Taddie and Willie in the White House


Figure 1.--Tad and Willie were captivated by all things military. Once in Washington they were surrounded by every aspect of military life. There were parades, encampmnts, calvalry movements, cannons booming and much more. Tad had several military uniforms he could wear. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton granted Tad a pretend commission. Here he is in his lieutenant uniform.

Willie and Tad with Robbert away at school had the White House to themselves and they thoroughly enjoyed romping through the halls and dreaming up adventures. Willie was more even tempered and dutiful than Tad. Unlike Tad who had difficulty focusing his attention, especially on schoolwork, Willie was quite capable of getting down to the business at hand. The boys, despite their differences were very close and shared many interests. In particular they adored animals of all kinds. Americans loved to read about the boys in their newspapers. When their interest in animals was reported, American deluged the white House with animals of all kinds. To the boys' delight there were dogs, rabbits, goats, and ponies. Because the President had no desire to discipline the boys, they did rather much what ever they wanted. The boys as in Springfield had the run of the White House. Lincoln called them, "my splendid fellows". Observers wondered why the boys were not disciplined and kept under better control. Often it was Tad who was behind the more outrageous episodes such as opening fire on the President's cabinet with a toy cannon, but both boys had their share of fun. Normally Tad gave up with the most impressive pranks such sending up a toll gate with his toy cannon to see his father or setting off the bell system in the white house. Much of this appeared in the press and editors pushed reporters for more details. Willie being the more thoughtful of the two, was somewhat irritated by constantly being watched. He complained, "I wish they wouldn't stare at us so. Hasn't there ever been a boy in the White House before." But he and Tad had a great time. And what an exciting time it must have been for both boys. The White House was full of soldiers. They allowed the boys to examine and even fire their guns. Because of the times, war-related games were popular with the boys, and they even constructed a fort on the White House roof. The war meant that there were many formal events with the President reviewing the troops. Such ceremonies were real favorites for Willie and Tad. When ever they could get permission they accompanied the President when he reviewed the troops at the many army camps ringing Washington. Their mother also had an active schedule visiting the troops and wounded soldiers to distribute fruit, books, papers, and other items. The boys also went with her.

Willie and Taddie

Willie and Tad by all accounts were very close. Perhaps not inseparable because at times Willie sought out the quiet of his mother's room to be away from Tad's frenetic activity. They were, despite very significant differences in personality, very close. They greatly enjoyed each other's company. Tad provided the excitement and Willie's prudence probably kept Tad out of even more trouble than he managed to get into. Mrs Lincoln wrote to a friend about Eddie, "I wish you could have known, that dear little boy, for a child, he scarcely seemed to me. So unlike little Taddie, yet so devoted to him. --Their love for each other was charming to behold. [M. Lincoln letter, December 8, 1865.] The boys, with Robbert away at school, had the White House to themselves and they thoroughly enjoyed romping through the halls and dreaming up adventures. Willie was more even tempered and dutiful than Tad. Unlike Tad who had difficulty focusing his attention, especially on schoolwork, Willie was quite capable of getting down to the business at hand. The boys, despite their differences were very close and shared many interests. Willie was older and more serious than Taddie. He was this thus somewhat of a restraining influence. Once with Willie gone, there was virtually no limit on Taddie's prodigiou energy and fertile immagination.

Animals

One interest in particular that the boys shared was that they adored animals of all kinds. Americans loved to read about the boys in their newspapers. When their interest in animals was reported, American deluged the white House with animals of all kinds. To the boys' delight there were dogs, rabbits, goats, and ponies. Tad although not able to reach striups became a very accomplished equestrian. Racing around the White House grounds, often unsupervised. Tad seems to have been especially interested in the goats. On one of Mrs. Lincoln's legendary shopping trips to New York, Tad insisted that she ask about the goats in her telegram to the President. [M. Lincoln telegram, April 28, 1864.] Tad also had a turkey which managed to rescue from the White House kitchen. Tad named him Jack. On election day 1864, The President noticing him strutting around the polls while the soldiers were voting. He asked Tad if Jack planned to vote. Tad immediately explained that Jack was too young--a story the president liked to tell. [Baker, p. 236.] And on Thanksgiving, a horrified Tad learned that Jack was about to be executed. Tad managed to get a reprive from the President which spared him from gracing the White House table.

The President's Attitude

The President and his wife were permissive parents. Because the President had no desire to discipline the boys, they did rather much what ever they wanted. In fact one gets the idea that he rather enjoyed their antics. The boys as in Springfield had the run of the White House. Lincoln called them, "my splendid fellows". This was not the prevailing attitude toward Observers wondered why the boys were not disciplined and kept under better control. Of course the leading figures in America came to the White house to call upon the President and participate in meetings. They as a result were sometimes targets of the boys. They were not used to be treated like this and for the most failed to see the humor in it. We suspect that this was a particular delight to the President who did not particularly take kindly to pomposity.

Pranks and Incidents

Often it was Tad who was behind the more outrageous episodes such as opening fire on the President's cabinet with a toy cannon, but both boys had their share of fun. The antics the boys came up with are difficult to fully chronicle. There had been nothing like the pair before or since. Tad delighted in spraying visitors, including important dignitaries with the the fire hose. The boy disrupted meanings including one memorable incident when they Tad opened fire on the President' cabinet in session in the White House. Tad used his toy cannon. The White Hhouse was somewhat the worse for wear. Mirrors were broken, doors mysteriously locked, furniture used to construct wagons and sleds. Tad attacked the White House's nahogeny furniture with his tool kit. The boys also drilled the servants in mock military formations. The White House gardner was dismayed with the damage the boys dis and even more so Taddie's goats.

The toll gate

Tad of the two boys came up with the most ingenious pranks, such as setting up a toll gate with his toy cannon to see his father. Showing a flare for military tactics, Tad positioned himself at the base of the grand staircase. Tad collected a 5c entrance fee before his father put a stop to it. Tad explained the money went to the Sanitation Fund.

The bell system

The White House had a bell call system which permitted the President and others to summons the staff. The system was installed in the attic. Tad in his explorations discovered it and was particularly intrigued. Coming from Springfield he had never seen anything like it. He soon delighted in setting it off and watching the White House staff scurrying about. In fact nothing seems to have pleased Tad more than throwing the White House into tumult. This was rather an advanced form of a favorite boyhood activity--stirring up an any hill. At first the staff thought that there was something wrong with the system until the culprit was found.

The fire hose

Tad found the White House fire hose was a splendid weapon with which to spray visitors. We do not yet have details on the fire hose and just who the boys used it on. It apparently included important White House visitors.

Firing on the Cabinet

The boys often interrupted meetings, including important cabinet meetings. In one notable cabinet meeting, Tad opened fire with his fully functioning toy cannon. A toy cannon sounds rather innocuous. The 19th century approach to toys was a bit different than today. The boys being surrounded by essentially a garrison town with soldiers all around the White House were fascinated by all things military. This began even in Springfield when an energetic militia fired off a cannon in front of the Lincoln home. The Cannon became known as Mrs. Lincoln's cannon. The boys were transfixed. Once enconsed in the White House, nothing so occupied Tad's mind than getting his hands on a real gun. He once did so and nearly killed a washerwoman. [Wynalda] Tad had a toy cannon. He wanted a real one. Soon after the death of their son William, President Lincoln who had an interest in fire arms himself wrote a note to Captain John A. Dahlgren of the Washington Navy Yard to provide his son with 'a small gun that he cannot hurt himself with'. Captain Dahlgren played an important role in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War, launching major advances in gunnery. Responding to the President, he took his own patent model for a naval artillery piece, disarmed it by bending the firing pin, and presented it to Tad. The President and Cpt. Dahlgren seriously underestimated Tad who while having no time for book learning was a junkie for excitement and actually had a penchant for mechanics. As best we can tell, Taddie's cannon was a perfectly functional brass cannon. The only difference with real cannons was the small size and Cpt. Dahgren's poor effort to disarm it by bending the firing pin. Apparently it was fully capable of being fired once the firing pin was replaced which Tad quickly did. What modern boys wouldn't give for a toy like that. And Tad soon had it working. And ever resourceful Tad was able to get his hands on some real gun powder. What Tad and his friend Hally loaded it with we are not sure. This incident is not as well described as some of Tad's other exploits. One source says that the boys only shot at the door to the cabinet room and didn't manage to get inside. Secretary of the Navy, Giddeon Wells, who probably knew more about cannons than the other cabinet members told family and friends that Tad had 'bombared' them. [Bayne, p.43] We have not yet been able to find an account of the President's and the Cabinet's reaction.

The White House store

The White House at the time was constantly full of officials, office seekers, reporters, soldiers, well wishers, and others. Tad who has been accused of being slow, apparently had a nose for business. He saw a money making opportunity in the mill of people moving through the White House. He set up a food shop in the lobby. He had a high profit margin because he grabbed what ever was easily at hand from the White House kitchen.

The strawberry caper

Mrs Lincoln had planned to serve strawberries for an important state dinner. The White House gardner had a carefully tended strawberry patch. As preparations began to be finalized, it was found that Tad had made a major dent in the strawberry supply. Tad and Willie were the bane of the garner's existence. Inlike the President, he was ot amused with their digging, games, and especually the every hungary goats.

Mrs. Lincoln's reception


Zouave salute


White House roof


Circus in the attic


Firing at the washer woman


White House guard


Jack the doll


Kentucky friends


The Press

Much of the boys' activities appeared in the press and editors pushed reporters for more details. Willie being the more thoughtful of the two, was somewhat irritated by constantly being watched. He complained, "I wish they wouldn't stare at us so. Hasn't there ever been a boy in the White House before." He and Tad appear to have had a great time in the White House. Perhaps Willie was more affected than is commonly believed. Tad after Willie's death is reported to have said, "I am glad he has gone [to Heaven], for he never was happy after he came here. This was not a good place for him." [Carpenter, p. 293.]

The War

And what an exciting time it must have been for both boys. The White House was full of soldiers. They allowed the boys to examine and even fire their guns. Because of the times, war-related games were popular with the boys, and they even constructed a fort on the White House roof. The boys formed a company from the servants and they would drill on the White House grounds. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton awarded Tad a pretend military commission. Tad was allowed to wear an actual uniform of which he was extremely proud. The war meant that there were many formal events with the President reviewing the troops. Such ceremonies were real favorites for Willie and Tad. When ever they could get permission they accompanied the President when he reviewed the troops at the many army camps ringing Washington. There mother also had an active schedule visiting the troops and wounded soldiers to distribute fruit, books, papers, and other items. The boys also went with her.

Sources

Baker, Jean H. Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography (Norton, New York, 1987), 429p.

Bayne, Julia Taft. Tad Lincoln's Father (U of Nebraska Press: 2001), 89p. The Taft boys were for a time plymates of the incoln boys.

Carpenter, Francis Bicknill. Six Months at the White House with Abraham Lincoln : The Story of a Picture, (New York: 1866).

Kunhard, Dorothy Meserve and Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr., Twenty Days.

Randall, Ruth Painter. Lincoln's Sons.

Sandburg, Carl. Mary Lincoln: Wife and Widow (Harcourt, Brace, World: New York, 1960), 357p.

Turner, Justin G. and Linda Levitt Turner. Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters (Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1972), 744p.

Weaver, John D. Tad Lincoln: Mischief Maker in the White House.

Wynalda, Stephen A. 366 Days in Abraham Lincoln's Presidency: The Private, Political, and Military Decisions of America's Greatest President (Skyhorse Publishing: 2010), 624p.











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Created: 5:25 PM 11/2/2004
Spellchecked: 8:02 PM 11/17/2012
Last changed: 8:03 PM 11/17/2012