Primary tabs


254. Mary Todd Lincoln (William H. Herndon Interview).

[September 1866]

Mrs Lincoln's Conversation in substance with me at the St Nicholas Hotel — She Said — "I [was] born in 1823 in Lexington Fayette Co Ky [on] the 13th day of Decr — daughter of Eliza. S. Todd Maiden name Eliza S. Parker [two words illegible] [My m]other died when I was very young — was [educ]ated by Mdme Mentelle — a French lady — opp[osite] Mr Clays: She was well Educated — was French, Spoke nothing Else — not allowed to — finished my Education at Mrs Wards accademy. People from the North visited Lexington — went to School here. I Came to Ills in 1837 — was in Illinois 3 Months — went to school two years after I Came to Illinois in Ky. I returned to Ills in 1839 or 40. This was after Mrs Wallace came out.

My husband intended when he was through with his Presidential terms to take me and family to Europe — didn't in late years dream of death — was cheery — funny — in high Spirits. He intended to return & go to California over the Rocky Mountains and see the prospects of the soldiers &c. &c digging [out] gold to pay the National debt. He and Sumner were like boys during his last days — They were down on the River after Richmond was taken: they acted like boys — were so glad the war was over. Mr Lincoln up to 1865 wanted to live in Springfield and be buried there — Changed his notion where to live — never settled on any place particularly — intended moving & travelling some

Mr Lincoln was the Kindest Man — Most tender Man & loving husband & father in the world: he gave us all unbounded liberty — Said to me always when I asked him for anything — "You Know what you want — go and get it": he [never] asked me if it was necessary: he was very — indulgent to his children — chided or prais[ed them] for it — their acts — : he always said "It [is my] pleasure that my children are free — happy & unrestrained by parental tyranny. Love is the chain whereby to Lock a child to its parents"

I have none of my literary scraps — poems — Compositions &c, Except I Know the Shields poetry

Mr Lincoln had a dream when down the River at City point after Richmond was taken: he dreamed that the white House burned up — Sent me up the River — went — Met Stanton &c. Mr Lincoln told me to get a party and Come back. I did so.

Mr Lincoln found out that Mr N W Edwards — his Bro-in-law was stealing, as he thought — intended to turn him out. My husband placed great Confidence in My Knowledge of human Nature: he had not much Knowledge of men


Our expenses at the White House were about [two] thousand dollars per month — breakfasted at [9] o'clock am — lunched at 2 o'cl PM — dined [at] 6 o'cl PM. Mr Lincoln got up irregularly — Saw the people — attended to the Hospital &c. [Woul]d turn Seward out when peace was declared — hated Andrew Johnson. Once Andy Johnson followed Mr Lincoln when he said — "Why is this man following me."

A Letter got out in the army from Mr Lincoln to me. Mr L was tender. I deny [D]inners Cost $500. for friends and diplomatic [corps &c] — twenty four Todd Connexion at frequently [illegible] table. Bakers wife — bad Conduct

Mr Linc[oln] had a Kind of Poetry in his Nature: he was [a terribly] firm man when he set his foot down — none of us — no man nor woman Could rule him after he had made up his mind. I told him about Sewards intention to rule him — : he said — "I shall rule myself — shall obey my own Conscience and follow God in it. Mr Lincoln had no hope & no faith in the usual acceptation of those words: he never joined a Church: he was a religious man always, as I think: he first thought — to say think — about this subject was when Willie died — never before. he felt religious More than Ever about the time he went to Gettysburg: he was not a technical Christian: he read the bible a good deal about 1864

Mr Sumner & Mr Lincoln were great chums [after] they became acquainted with one and other: [they] watched Each other closely. Down at City Point once Johnson followed us — was drunk — Mr Lincoln said — "For God's Sake dont ask Johnson to dine with us" — "No do not" said Sumner [and] I did not ask Johnson.

I often said that [God] would not let any harm Come to my husband. We had passed through 5 long years — terrible — bloody years unscathed that I thought so — so did Mr Lincoln: he was happy over that idea: he was cheerful — almost joyous as he got gradually to see the End of the war.

I used to read News paper c[harges — ] News paper attacks on him — He said ["Don't do] that for I have Enough to bear — yet I [care] nothing for them. If I am right I'll live & if wrong I'll die anyhow — so let them [pass by] unnoticed."I would playfully say "That's the way to learn — read both sides"

Mr [Lincoln's] maxim & philosophy were — "What is to be [will be] and no Cares (prayers) of ours Can [arrest] the decree I could tell when Mr Lincoln had decided anything: he was cheerful at first then he pressed or compressed his lips together — firmly When these things showed


themselves to me I fashioned myself accordingly and so did all others have to do sooner or later, and the world found it out. When we first went to Washington Many thought that Mr Lincoln was weak, but he rose grandly with the Circumstances [and] Men soon learned that he was above [them all.] I never saw a man's mind develope so finely: his manners got quite polished. [He] used to say to me when I talked to him about Chase and those who did him Evil — "Do good to those who hate you and turn their ill will to friendship" Sometimes in Washington [being] worn down he spoke crabbedly to men — [Harshly so — ] yet it seemed that the People underst[ood the] Conditions around him and forgave.

Library of Congress: Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 3061 — 64



1. This is the latest of the three surviving manuscripts relating to WHH's sole interview with MTL, incorporating the texts of the two earlier manuscripts (Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 3065 — 66 and Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 3067) and some new material. The date refers to the time of the interview, not the composition of this text, which may postdate the last of the Springer transcriptions (Nov. 30, 1866). Illegible material in the original has been supplied in brackets from earlier texts and from the Springer transcription of the earliest version [Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 3065 — 66). The docketing is difficult to read but appears to be: Mrs Lincoln's Evidence Copied. A nearly indecipherable note below this apparently relates to something WHH's law partner Alfred Orendorff told him about MTL in 1874.

2. MTL was born in 1818.

3. Julia Baker, MTL's niece, the daughter of Ninian W. and Elizabeth Edwards and the wife of Illinois State Journal editor Edward L. Baker, was rumored to have kept too close company with gentlemen other than her husband during a White House visit in 1864. See Justin G. Turner and Linda Turner, eds., Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters (New York, 1972), 187 — 88.

4. Quoting from this interview in a draft chapter for his biography, WHH glossed this passage thus: "Mrs. Lincoln told me in 1866 in Springfield in her Examination by me at the St Nicolas Hotel that Mr. Lincolns philosophy was "what is to be will be and no cares (prayers of ours can arrest nor reverse the decree. I have heard him Say the Same thing Substantially and so have many others in and around Springfield Illinois his home and where he lies buried — Entomed" (Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 4261). WHH's point seems to be that he had heard this maxim from Lincoln in a different form: "no prayers of ours can reverse the decree."