend Page  [End Page 10] and law partner, it was calculated to do the character of that great and good man an incalculable injury, deeply to wound the feelings of his heart broken widow and her orphan boys, and to place that whole family both the dead and living, in their family relations, in a most unenviable light before the public.[27]

Herndon had not only offended his public and Lincoln's family, he had, as the Lincolns well knew, also recklessly overstepped his own knowledge in saying that Lincoln "never addressed another woman, in my opinion, 'yours affectionately.'"[28] It is not known when Mary Todd Lincoln learned of Herndon's lecture, but her son Robert may have seen it first. Within a few days of the lecture he wrote to his father's executor, Supreme Court Justice David Davis: "Mr. William H. Herndon is making an ass of himself." He continued:

If you have seen his lecture on 'Abraham Lincoln & Ann Rutledge,' I have no doubt you will feel the impropriety of such a publication even if it were, which I much doubt, all true. His reflections, which make up a large portion, would be very ludicrous if I did not feel strongly that he speaks with a certain amount of authority from having know my father so long. Do you think it would be advisable to write to him? He is such a singular character that I am afraid of making matters worse, but I think something ought to be done to stop his present course. [29]
After the lecture was published in the Chicago Tribune, Robert traveled to Springfield, possibly at the urging of his mother, to confront Herndon, who later said that Robert had come to fight "but I kept my temper and he couldn't fight, because he had no one to fight with."[30] Upon his return, Robert wrote Judge Davis: "I have just returned from Springfield to see Mr. Herndon. We talked everything over in a very good natured way & I found that he really Page  [End Page 11] had no idea of conveying the impressions he does in his lecture and that the main trouble comes from his heaping words on words without much care in their selection." [31] But scarcely a week later he was writing to John G. Nicolay with a draft of something he wanted Nicolay to revise and publish, for he believed "Herndon has so clearly falsified the record that I think it time he was squelched." [32]

Mary's first recorded reaction to what she considered Herndon's act of perfidy is in a letter of March 4, 1867, to Judge Davis, but it was apparently not her first letter to him on the subject:

Permit me to point your attention to another sentence in a lecture of the distinguished W H which is of great significance and indicates more clearly if possible, the malignity of his remarks, than any thing else. He pointedly says, "for the last twenty three years, Mr Lincoln has known no joy,"—[33]
This is a reference to a little-noticed remark in Herndon's first public lecture, delivered over a year earlier in Springfield on December 12, 1865. In a passage pertaining to Lincoln's habitual melancholy, Herndon had said: "His terrible gloom struck his friends and created a sympathy for him—one means of his success. He was gloomy—abstracted and joyous—rather humorous by turns. I do not think he knew what joy was—nor happiness for more than 23 years."[34] Whatever one may think of this allusive reference, Herndon was not attempting to mould the opinions of uninformed listeners, for here he was addressing a Springfield audience that was made up of the neighbors and fellow citizens of Abraham Lincoln and thus capable of judging the aptness of such a statement. On the other hand, Mary Todd Lincoln had every reason to be highly resentful of this remark, for simple subtraction would bring any listener or reader curious about the beginning of Lincoln's unhappiness to 1842, the date of her marriage. Page  [End Page 12]

Judge Davis seems to have attempted to ease her mind by playing down the importance of such an early romance as Lincoln's with Ann Rutledge, but Mary Todd Lincoln had her own ideas: "As you justly remark, each & every one has had, a little romance in their early days—but as my husband was truth itself, and as he always assured me, he had cared for no one but myself, the false W. H. (au contraire) I shall assuredly remain firm in my conviction—that Ann Rutledge, is a myth—." In a postscript she added: "I would not believe an assertion of Herndon's if he would take a thousand oaths, upon the Bible—."[35]

Given the provocation and the well-known volatility of Mary Todd Lincoln's temperament, this was a reasonably moderate response, but two days later she wrote again in a more animated state:

W H may consider himself a ruined man, in attempting to disgrace others, the vials of wrath, will be poured upon his own head. My love for my husband was so sacred and the knowledge it was fully returned so well assure, that if W. H—utters another word—and is not silent with his infamous falsehoods in the future, his life is not worth, living for—I have friends, if his low soul thought that my great affliction—had left me without them. In the future, he may well say, his prayers—"Revenge is sweet, especially to womankind but there are some of mankind left, who will wreak it upon him—He is a dirty dog & I [do not?] regret the article [by Dr. James Smith] was sent to the papers—it shows him forth, in his proper colors—& I think he will rue the day, he did not take your advice. [36]
At this point, we may safely use the word "hate" for what Mary Todd Lincoln now felt for William H. Herndon.

But this is not the side of the equation that most concerns us. Up to the time of the Ann Rutledge lecture, while Mary Todd Lincoln no doubt had serious misgivings about her husband's law partner, she had no known reason to hate him. Now she did, to be sure, but the question is, did Herndon have a prior reason to hate her? Certainly he had for a long time thought Lincoln's marriage unfortunate and a major source of unhappiness in Lincoln's life, which was doubtless why he dropped the offending remark in his discussion of Lincoln's melancholy. But this was hardly a reason Page  [End Page 13] to hate his wife, and nothing suggests that Herndon's fleeting and indirect reference to Lincoln's marriage was done out of hatred. In his own mind, he probably thought he was exercising restraint, as when he struggled in his second lecture to talk about Lincoln's life "domestically." In a section with this subtitle, he first wrote, "Home would have been to him Heaven and his wife and little ones angels but it ordained otherwise," then struck this out. Later he wrote: "O what a domestic life—what a domestic history It is as terrible as death and as gloomy as the grave! Who shall write it Oh—policy—well," then struck that out. At the end of this section, realizing he had talked completely around the problem at the center, having said nothing whatever about Lincoln's wife, Herndon concluded: "I wish it were otherwise. I would change & alter here if I could this domestic touch. I cannot lie and I cannot escape his domestic life. It would be Hamlet played with Hamlet left out—Hamlet ignored."[37]

As this suggests, Herndon knew he was making a negative and unwelcome statement even in dodging the issue, but he thought it was something he was obligated to address. Herndon firmly believed, along with a number of Lincoln's closest friends, that Lincoln's unhappy marriage was a crucial factor in his becoming president. But Herndon differed from the others in undertaking to write Lincoln's biography, and in his belief that important factors in a great hero's career were "necessary truths," about which a conscientious biographer could not remain silent. A corollary to this doctrine was the belief that it was important that "necessary truths," particularly when they relate to problematical circumstances in the lives of great men, be first reported sympathetically by their friends, in order to forestall and offset the inevitable constructions that would be put on these same circumstances by their critics and enemies. I have described Herndon's doctrine of "necessary truth," its corollary, and its consequences elsewhere. Here it will perhaps suffice to say that Herndon's correspondence makes it clear that he was in great earnest about having to face up to "necessary truths," and the Ann Rutledge lecture in November 1866 Page  [End Page 14] was his first attempt to implement his theory and its corollary about timely and sympathetic public disclosure.[38]

It was, of course, a disaster. The adoring public, which had already elevated the martyred president to something like sainthood, was almost as shocked by Herndon's revelations and interpretations as the Lincoln family. Far from being grateful to Herndon for seeking out this unknown chapter in Lincoln's early life, showing how it related to and explained his temporary mental derangement and near atheism in New Salem, the public recoiled at his mentioning these unwelcome subjects at all. While the Ann Rutledge story would eventually find a sympathetic audience with the idolizing public, Herndon's bizarre presentation of so delicate a subject in 1866 probably led many to hope or believe, with Mary Todd Lincoln, that it was merely a figment of Herndon's imagination.

Herndon refused to respond to the criticism publicly, but in his correspondence he defended his theory of "necessary truth" and his new disclosures. Isaac Arnold, a Chicago lawyer and congressman who was composing a life of Lincoln, wrote immediately to Herndon, who responded with a long list of intimate details from Lincoln's early life that the public (and Arnold) was unaware of, one of which concerned Mary.

Did you know that all Lincoln's struggles—difficulties &c. between himself and wife were partly, if not wholy, caused by Mrs. L's cognition that Lincoln did not love her and did love an other. [Herndon is here alluding to what Joshua speed had told him about Lincoln's confrontation with Mary over his love for Matilda Edwards. [39]] Lincoln told his wife that he did not love her—did so before he was married to her; she was cognizant of the fact that Lincoln loved an other. Did you know that the Hell through which Lincoln passed was caused by these things? Mrs. Lincoln's knowledge that Lincoln did not love her and did love another caused much trouble between them.... The world does not know her, Mrs. L's sufferings—her trials—and the causes of things. Sympathize with her. I Page  [End Page 15] shall never rob Mrs. Lincoln of her justice—Justice due her. Poor woman! She will yet have her rewards.[40]

Herndon thought so well of his explanation of these matters to Arnold that he retained a copy of his letter and sent one a few days later to his young Philadelphia confidant, Charles H. Hart, a letter in which he acknowledges so directly what the result of his Ann Rutledge lecture had been on Mary Todd Lincoln that it may indicate she had written him about it.

... you will now begin to detect a purpose in my 4th late, Lecture, ... Mrs. Lincoln must be put properly before the world. She hates me yet I can and will do her justice; she hates me on the same grounds that a thief hates a policeman, who knows a dangerous secret, about him. Mrs. Lincoln's domestic quarrels in my opinion sprang from a woman's revenge which she was not strong enough to resist. Poor woman! The world has no charity for her, and yet justice must be done her—being careful not to Injure her husband. All that I know enobles both and their difficulties sprang from human nature—[41]
In another letter to Hart a few weeks later, Herndon returned to the hostile reaction of Mary Todd Lincoln:
Mrs. Lincoln will scold me—poor woman, without knowing I am her friend, determined to put her right before the world for all time. She too has borne her cross; and she shall have justice if I live.... Mr & Mrs Lincoln's marriage was an unfortunate one, and I say to you that what I know and shall tell only ennobles both—that is to say it will show that Mrs L has had cause to suffer, and be almost crazed, while Lincoln self sacrificed himself rather than to be charged with dishonor.[42]

We may dispute the adequacy of Herndon's theory of the Lincoln marriage given here to Arnold and Hart, but none of it goes to suggest that Herndon hated Mary Todd Lincoln or that his real intention was, as had been urged, to get back at her.[43] On the contrary, he argued at the time that his Ann Rutledge disclosures— Page  [End Page 16] that Lincoln was traumatized by the loss of an earlier love—were necessary to lay the groundwork for a proper understanding of Lincoln's unhappy marriage, and that its unhappy character was not, as the public believed, solely the fault of Mary Todd Lincoln.

One may, of course, doubt the sincerity of Herndon's protestations about the nature of his intentions and conjecture with Mrs. Randall that "Herndon hated Mrs. Lincoln, but in his own self-justifying mind he considered that, in bringing out his deductions from the supposed romance to explain the 'unhappy' marriage, he was doing justice to her." [44] But this requires the kind of "mud instinct" and "dog sagacity" about what went on in Herndon's mind that Mrs. Randall so deplores in Herndon himself. Donald, on the other hand, allows that Herndon's motive was not malicious. "His ideas may have been an unconscious rationalization of his dislike for Mary Lincoln, but there is no reason to think him insincere in believing that the Lincoln-Rutledge romance must be disclosed by a friend of the President in order to prevent hostile revelation at some later day."[45] Herndon's determination to act on his theory, regardless of short-term consequences, opens him to the charge of callousness and insensitivity, but hatred for Mary Todd Lincoln and the wish to do her injury is something else.

Herndon's excuse to use hard words about Mary Todd Lincoln would eventually come. Nearly seven years later, in 1873, the Reverend James Reed of Springfield delivered a lecture on Abraham Lincoln's religion, "The Later Life and Religious Sentiments of Abraham Lincoln." The lecture was in reaction to Ward Hill Lamon's 1872 biography, which gave much attention to Lincoln's "infidelity" as a young man on the basis of evidence collected by Herndon, and Reed sought to reclaim, at least for his later life, Lincoln's reputation as a Christian. Herndon was persuaded by his wife and others to reply to Reed, and on December 12, 1873, he delivered a public lecture titled "Lincoln's Religion." His most persuasive evidence that Lincoln was not a believer in Christian doctrines and that his religious views did not change while he lived in Springfield was a passage from his interview with Mary Todd Lincoln, in which he reported her as saying:

Mr. Lincoln had no hope and no faith in the usual acceptation of these words, and Lincoln's maxim and philosophy were: "What is to be will be, and no cares (prayers) of ours can ar- Page  [End Page 17] rest the decree." Mr. Lincoln never joined any church. He was a religious man always, as I think. He first thought—to say think—about this subject was when Willie died—never before; he read the Bible a good deal about 1864. He felt religious, more than ever before, about the time he went to Gettysburg. Mr. Lincoln was not a technical Christian. [46]

Here it seems likely that Herndon had little or no idea that Mary Todd Lincoln would take offense at his use of her testimony, for he said nothing disrespectful, and he was careful to portray her quite favorably: "Mrs. Lincoln is a close observer, a woman of intellect, a good judge of human nature and knew her husband thoroughly inside and outside." [47] What Herndon had not foreseen was that his lecture, which was printed the next day in full and widely circulated, created a firestorm of protest, not only in Illinois but around the country. As Donald reports, the Republican press, which saw anything tending to lower Lincoln's stature as a political liability, became actively aroused and "was uniformly hostile," loudly proclaiming Herndon a "Judas in Springfield." [48] Donald believed that, in view of her testimony's damning import, Mary had been "prevailed upon to denounce Herndon and repudiate the interview in which she had declared that Lincoln 'was not a technical Christian.'"[49] Her own letter, however, written a few days after the lecture and addressed to her cousin John T. Stuart, appears entirely voluntary.

With very great sorrow & natural indignation have I read of Mr Herndon, placing words in my mouth—never once uttered. I remember the call he made on me for a few minutes at the [St. Nicholas] hotel as he mentions, your welcome entrance a quarter of an hour afterward, naturally prevented a further interview with him. Mr Herndon, had always been an utter stranger to me, he was not considered an habitué, at our house. The office was more, in his line.[50]Page  [End Page 18]
We should note in passing that this rare characterization of her relations with Herndon in Springfield, if spitefully dismissive, hardly sounds like a history of personal conflict, let alone mutual hatred.[51]

The next day she wrote Stuart again: "Every word, Mr Herndon has stated as coming from me in a conversation held some years ago, is utterly false & has been entirely perverted. I hope you will kindly in my name, to parties interested pronounce it so." In her wrought-up condition, she returned to the note of revenge she had struck earlier with Judge Davis. "Cousin John, how can you all—the true friends of my dear good husband, allow such a wretched creature in your midst—A worse man I believe, had never lived. Pardon these lengthy notes, but let every one know, what false words he has attributed to poor unhappy me."[52] Three days later, the Springfield Republican newspaper announced triumphantly that Mrs. Lincoln had denied "unequivocally that she had the conversation with Mr. Herndon, as stated by him."[53]

This claim, of course, went well beyond what Mary Todd Lincoln had written to Stuart, and Herndon, having apparently been shown the Stuart letter, was too good a lawyer not to know how to handle such contradictory statements. He composed a long public letter that appeared in several newspapers and was printed as a broadside entitled "Mrs. Lincoln's Denial, and What She Says."[54] In the letter, he explained the background of the matter and described his call on Mrs. Lincoln at the St. Nicholas Hotel. She at first demurred, according to Herndon, but "At my special request, and after some argument, she at least consented to give me a brief history of her life." Herndon then printed in full his writeup of the interview. He next pointed out that while it had been "telegraphed all over the country that no conversation ever took place," Mary nonetheless, "in the Stuart letter, expressly admits a conversation, and says that Mr. Stuart came into the room while I was taking down the substance of the conversation."

Having thus put his adversary on the horns of a dilemma, he turned to the allegation that his statements were false and perverted, noting that in this charge, "Her language is general and not Page  [End Page 19] specific." As a means of getting at what is actually false and perverted in his statement, he poses the issues as questions, which he does with devastating effect:

1st. Does Mrs. Lincoln mean to say that Mr. Lincoln had hope and faith in the Spiritual Unseen in the usual acceptation of these words? She knows better and so does the world. 2nd. Does she mean to say that Mr. Lincoln had no belief in nature's laws, or in other words substantially, "what is to be will be, &c. &c.?" 3d. Does she mean to say that Mr. Lincoln joined a church? 4th. Does she mean to say that Mr. Lincoln was not a religious man always, as she thought? 5th. Does she mean to say that Mr. Lincoln did not first think—to say think, about the subject of religion was when Willie died—never before? 6th. Does she mean to say that Mr. Lincoln did not read the Bible a good deal in 1864? 7th. Does she mean to say that Mr. Lincoln did not feel more religious than ever about the time he went to Gettysburg? 8th and lastly. Does she mean to say that Mr. Lincoln was a technical Christian and joined a church?

Mary Todd Lincoln's mental health at this time was probably deteriorating and her behavior would soon force her son, on the advice of John T. Stuart and others, to have her committed. Her reaction to Herndon's public letter is probably another indication of this condition, for she immediately wrote Stuart to renew her denials.

When Herndon, presented his disagreeable self to me, at the time, he mentions, his appearance & the air he brought with him, were so revolting, that I could scarcely ask him to be seated—as it was, you came in about ten minutes afterwards—in that time, scarcely notes could be taken—every word the man there, in those two columns utters is a falsehood—so far as my conversation was concerned—The flowing bowl, must have been entirely exhausted—when he wrote that intellectual production.[55]
In a postscript, she added "Please deny to every one—that the interview never took place," [56] but having second thoughts the next morning, she wrote Stuart again: "I have had a nights reflection over what I wrote you on yesterday concerning H[erndon] & think Page  [End Page 20] it is best—not to give the wretched, drunken madman so much importance, either to show my letter to any one or to say, I had no such interview—"[57]

Herndon had been firm in his public letter, as his honesty had been assailed and the Republican press had accused him of betraying his partner and friend. Nonetheless, he had deliberately kept his temper and avoided insulting language. Donald is convinced that Mary's accusation "was the signal for Herndon to loose all his long stored-up hatred for Mary Lincoln," whom Donald characterizes as the "most detested of his enemies." [58] But the existence of a long stored-up hatred still awaits proof, and Herndon's response simply does not bear the stamp of hatred, even though he regarded himself as the offended party. This was a circumstance noted at the time by his Springfield friends. William Jayne wrote to congratulate him, saying "you do not like a clod hopper call her a d—d old liar & hussey—but [instead acted] like a courtly gentleman & lawyer...."[59]

Much has been made by Herndon's critics of the nasty things he later said about Mary Todd Lincoln. To prove Herndon's "violent hatred"[60] of Mary, for example, Mrs. Randall simply pointed to Donald's finding that "since 1874 there had been in Herndon's mind no question of charity; he believed anything about Lincoln's wife that was bad. Some of his comments were unprintable."[61] Donald doesn't specify which remarks were unprintable, but the epithets he cites are these: "she wolf of this section," "soured ... gross ... material—avaricious—insolent," "a tigress," "like the tooth ake—kept one awake night and day," "terribly aristocratic ... and haughty," "as cold as a chunk of ice," and "the female wild cat of the age."[62]

These examples of "hateful" language are certainly colorful and consistently negative. But as evidence of real hatred, they seem somewhat short of the mark. That Herndon's feelings towards Mary were decidedly mixed is suggested by the letters themselves. In spite of their being cited to prove that, after the lecture flap in 1874, Herndon had no charity for Mary, several of the letters from which these epithets are taken, all addressed to his collaborator Page  [End Page 21] Jesse W. Weik, contain passages that qualify these unflattering epithets and call Herndon's supposed hatred and lack of charity into question.

In a letter in which Herndon called Mary "soured ... gross ... material—avaricious—insolent," he also wrote, "This woman was once a brilliant one, but what a sad sight to see her in any year after 1862 and Especially a year or so before she died."[63] Lincoln, he wrote in another letter, "was not a judge of human nature ... Mrs. Lincoln used to help Lincoln from being imposed upon: he frequently said to her—What is your opinion of this man...." [64] In the same letter, Herndon wrote: "Mrs Lincoln was a stimulant to Lincoln in a good sense: she was always urging him to look up—struggle—conquer.... she was ambitious and helped Lincoln along in her own providential way, while she crushed his spirit in an other way: she was like the tooth ake—kept one awake night and day." [65] "She was a terrible woman," he allowed in another letter, "but I must give her credit for a keen insight into men and things. Had hell not got into her neck she would have led society anywhere: she was a highly cultured woman—witty—dashing—pleasant. and a lady, but hell got in her neck, which I will explain to the world sometime, if I live. This will be a curious history. When all is known the world will divide between Mr Lincoln & Mrs Lincoln its censure as I believe."[66] The final example shows particularly well how the qualified meanings of epithets can be lost if cited in isolation: "I know that Mrs Lincoln acted badly, but hold your opinion for a while. I have always sympathized with Mrs. Lincoln. Remember that every Effect must have its Cause. Mrs. Lincoln was not a she wolf—wild cat without a cause." [67]

The failure to acknowledge such positive and even sympathetic comments deprives Herndon of the credit he is due for attempting to balance, in some degree, his accounts and descriptions of a woman he did not very much admire. The examples given above are, as indicated, all taken from the letters from which unfavorable epithets were culled to show his supposed hatred and lack of charity for Mary Todd Lincoln, but in many other letters of this period Page  [End Page 22] he repeatedly tried to get his correspondents to understand Mary's situation. Years after her death, in a letter to a trusted correspondent, former U. S. Senator Joseph S. Fowler, he speculated on what he thought may have been a major cause of Mrs. Lincoln's trouble: "Lincoln should never have married Mary Todd, ambitious to lead and Control Society: she was a woman of fine intellect—quick witted—sarcastic—aristocratic—refined. In fact she once was a lady, but unfortunately she fell from that high position, as I think, from the Excessive use of morphine." [68] Herndon's speculation may well have been prompted by his own wife's reported addiction to opium, [69] and he seems not to have ever mentioned this suspicion to his collaborator, or to anyone else that I am aware of. In this letter, he was clearly attempting to balance the publicly accepted picture of Mary Todd Lincoln, which was highly unfavorable.

Mrs Lincoln was a better woman than the world gives her credit for. She was a whip and a sting to Lincoln's ambition—she urged him to go upward. I admit that at times, in her after life, that she was a she devil filled it may be with morphine. Let us be charitable for we are all weak creatures at best, no one knowing himself till conditions push him on to ruin. Bless this woman. She was Lincoln's best and wisest adviser when at herself and in her younger days. She had good judgements as to policies and a fine judge of human nature. She directed Lincoln rightly and kept him on that path." [70]

The account of Mary Todd Lincoln in Herndon's 1889 biography is not extensive and, in the main, not highly prejudicial. There is, at the outset, a reference to the "tempestuous chapters of his married life," and we are told: "It is a curious history, and the facts, long chained down, are gradually coming to the surface. When all is at last known, the world I believe will divide its censure between Lincoln and his wife." [71] The section where Mary is featured most Page  [End Page 23] extensively tells not about the couple's marriage but about their troubled courtship. Lincoln is represented in this ordeal as an anguished suitor and very unwilling bridegroom, but the fault for all this is by no means laid exclusively at the feet of Mary Todd. A single paragraph, which includes Herndon's theory of Mary's supposed revenge, reports that the subsequent marriage was not happy, and ends with this:

Whether Mrs. Lincoln really was moved by the spirit of revenge or not she acted along the lines of human conduct. She led her husband a wild and merry dance. If, in time, she became soured at the world it was not without provocation, and if in later years she unchained the bitterness of a disappointed and outraged nature, it followed as logically as an effect does the cause.[72]

In a later chapter that attempts to "take a nearer and more personal view" of Abraham Lincoln, Herndon devotes several pages to his partner's domestic life, and the picture is not happy. Here Mary's difficulties with her husband, her servants, and others are outlined, mostly through anecdotes and the testimony of family and friends. Thus it is Mary's half-sister who says that "she raised 'merry war' because he persisted in using his own knife in the butter, instead of the silver-handled one intended for that purpose."[73] It is Judge David Davis who is quoted as saying "as a general rule, when all the lawyers of a Saturday evening would go home and see their families and friends, Lincoln would find some excuse and refuse to go. We said nothing, but it seemed to us all he was not domestically happy." [74] A letter from Lincoln to a newspaper editor is quoted to show that Lincoln, by his own admission, spoke "evasively" to his wife, rather than admit that he was responsible for subscribing to a newspaper she did not approve of. [75] Herndon plainly indicates that Lincoln was unhappy in his home life and often stayed away from home on that account, and he declares that, contrary to what some may insist, his account is not "too highly colored." But he concludes by emphasizing, as he did often in his own letters, that Mary Todd Lincoln was not solely responsible for Page  [End Page 24] these difficulties. "In her domestic troubles I have always sympathized with Mrs. Lincoln. The world does not know what she bore, or how ill-adapted she was to bear it."[76]

Herndon's intention in discussing Mary Todd Lincoln and the Lincoln marriage was to report on an important aspect of his subject's life, but it cannot be said that he presented a balanced picture. As Donald has pointed out,

Herndon's own testimony and the reminiscences he collected as to Mrs. Lincoln's temper and to occasional 'flare-ups' in the Lincoln home are supported by indisputable contemporary evidence. Mary Lincoln for years suffered from a mental ailment and eventually went insane. But Herndon did not have the whole story. Lincoln's letters to his wife, records of the Lincolns' participation in Springfield social life, reminiscences of many pleasant happenings in the house on Eighth Street are an equally important part of the record. [77]
There is no doubt, as Donald shows, that Herndon's recollections and anecdotes, in attempting to demonstrate that Lincoln's marriage was troubled, tell an incomplete story, and thus make for a "distorted portrait," but that is very different from saying that he acted from malice.

Did Mary Todd Lincoln hate William Henry Herndon? The evidence suggests that she did with what appeared to her and many others to be good reason, but only after he published his offending Ann Rutledge lecture in November 1866. Did Herndon hate his partner's wife, and more importantly, did he frame, out of malice, a false and unfavorable picture of her? The current view that he did both, as I have tried to show, needs to be reconsidered, for it is almost entirely presumptive and is not based on established facts. Moreover, it often takes a form that verges on circularity: How do we know that Herndon hated Mary? Because he was out to get her. How do we know he was out to get her? Because he hated her. There is no factual basis for thinking that Herndon was openly or secretly hostile toward Mary Todd Lincoln prior to 1866, or vice versa, and no evidence to contradict his claim that she was always kind to him and that he, in turn, respected her. The evidence of his letters that refer to her, almost all written after Lincoln's death, suggests that while he often faulted her for her aristocratic ways and violent temper and that he believed Lincoln's home life was a Page  [End Page 25] "domestic hell," his mature view of her was complicated and heavily qualified, conceding to her many good qualities and valuable contributions. In spite of his reputation as her sworn enemy who in later years engaged her in "open warfare,"[78] a consistent theme in Herndon's correspondence from 1866 on is that Mary Todd Lincoln had been unfairly condemned as the sole source of difficulty in the Lincoln marriage, and that Lincoln, who was not an attentive and helpful husband, deserved a share of the blame. Herndon believed that they had married for the wrong reasons—she to land a successful politician and he to preserve his honor—and that this doomed their marriage. He further believed that she had changed over time—for the worse. They were not bad people, but they had a bad marriage. This caused Lincoln to be unhappy in his home life and Mary to sometimes behave as "the female wild cat of the age." In 1866, he had twice used a phrase that captures the essence of it: "what I know and shall tell only ennobles both—that is to say it will show that Mrs L has had cause to suffer, and be almost crazed, while Lincoln self sacrificed himself rather than to be charged with dishonor." [79] Page  [End Page 26]


  1. William H. Herndon (WHH) to Jesse W. Weik, Jan. 16, 1886, Herndon-Weik Collection, Library of Congress (hereafter cited as H-W). Mary Todd Lincoln (MTL) to David Davis, Mar. 6, [1867], Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters, ed. Justin G. Turner and Linda Leavitt Turner (New York: Knopf, 1972), 416 (hereafter cited as Turner & Turner). return to text
  2. See Turner and Turner, 33. See also Charles B. Strozier, who speaks of "the triangular relationship of Lincoln, Mary, and Herndon," and who says that Lincoln's wife and his law partner, "like children in a situation of intense sibling rivalry, detested each other." Lincoln's Quest for Union: Public and Private Meanings (New York: Basic Books, 1982), 80, 81. See also David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 160, 401.return to text
  3. There are, of course, some harbingers of Donald's view. See, for example, Ida B. Tarbell's review of Emanuel Hertz's The Hidden Lincoln in New York Times Book Review (Feb. 13, 1938) charging that Herndon "left no trace of kindness in the picture he drew of her [Mary Todd Lincoln] to Mr. Weik. He needed that picture for his thesis [i.e., his "theory of Lincoln's melancholy."].return to text
  4. Donald, Lincoln's Herndon: A Biography (1948; reprint, New York: Da Capo, 1989). In the discussion that follows, I often differ with Prof. Donald, but I wish to acknowledge that, like all who study Herndon, I am deeply in his debt. Both his doctoral dissertation (Herndon: Lincoln's Law Partner (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1946) and the published biography that emerged from it are models of skill and resourcefulness in research, which have enabled and illuminated all subsequent studies.return to text
  5. Harold Holzer, review of Herndon's Informants, Journal of Illinois History 1 (Winter 1998): 136–37.return to text
  6. Donald, Lincoln's Herndon, 188. return to text
  7. See notes 10, 11, and 12 below. return to text
  8. WHH to Jesse W. Weik, Jan. 16, 1886, H-W. return to text
  9. William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik, Herndon's Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life, 3 vols. (Chicago: Belford, Clarke, 1889), 2:209; in Herndon's Life of Lincoln, ed. Paul M. Angle (Cleveland: World Publishing, 1942), 166.return to text
  10. Donald, Lincoln's Herndon, 189. return to text
  11. "Lincolns Domestic Life," H-W. return to text
  12. Randall, Mary Lincoln: Biography of a Marriage (Boston: Little, Brown, 1953), 37. return to text
  13. Turner & Turner, 33. return to text
  14. Stephen B. Oates, With Malice Toward None: The Life of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 74.return to text
  15. Donald, Lincoln's Herndon, 160. return to text
  16. WHH to Joseph S. Fowler, Nov. 3, 1888, Ethan Allen Hitchcock Papers, Box 1, Library of Congress. I have here amended Herndon's "respect" to the past tense, which seems to be what he intended.return to text
  17. Donald says that Mary Todd Lincoln snubbed Herndon during his only trip to the Lincoln White House and that he was "bitterly resentful," but Donald cites no evidence beyond a reference to Mrs. Lincoln in one of Herndon's letters as "a very curious—excentric—wicked woman" (Donald, Lincoln's Herndon, 153). This would certainly suggest that Herndon had credited the many stories making the rounds when he visited Washington about Mrs. Lincoln's improper behavior with Henry Wycoff, but how it would prove that Herndon was snubbed or that he was "bitterly resentful" is not evident. return to text
  18. Donald, Lincoln's Herndon, 188, 189, 196.return to text
  19. See Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, eds., Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998), (hereafter cited as Herndon's Informants). return to text
  20. "Editor's Preface," in Herndon's Life of Lincoln, xliv.return to text
  21. This figure reflects dated items in the Herndon archive from May 1865 to mid-November and one-half the undated items known to have been collected no later than November 30, 1866.return to text
  22. MTL to WHH, Aug. 28, [1867], Herndon's Informants, 326. MTL is confused about the date; this letter was written in 1866, but Sept. 4 was a Tuesday. return to text
  23. "Mrs. Lincoln's Denial, and What She Says," printed broadside, Illinois State Historical Library, Springfield. return to text
  24. Mary Todd Lincoln (WHH interview), [Sept. 1866], Herndon's Informants, 359–60. return to text
  25. Isaac N. Phillips to James R. B. Van Cleave, Apr. 26, 1909, typescript, Abraham Lincoln Association Papers, Illinois State Historical Library.return to text
  26. WHH to Isaac N. Arnold, Nov. 30, 1866, H-W; copy made by WHH's copyist, John G. Springer. return to text
  27. Dr. James Smith to WHH, Jan. 24, 1867, Herndon's Informants, 547.return to text
  28. Although very few letters from Abraham Lincoln to his wife are known, some are signed "Affectionately." return to text
  29. Robert Todd Lincoln to David Davis, Nov. 19, 1866. Text interpolated from citations in John F. Goff, Robert Todd Lincoln: A Man in his Own Right (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969), 84, and Willard L. King, Lincoln's Manager: David Davis (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960), 239.return to text
  30. WHH to Jesse W. Weik, Dec. 1, 1888, H-W. The pages of this letter are out of order in the microfilm edition (Exp. IV:2410–13, 2322–25).return to text
  31. Robert Todd Lincoln to David Davis, Dec. 8, 1866, in Thomas F. Schwartz, "'I have never had any doubt of your good intentions': William Henry Herndon and Ward Hill Lamon as Described in Correspondence from the Robert T. Lincoln Letterpress Volumes," Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, 14 (Winter 1993): 37.return to text
  32. Robert Todd Lincoln to John G. Nicolay, Dec. 16, 1866, Ibid., 39.return to text
  33. MTL to David Davis, Mar. 4, 1867, Turner & Turner, 414.return to text
  34. WHH, "Analysis of the Character & Mind of Abm Lincoln," manuscript of WHH's first lecture on Lincoln, Huntington Library, San Marino, Calif. The lecture was delivered Dec. 12, 1865, in Springfield, Ill.return to text
  35. MTL to David Davis, Mar. 4, 1867, Turner & Turner, 414–15.return to text
  36. MTL to David Davis, Mar. 6, 1867, Ibid., 415–16.return to text
  37. WHH, "Analysis of the Character of Abm Lincoln," manuscript of WHH's second Lincoln lecture, Huntington Library. The lecture was delivered Dec. 26, 1865, in Springfield, Ill.return to text
  38. See Douglas L. Wilson, "William H. Herndon and the 'Necessary Truth,'" in Lincoln before Washington: New Perspectives on the Illinois Years (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997), 37–52.return to text
  39. See Joshua F. Speed (WHH interview), [1865–66], Herndon's Informants, 474–75, 477. See also, Douglas L. Wilson, Honor's Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998), 220ff. return to text
  40. WHH to Isaac N. Arnold, Nov. 20, 1866, copy enclosed in WHH to Charles H. Hart, Nov. 26, 1866, Hart Papers, Huntington Library (hereafter cited as Hart Papers). return to text
  41. WHH to Charles H. Hart, Nov. 26, 1866, Hart Papers.return to text
  42. Ibid., Dec. 12, 1866. return to text
  43. See Donald, Lincoln's Herndon, 188–91.return to text
  44. Randall, Mary Lincoln, 404. return to text
  45. Donald, Lincoln's Herndon, 220 return to text
  46. WHH, "Lincoln's Religion," Illinois State Register, Dec., 1873.return to text
  47. Ibid. return to text
  48. Newspaper headline cited in Donald, Lincoln's Herndon, 279.return to text
  49. Ibid. As with all Herndon's interview reports, the language here must be taken as representative, not necessarily literal. There is evidence that "technical Christian" was one of Herndon's own terms, by which he meant someone who openly embraced Christian dogma. Even though its use here may have accurately reflected her meaning, Mrs. Lincoln may well have been justified in protesting that "technical Christian" was not her language.return to text
  50. MTL to John T. Stuart, Dec. 15, 1873, Turner & Turner, 603.return to text
  51. For the qualification "spitefully dismissive," I am indebted to my colleague, Rodney O. Davis. return to text
  52. MTL to John T. Stuart, Dec. 15, 1873, Turner & Turner, 603.return to text
  53. Illinois State Journal, Dec. 19, 1873, quoted in Donald, Lincoln's Herndon, 280. return to text
  54. According to Donald, Herndon's long letter, dated Jan. 12, 1873, was first printed in the Illinois State Register on Jan. 14 and in other papers soon thereafter (Lincoln's Herndon, 281n). For the broadside, which is the source of the text followed here, see the copy in the Herndon-Weik Collection. All quotations are from this copy. return to text
  55. MTL to John T. Stuart, Jan. 20, 1874, Turner & Turner, 605.return to text
  56. Ibid., 606.return to text
  57. Ibid. return to text
  58. Donald, Lincoln's Herndon, 280. return to text
  59. Quoted in Donald, Lincoln's Herndon, 281.return to text
  60. Randall, Mary Lincoln, 38. return to text
  61. Ibid., 303.return to text
  62. Ibid., 303–4. The letters from which the quoted epithets are taken are WHH to JWW, Dec. 1, 1885, Jan. 8, 12, 15, 16, 1886, H-W.return to text
  63. WHH to JWW, Jan. 8, 1886, H-W. return to text
  64. Ibid., Jan. 12, 1886. return to text
  65. Ibid. return to text
  66. Ibid., Jan. 16, 1886. return to text
  67. Ibid. It should be noted that the epithets "she wolf" and "wild cat" present here were not among those cited by Donald.return to text
  68. WHH to Joseph S. Fowler, Nov. 3, 1888, Ethan Allen Hitchcock Papers, Box 1.return to text
  69. Caroline Healey Dall, who stayed in Herndon's home in October 1866, wrote in her journal: "Nat the oldest son ... explained the cloud hanging over Herndon's unhappy second wife.... He says she has always taken opium and this is the result—and the reason why the family has lost their status." Dall Papers, Bryn Mawr College Library, Bryn Mawr, Pa. The reader should note that this portion of Dall's journal was reconstructed from her notes 30 years later and contains many known errors. return to text
  70. WHH to Joseph S. Fowler, Nov. 3, 1888, Ethan Allen Hitchcock Papers, Box 1.return to text
  71. Herndon's Lincoln, 2:205–06; Herndon's Life of Lincoln [ed. Angle], 163. return to text
  72. Herndon's Lincoln, 2:230; Herndon's Life of Lincoln, 182.return to text
  73. Herndon's Lincoln, 3:427; Herndon's Life of Lincoln, 345.return to text
  74. Herndon's Lincoln, 3:425; Herndon's Life of Lincoln, 344.return to text
  75. Herndon's Lincoln, 3:429; Herndon's Life of Lincoln, 347.return to text
  76. Herndon's Lincoln, 3:433–34; Herndon's Life of Lincoln, 350.return to text
  77. Donald, Lincoln's Herndon, 359. return to text
  78. David Donald, Lincoln Reconsidered (New York: Vintage Books, 1961), 43.return to text
  79. WHH to Charles H. Hart, Dec. 12, 1866, Hart Papers.return to text