tv Abraham Mary Todd Lincoln CSPAN July 17, 2021 9:05pm-9:32pm EDT
go? stream it as a podcast anywhere. anytime. you're watching american history tv. ♪ >> watch booktv now on sundays on c-span2 or find it online anytime at booktv.org. it's television for serious readers. ♪ ♪ >> c-span's american history tv continues now. you can find the full schedule for the weekend on your program divide or at c-span.org/history. >> the actions of the great figures of history often seem preordained and almost always play out on the public stage. the human side is harder to uncover. set out to draw back the curtain on the domestic life of abraham lincoln. lincoln contended with political and military battlegrounds during the civil war. his home life did not provide
the relief he sought. drawing upon diaries, correspondence and federal records, burlingame explores the marriage of abraham and mary lincoln. michael burlingame, holder of the distinguished chair in lincoln studies at the university of illinois-springfield, was born in washington, d.c. and raised in nearby arlington. his first book, the inner world of abraham lincoln, was written in 1994. he's written over a dozen books including one of the five best books of the year by the atlantic. this october pegasus books will release his study, "the black man's president: abraham lin on the, frederick douglass and the quest for racial justice." now let's hear from michael
burlingame. thank you for joining us today. >> before i begin my remarks, i would like to thank the archives for letting me participate in this series. over the years i've spent many ours in the archives conducting lincoln research, and this is relevant for the book i'm talking about today within the records of the committee on -- [inaudible] there's a great deal of information about how -- was done at the white house indicating that it was not always above board, and it was was -- see official documents about what was really going on. so i'm very grateful to the archives for superbing these records and making them so easily available to scholars like myself. okay, enough said. let's talk about the book.
abraham lincoln was apparently one of those men who -- as an oxymoron. a contradiction in terms. during the civil war he pardoned a union soldier who had deserted to return home and weld his sweetheart. he -- wed his sweetheart. he reportedly had been flirting with another -- [inaudible] as the president signed the necessary document sparing this man's life, he said i ought to punish the young man -- [inaudible] the book described why lincoln had good reason to regret his marriage as much as he expected the young soldier to rue his. but as first lady, mary lincoln pad payrolls and expense accounts, accepted bribes and
kickbacks, sold trading permits, state secrets and pardons and peddled influence to help scoundrels secure government contracts and offices. but like -- she seduced him and insisted he protect her honor. but the 5-2-inch mrs. lincoln physically abused her 6-4-inch husband as well as her children and servants, some of whom actually fought back. but she humiliated her husband in front of others. she caused him as president the fear that she would disgrace him publicly. but the 31-year-old lincoln -- [inaudible] his original engagement because he became infatuated with a gorgeous 18-year-old belle. but lincoln was known in
springfield as henpeck, suffered from -- [inaudible] including manic depression as well as we menstrual -- premenstrual stress syndrome and headaches. she may have committed adultery. although her best friend in the white house was an african-american seamstress, as first lady she manifested anti-black prejudice. but with unlike her husband, she was not profoundly opposed to slavery and hardly qualifies as the ardent abolitionist that some have portrayed. but she cannot be considered a feminist. but lincoln may not have become president if he had not wed marie todd, for -- mary todd, for she acted as a -- to his ambition but also made his home life so unhappy that he invested much capital in his political
career. but while providing a ruthless stimulus -- [inaudible] she crushed his spirit as his partner, william herndon, put it. and finally, lincoln may not have had as successful a presidency as he did. he showed a preternatural ability to deal with difficult people if he had not had so much practice at home. before proceeding, i wish to emphasize that mary lincoln, for all her faults, is more to be pitied than censured. william herndon originally portrayed her unfavorably, in later years he insisted that the world does not know mrs. lincoln's sufferings, her trials and the causes of things. i sympathize with her. indeed, as her oldest sister elizabeth who was, in effect, her surrogate mother told
herndon not long after lincoln's death mary has had much to bear. she doesn't bear it well. she has acted foolishly, unwisely and made the world hate her. well, lincoln did, indeed, have much to bear. her mother died when she was only 6 years old. her mother quickly remarrieded another woman who dislike marry and her -- mary and her siblings. feeling emotionally abandoned by her father and and rejected by her stepmother, mary developed an intense psychological needy iness in the sense that she was of unloved and unlovable. she did not ask to have a childhood that she later described as, quote, desolate, nor to inherit the gene for bipolar disorder. nor to endure or migraine makes
for much of her life. nor to suffer from menstrual he's orders -- menstrual disorders, nor to lose three of her four children before they losed adulthood, nor to have her husband murdered by her side at the height of his popularity and influence. as elizabeth katie standson observed, mrs. lincoln could call out our sympathy rather than denunciation. her tendency to insanity for which she is not responsible increased and aggravated by the great sadness of her husband which rested like a dark cloud most of the time on his household. all these things should furnish a sufficient excuse for many of her idiosyncrasies of character. the book intends neither to excuse nor to denounce mary lincoln, but rather to describe
accurate hi and fully the marriage and her idiosyncrasies of character and to make the latter understandable. in trying to comprehend the lincolns' marriage was so -- [inaudible] readers should bear in mind that the repressive emotional reserve and uncommune ca cative lincoln was far from an ideal husband. as his wife said, his deep feeling and amiable nature, he was not a demonstrative man. when he felt most deeply, he expressed the least. others concurred. for example, elizabeth todd edwards who deemed him a cold man with no affection. that said, it must be acknowledged that mary lincoln's behavior helped make her husband truly a man of sorrows.
also was the soul-crushing responsibility he shoulderedded as president in the nation's bloodiest war what. but it is impossible to be understand the depth of that sorrow without realizing just how woeful his marriage truly was. one of the most poignant discoveries i made through the years of research is an unpublished interview with one of the president's longtime friends and political allies, orville h. browning. even though lincoln was notoriously, quote, shut-mouthed about his private life, browning recalled that during the civil war the president an told him, quote, about his domestic troubles and that he was constantly under great apprehension lest his wife should to something which would bring him into disgrace. and and she did just that by her unethical, tactless, unpopular, scan louse behavior --
scandalous behavior as first lady. try to imagine contending to the pressures he was summited as he. [inaudible] the republican party coated of democrat-hating former whigs and with even more vociferous -- which included slave holders in the loyal voter states and abolitionists. anti-tariff free traders and high-tariff protectionists,ed radical refugees and nativist anti-catholic, anti-immigrant bigots. teetotaling prohibitionists and beer-loving germans. as well as e galtarians and dyed in the wool -- [inaudible] on top of that, he had to inspire popular morale to raise armies and find capable leaders for them, to -- the economic
resources, to distribute patronage wisely while desieged by swarms of with would be civil servants and to deal with hugh-critical -- hyper-critical newspaper editors, egomaniacal legislators and recalcitrant generals. and on top of all that, he had to cohabit the white house with a woman whose indiscreet and abusive behavior taxed his legendary patience and forbearance to the limit. a few months after lincoln's assassination while discussing mrs. lincoln's, quote, mental weakness predicted that, quote, people never know what lincoln suffered and endured. he had the wisdom of socrates and the patience of christ. the first story of the lincoln's domestic life has long been
gloss over. in 1946 the editor of atlantic monthly -- dealing with lincoln's tragic marriage have drawn a quiet curtain over a supreme exasperation of his life. and as a result, the full magnificence of his conquest over circumstances remains incomplete. mary todd -- was with, quote, a horror and yet how is she remembered? the other day i -- which made her the sweet heroine of -- [inaudible] even carl sandberg is so charitable that he thinks of her as a poet should think of every woman. the appeal to strip away the quiet curtain hiding the truth about lincoln's marriage has gone unheeded. a few years after -- it appeared, a book was published
lincoln: biography of a marriage, depicting her subject as, quote, an appealing love story and assuring readers that, quote, the nation can be proud of this american romance. more recently, he istorians like james h. baker and cath lin clinton have lionized mrs. lincoln, implausibly making her out to be a pioneer feminist. the effect of such row romanticd and politicized work a has been to crypt what -- to create what joran lawrence simon called the, quote -- john lawrence simon called the -- [inaudible] aptly deemed apologists for mary lincoln. some of her defenders go so far as to justify the physical abuse
that she administered to her husband. for example, commenting on her reputation for having a quick temper and sharp tongue concluded, quote -- [inaudible] threw coffee at lincoln and drove him out of the house with a broom and probably he deserved it. in fact, lincoln's marriage was, as his law partner william herndon observed, quote, a domestic hell on earth, a burning, scorching hell as gloomy as the grave. after practicing law with lincoln for well over a decade in a two-man firm, herndon explained -- most desolate man, has been for years to my own knowledge because of his marriage the a very curious, eccentric, wicked woman. herndon had ample reason to call mary todd lincoln a she wolf, a tigris and are a female --
[inaudible] mrs. lincoln criticized herndon and his informants, that is the many, many people that he corps responded with. douglas are o. wilson, a lincoln scholar, cogently argued that, quote, it is hard to argue that the stories herndon collected -- differed materially with that than many of lincoln's other close friends or, so far as we can gauge it, than that of springfield in general. as lincoln -- noted in 1930, as to lincoln's domestic difficulties -- can disregard what herndon wrote. supporting testimony about the contemporaries is too overwhelming. that supporting testimony is, indeed, overwhelming. and it's far greater now than what was known in engel's day.
it's not been systematically collected and presented to the public. thanks to the development of searchable newspaper databases, it is possible to learn much more about lincoln's life in general and his marriage in particular than previous writers could do. a great deal of the evidence of in my book comes from informants other than those of herndon himself. the unflattering accounts of mary lincoln's character and behavior given by people who knew her is -- but it might have been greater for some potential informants refused to share what they knew about her. the best placed informant was harriet hanks who, as an adolescent, lived in the lincolns' home for a year and a half soon after their wedding. but two decades later she wrote the herndon saying any information that i can give you in regard to the -- will be
freely given, but i would rather say nothing about his wife. as i could say but lit until her favor, i can -- little in her favor, i conclude it's best to say nothing at all. lincoln's friend judge samuel h -- when an interviewer asked his opinion of mrs. lincoln. he was acquainted with her couples with the -- of three or four other persons who he claimed could adequately describe her, quote, if they dared to. he required to commit himself. mary nash stewart was equally reticent. when asked about mary lincoln k mrs. stewart refused to say, oh, she was a todd. eliza francis, one of lincoln's close friends, could have shared much information about mary todd
but refused to do so. perhaps relying on -- [inaudible] stated that mary todd made lincoln's life miserable. the journalist -- recalled that it was an open secret in washington that throughout lincoln's presidency the first lady was a source of great and perpetual anxiety and annoyance to her husband. quote: the sufferings of the man on account of her eccentricities to designate -- [inaudible] literally such as would crush a man of less moral and physical constitution. the lady the was mentally unbalanced and, thus, at times was not responsible for her acts. simply, a newspaper editor alexander mcclure stated that lincoln -- his crazy wife when
he entered the presidency and many were his sorrows because of the war and struggle for the preservation of -- [inaudible] for his domestic taste and -- was the dark shadow that mrs. lincoln cast upon his life. lincoln's friends, quote, all knew the situation and her failings were overlooked as a few, if any, of mr. lincoln's close political friends had attained respect from mrs. lincoln that should have been accorded to them. one of those friends was -- [inaudible] who spent time with mrs. lincoln during the civil war and her testimony. before a u.s. senate committee in 1869, 1870. witnesses told the committee that she, quote, had been a curse to her husband. a report from that committee recommending a desperate proposal to grant mrs. lincoln a
pension stated, quote: there are some other facts bearing on this subject which it is probably not meaningful to refer to but which are generally known, and the evidence a part of which is information of the committee. it was no secret for those who knew the family well that his domestic life was full of trials. the erratic temper of his wife but the gentleness of his nature -- struggles which accompanied him through the -- of vicissitudes to his life -- [inaudible] springfield to the white house in washington as the untold private -- and sometimes precipitating incredible embarrassments in the discharge of his public duties from the one of the most pathetic futures of his career.
putting it even more strongly in her interview calling the president's marriage, quote: the greatest tragedy of mr. lincoln's existence. lincoln once gave his wife a copy of a book called the elements of character publishes publishes -- [inaudible] he had underlined a package indicating that marriage could deteriorate from, quote, the highest happiness that can exist on earth to a -- of misery, absolutely infernal. the lincolns' marriage was such a fountain of misery, yet incalculable good for the nation. lincoln -- [audio difficulty] he had not had so much practice at home.
as his friend and colleague at the -- and biographer wrote, lincoln possessed an equanimity and patience which captivated the masses while tired out petulant -- [inaudible] and the like. which enabled him to -- unwelcome policies on the nation and frankly to restore peace to his grieving country and give physical freedom to the blacks and political freedom to the why notes. speculated if lincoln had not undergone the, quote, harsh discipline he experienced at the hands of his wife, he may have failed as president. quote, the nation is mostly indepartmented to mary todd-in -- indebted to mary todd lincoln. lincoln may not have -- if
>> weekends on c-span2 bring you the best in american history. on saturday's american history tv explores nations past. coming up today on the presidency white eisenhowers grandson david talks about like the man and his leadership during world war ii with brian whose grandfather served as chief of intelligence branch in the armys european theater. on oral histories 82-year-old will go into space for the first time on july 20th with jeff bezos. is far from a newcomer.
hear him talk about being one of nasa's mercury 13. they never flew a nasa mission. watch american history tv every weekend and find a full schedule under program guide or visit c-span.org slashmac history. >> it is my genuine pleasure to introduce our speaker, our author this afternoon, james banner who is currently visiting scholar in history at the george washington university. gym is no stranger to the washington history seminar. is a cofounder of the national history center, one of its sponsors and is a regular and engaged participant in the seminar. today you won't be able to ask questions, jen. we get to ask them of your. he's a founder of the american association fhe
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