The Lincolns had four sons. Mary would have certainly liked to have had a little girl to dress up and fuss over, but she loved the boys deeply. It is difficult to imagine two more loving parents. The Lincoln boys had extremely varied personalities. Robert was somewhat dour. Eddy and Taddie bubbly, Willie more contemplative. Taddie may have been mildly retarded or at least had learning difficulties. Willie was a very bright child. The Lincolns were extremely permissive parents and the antics of Taddie and Willie are legendary. Willie perhaps the most beloved of all the Lincoln children died in the White House. Tragedy, however, stalked the Lincoln family. Mary would lose three of the four. Only two of the children survived their father and only one lived to maturity. The loss combined with the assassination of her husband was too much for one woman to bear. Even before he was shot, her husband had agonized over her sanity.
Mary Lincoln is one of the most criticized of the first ladies. The Mary Lincoln that married Abraham and set up the Lincoln home seems a very different person than the woman better known to history during the White House Years. She came from a prominent Kentucky family--the Todds. She grew up in considerable luxury, although her childhood was affected by the loss of her mother and problems with her step-mother. The drudgery of daily 19th century life was taken away by slaves. She had married well below the social level of the Todd family, in part to get away from her step-mother. The fledgling lawyer had little money to afford the niceties of life that she was accustomed to as a child and young woman. Yet she through herself into her duties, cleaning the home, caring for the children, cooking the meals, sewing her own and the children's clothes. [Baker, p. 109.] As far as we know she did not complain to her husband about these tasks. And perhaps because of her unhappy childhood, she created a wonderfully happy home environment for her husband and the children that came in due course. In addition she was often left alone with the children while her husband was away traveling with the circuit court.
Mary and her husband shared power as parents. Lincoln was often absent riding the circuit as a young, ambitious lawyer and at the state legislature. Thus Mary played a key role in the children's upbringing. The Lincolns by all accounts were permissive parents. It is noteworthy that none of the four boys were named Abraham. Accounts exist of just how permissive they were. One account reports that on one train trip the other passengers were appalled by the behavior of the boys who Lincoln referred to as the "little codgers". They were racing down the isles disturbing the other passengers. His law partner complained of the boys discarding orange peels and other trash on the floor of their office, pulling out and disturbing files. The Lincoln home was a child-centered home. Mary would hold birthday parties when such events were not common. Mary would dress up for roles in Robert's theatrical performances. The Lincolns encouraged the boys to recite poetry (usually Burns and Shakespeare). Many considered this an inappropriate intrusion into adult social functions. Historians usually stress Lincoln's permissive approach to parenthood. Some authors believe that, if possible, Mrs Lincoln was even more permissive and at times criticized her husband in the apparently rare attempts he made at discipline. [Baker, p. 120.]
The permissive approach continued in the White House. Robert was initially away at school. The roof of the White House was converted to a play area for the younger boys, Willie and Tad. They were, however, allowed to run throughout the White House. They especially love to slide down the banisters. Sometimes the President would romp about with them. Both boys delighted in their father carrying them on his shoulders. Lincoln was of course very tall and the boys could often reach the rafters in the ceiling which delighted them. The tumult in the White House was not just perpetrated by the two boys. They made friends and were allowed to bring their friends to the White House and romp around. The boys with their friends or pets would break into important meetings and not be chided by their father. The boys had numerous pets including ponies and goats. The goats would pull carts including inside the White House.
We know of very little written material addressing the clothing of the Lincoln children. We have seen letters from Mrs. Lincoln to the president while on her shopping expeditions to New York. She briefly refers to clothes she is buying for Willie and Tad. The primary source of information on the boys' clothes, however, is the photographic record. We have found several portraits that provide us some basic information.
The Lincolns had four children, all sons. Only two of the children survived their father and only one lived to maturity. Eddy was the first to die and we do not know as much about him as the other boys. He died at an early age before the Lincolns were well known. From all accounts it was a tragedy from which their parents never recovered, especially his mother. The two middle boys entered the White House together with their parents. Their antics amused a nation immersed in the tragedy of the Civil War. Their father who was not much of a disciplinarian to begin with, virtually allowed them the run of the White House and to do what they wanted--which included firing their toy cannon at the Cabinet. They were the two most famous presidential boys and they left a trail of destruction and mayhem in their wake. The President for the most part saw it as great fun. The entire nation grieved when Willie tragically died. The loss of another child combined with the assassination of her husband was too much for one woman to bear. Even before he was shot, her husband and agonized over her sanity. Mary also lost Tad. Only Robert survived to adulthood and he and his mother had a strained relationship.
Baker, Jean H. Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography (W.W. Norton: New York, 1987), 429p.
Donald, David Herbert. We Are Lincoln Men: Abraham Lincoln and His Friends (Simon &Schuster, 2003), 269p.
Justin. Executive Assistant to Mr. Keya Morgan. E-mail message, October 1, 2014.
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