Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography

Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography

Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography

Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography

Synopsis

A privileged daughter of the proud clan that founded Lexington, Kentucky, Mary Todd (1818-1882) was raised in a world of frontier violence. Subjected to her first abandonment at age six when her mother died, Mary later fled a hostile stepmother for Springfield, where she met and, after a stormy romance, married the raw Illinois attorney, Abraham Lincoln. For twenty-five years the Lincolns forged opposing temperaments into a tolerant, loving marriage. Mary was at her husband's side on the night of his assassination, and never recovered from that greatest in a series of grievous abandonments. The desperate measures she took to win the acknowledgment she sought all her life led finally to the shock of a public insanity hearing instigated by her eldest son. In this elegant biography, Jean Baker uses previously untapped letters and documents to portray a woman whose will carried her across the recognized boundaries of female behavior.

Excerpt

"I wish I could forget myself," Mary Todd Lincoln once lamented. It was a lifelong battle that she often lost, though in the process of remembering herself, she made certain others would, too. And not always favorably. Today Mary Lincoln ranks among the most detested public women in American history, and Americans who do not know her husband's wartime policies or the names of his cabinet officers have unshakable opinions about Mary Lincoln's failings.

Many remember because she demonstrated her husband's humanity. The President who dealt so generously with the afflicted in public affairs learned, in this understanding, to do so through his private life with a shrew. It is, of course, not a solely American idea that men of great mind and sensibility, like Socrates, often endure wives of abominable temper, like Xanthippe. In our national version of this myth Lincoln, the most venerated of all American heroes, daily practiced tolerance of a cantankerous female who was neither his first nor his greatest love. If the great Abraham assures his wife's tainted immortality, the maligned Mary guarantees her husband's nobility.

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