Friday, December 14, 2007

December 13, 1818:

Mary Todd Lincoln's Birthday

Among first ladies, Mary Todd Lincoln's story is one of the most melancholy. And for good reasons. puts it this way: "With the difficulty of making medical conclusions about Mrs. Lincoln long after she lived, precise assessment of what mental and physical problems she may have suffered is impossible. She did manifest behavior that suggests severe depression, anxiety and paranoia, migraine headaches, even possibly diabetes. Certainly all of her ills were exacerbated by a series of tragic circumstances during her White House tenure: the trauma of Civil War, including the allegiance of much of her family to the Confederacy and their death or injury in battle; an 1863 accident which threw her from a carriage and knocked her unconscious; the accusations by northerners that she was sympathetic to the Confederacy and the ostracizing of her as a "traitor" by Southerners; the sudden death of her son Willie in 1862; and, of course, the worst incident of all, the assassination of her husband as she sat beside him in the Ford's Theater.

"Mary Lincoln viewed her expensive 1861 White House redecoration and her extravagant clothing purchases (the former over-running a federal appropriation of $20,000 by $6,000, and the latter driving her family into great debt) as a necessary effort to create an image of the stability that would command respect not only for the President but the Union. She felt this most keenly in light of the uncertain neutrality of France and England. Public and press reaction, however, was ridicule and anger. She instead conveyed the image of a selfish and indulgent woman inconsiderate of the suffering that most of the nation's families were enduring as a result of the war her husband was managing. In time, she would even press Republican appointees to pay her debts, since they owed their positions to her husband.

"By April 1861, Union soldiers were decamped at the White House and would remain for the endurance of the Administration. The war overshadowed all of Mary Lincoln's activities. She worked as a volunteer nurse in the Union hospitals, offered intelligence she had learned as well as her own advice to the President on military personnel, recommended minor military appointments to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, toured Union Army camps and reviewed troops with her husband. She was largely successful in her objective of using entertaining as a means of raising Union morale. It is difficult to assess the influence she had on the President, if any, but there is no record of his asking her to stop her flow of advice, recommendations and observations to him. She was not successful in her efforts to oust Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, Secretary of State William Seward, General George McClellan and General Ulysses Grant...

"Deeply traumatized by her husband's murder, Mary Lincoln did not move out of the White House until May 23, 1865. She relocated to Chicago and there began her effort to settle her husband's estate. In 1868, she moved with her two sons, Robert and Tad, to Germany and from there commenced her battle with Congress for award of a presidential widow's pension. In 1871, a year after receiving the annual pension of $3,000, she returned to the United States. The sudden death that year of her son Tad left her spirit broken; she soon began behaving in what her son Robert considered to be signs of mental instability and he successfully had her tried for insanity.

"In 1875, she was committed to the Bellevue Insane Asylum, in Batavia, Illinois. Later in the day after the verdict was made, she twice attempted suicide by taking what she believed to be the drugs laudanum and camphor - which the suspicious druggist had replaced with a sugar substance. One of the nation's first women lawyers, Myra Bradwell believed Mrs. Lincoln was not insane and being held against her will. She filed an appeal on Mrs. Lincoln's behalf and after four months of confinement, the former First Lady was released to the care of her sister Elizabeth Edwards in Springfield. Once a second trial on June 19, 1876 declared her sane, she moved to France. After four years abroad she returned to live again in the Edwards home, in October 1880."

No comments: