One of the very interesting parts about being a living historian is to interact with the public in the first person. By this I mean, you actually take on the persona of an individual as if you were actually that person. In my life time I’ve seen this happen many times. I’m always fascinated. The folks at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia do a very good first person in which the historians tell the story of life during the beginning years of our history. My favorite has always been the gentleman who portrays Thomas Jefferson during those tumultuous years around the founding of our nation. These were really tough years and we only survived them because of the strength and conviction of a few really good men. For you Tories out there, suck it up. The founders and defenders of freedom chose to undertake a difficult road. They drafted a document which most of the free world covets. It is only a few small minded people who think that we have too many freedoms. Our founders said in the “Declaration of Independence”, we are endowed with certain unalienable rights. When government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it and start a new government. Let’s do that this November 6th.
The so called Civil War was just that type of situation. It was America’s second “War of Independence”; no one will ever convince me otherwise. This is where that story ends for now and the topic of this week begins.
Mary Todd Lincoln
The Susquehanna Valley Civil War Round Table had the privilege of hosting a visit with the first lady. Mary Lincoln as she wanted to be known as after her beloved Abe’s death appeared to us dressed in the apparel of a widow. This however, wasn’t new to her; she normally dressed in this fashion. She is now very soft spoken, perhaps because of all that has happened in the recent past. Her beloved husband has been murdered by an assassin, who has cowardly shot him from behind and without any warning; except the words, “Sic Semper Tyrannis” or “Thus always to Tyrants.”
The assassin has been dealt his reward; slain by soldiers trying to capture him. There is only a road side marker showing where he was taken.
Mrs.Lincoln appears very somber, which is quite understandable. She has somewhat of a sad upbringing. Her mother died when she was only seven years old. Her father then remarried another woman who has lost her husband, thus a combined family. Mary finds herself unable to cope with a new person who is now her stepmother. Mary is sent away to boarding school for her education and it is apparently during these later years she becomes acquainted with Abraham. As Mary talks to us she reflects on those years gone by. She loved to speak French and was pleased when someone else could converse with her. Abe certainly couldn’t. Mary described Abe as the best president this country has ever seen. I might add this. He endured much anguish because of what happened to this country. He was a simple man who only wanted what was best for the nation. I still believe him to be one of the best presidents we have ever had in this country. No one can deny that for all his efforts to hold the country together, he was the first president to be murdered by cowardly hands.
Mrs. Lincoln asked us if anyone ever read the New York Times. She said if you have never read it, don’t read it; it’s not a good honest paper. Much like the Washington Star, they are liberal newspapers and print many lies. She said she never got credit for visiting the wounded soldiers during the war to reassure them.
Mary had much tragedy in her life. She is only seven when her very own mother is taken from her. She is more or less rejected by her father. As a mother, she saw her son Eddie die at age three of Tuberculosis. This was in 1850, years before they went to the White House. This wasn’t the end; her beloved Willie died at age 12 of Typhoid in the year 1862. Then of course, the man she went to this troubling place with, “Father” as she lovingly called Abraham. Mary was troubled about many things during these spring days. She certainly didn’t want to go to the theater the evening of the 14th of April. Abe, himself was troubled by a deep premonition about things to come. He dreamed of his own death and seeing a coffin in the White House, and mourners passing in review of the body, which he realizes now as his own.
When the 16th President Abraham Lincoln is assassinated the country had never experienced anything like this before. The nation mourned for him; but not for her. When Abe is shot, those who should have watched out for him, keep Mary away. She is denied being near him as he takes his last breath. So many troubling events have occurred and many wonder why she is so distraught. For many years, many considered her to be a crazy woman, prone to a wide range of moods. This evening as she talks to us, another side becomes evident. As I look back at these events they must have tremendously affected her mentally and physically. She was not just a crazy person. No, she is a person who has seen many disappointments and individual heart aches. Her entire life has seen one tragedy after another.
Earlier I mentioned she spoke French. After the assassination she and son Tad traveled to France. They stay in Europe for seven years. Eventually they became homesick and booked passage for the returned trip. This was the beginning of another loss. Tad becomes very ill with Tuberculosis and dies in 1871.
The final blow comes when her only surviving son Robert petitioned a Chicago court to commit her as an insane person. She is committed for a short time and released. From then on Robert is known to her as “That Monster of Mankind.” Mary returns to Europe for while visiting Spain, France and Italy.
Was she crazy or insane? I now believe not. As a young woman she had fallen and from that injury became addicted to Laudanum, Morphine and later alcohol. It was all legal then. This would explain the wild swing in her moods. After the assassination she didn’t use the name “Todd” in her name. She would from then on become Mrs. “Abraham” Mary Lincoln. She is buried in the family mortuary in Springfield, Illinois. The last of their blood line died in 1985. Her eldest son, “The Monster” died in 1926.
No Juniata County casualties this week.
Donald E. Husler Jr.